By Christine Ledbetter
THERE HAS been a 40-year span between our first and second trips driving to Florida. It took two days to get here the first time; four the second. We were in a hurry once; now we take our time.
Then we were full of beginnings: Newly married and degreed. The first jobs post college awaited. We were shiny with optimism, idealistic with ambitions.
Now we are vaxxed, boosted and wary. Our optimism tempered by Omicron and other tragedies from the past 22 months.
Both our children were born in the eight years we lived in Florida. We found career success and a failure or two. When a job transfer offered a return to the Midwest, we decided to go back to four seasons.
More jobs followed, more moves. The children went to college, and began their own firsts. After living in the Washington DC area for eight years, we ended our careers and retired to the Midwest.
This year we returned to Florida for winter, in a journey that feels bittersweet. Our firsts are in the rear-view mirror.
We are the snowbirds we once disparaged; the ones who hate driving on I-95. We look for happy hours, which used to be known as early-bird specials.
Leisure takes work. A trip to the grocery store is a planned event. Searching for a local fruit stand counts as an adventure. Dining out at restaurants with outdoor seating becomes the day’s highlight.
We’re not the same as before. It’s been a long time since we had to rush home to relieve a babysitter. Now we worry about our children coping with virus-closed daycares and schools.
We sometimes take naps, and forget what day of the week it is.
Five-mile runs have been hobbled by torn meniscus; rounds of tennis slowed by sciatica pain.
There is more recreation here than fitness, anyway. Body Pump and Pilates aren’t taught at the local YMCA. The pool has no lap lanes. A 9am aerobic swim class exercises to a recorded instructor with musical selections from the 1950s. The shuffleboard courts remain but pickleball now reigns.
Here in Florida, the unmasked dominate. Go Brandon T-shirts are sold at art fairs. OAN is the televised station at the neighborhood Tiki Bar. The former president, after all, lives up the road.
In the mornings, we note the freezing weather up North with satisfaction; here the temperatures hover in the 60s and 70s. We walk on the beach.
Do we look as old as everyone else? It doesn’t matter. There are many of us here.
Once we were the sunrises; now we are the sunsets. That’s OK. Both have beauty.
—Christine Ledbetter, the former arts editor of the Washington Post, lives in the Midwest and writes about culture.