My New Alternative Universe

This is my second season of living part-time in a 55+ community in Florida and I’ve experienced the benefits and joy of living in this lifestyle. This maintenance-free living of not pushing a lawnmower around

This is my second season of living part-time in a 55+ community in Florida and I’ve experienced the benefits and joy of living in this lifestyle. This maintenance-free living of not pushing a lawnmower around while suffering pollen-induced sneezing attacks, succumbing to heatstroke in the sweltering southern summers, avoiding weed whacker toe amputation suits me well. Truly tough, the sense of community is the best advantage here regardless of certain neighbors in this adult dormitory who think nothing of strolling unannounced into my kitchen to deliver the monthly condo newsletter. Blasé and scantily-clad senior coeds would deem it unforgivable should I miss the schedule for line dancing, bingo, show tunes chorale or water aerobics that are so slow I could nap between exercises.  But what about if I happen to be at home in my birthday suit? Well, I’ll clue you in … they’d think nothing of it while my modesty had me melting into the floor!

 

My first season was spent exercising each day, swimming and sunning to a walnut brown while meeting people from all over the world. I loved watching the most gorgeous mauve and purple sunsets with these new friends, Bloody Mary in hand.  Plus, the area of Florida I am in has the best thrift stores anywhere! There are so many I would go almost every day while decorating my condo with Salvation Army and Goodwill treasures. It is all about the hunt. My drill was first stopping for an extra-large iced coffee, next my map of thrift stores all in alpha order, and then focus, focus and focus on finding new-to-me gems. My calendar was so full I couldn’t even fit my schedule inside the square boxes.

 

But, like a chickie newly hatched, I climbed out of my shell into a different reality this condo season. I was unaware that something greater than Katrina or Cancer could take me out. Who could have guessed when this snowbird arrived last November? Anxious to see my new friends again, unpacking, grocery shopping for incredible International foods I could never acquire in Alabama and making sure I had enough bathing suits to get that walnut tan back was all I thought about. Wrong. Whispers of the pandemic floated throughout the condo in January, however, we were all welcoming each other back and meeting at the pool daily for pot-luck lunches.

 

But just weeks later, the pools were closed, and then the beaches. The annoying Spring Breakers were actually sent home, and while we are usually joyous when they leave, this time it was an ominous sight. Once all the activities ceased, my stress level increased. I had felt safe in our strong, bunker-style buildings but as a cancer patient, I had no doctors here. Where was Dr. Fauci when I need him? How do I make a mask? When can we get a vaccine? Who is most susceptible? Who is a silent carrier. No answers and no more visiting neighbors in sunning outfits … any human I saw was covered up in makeshift PPE.

 

Residents here are taking serious preventative measures to avoid the virus. We all know we have more years behind us than ahead, so we are vigilant … but with a teaspoon of humor. It’s Trade Days at Publix! Seniors shop for groceries during a 2-hour window in the mornings and the bartering at the check-out line is fascinating.

 

“Mornin’, would you want to trade that box of Hi Ho’s for my bag of Cheetos?”

 

“Hello, I would kill for those vanilla Little Debbie Snack Cakes in your basket for a bottle of real good wine in mine?”

 

“Sir, you have that last box of Kleenex…what about a giant jar of Almond Butter?”

 

It’s like a gambling casino or market in Marrakech in the grocery store. Good thing too, because none of us will see any of those sights this year.

 

When you know you have limited medical treatment options, you stay on high alert but in a thoughtful and sometimes unusual way. Normally at 6:30am, there is a procession of white sneakers, madras shorts, T-shirts and masks all maintaining social distancing while exercising before the heat arrives. I love the precautions they take with their dogs, many tucked in baby carriages, little furry heads looking from side to side and so very content with no leashes involved. The imaginary leash is on the adult instead.  We all celebrate the line of walkers in the 90+ age range and we all chuckle at the gentleman whose wife just cannot take him in the tight quarters of the condo any longer. Daily, she packs him a light futon, a small ice bucket of snacks, some towels and a radio and sends him off to create his own little world, sunning in the parking lot. We all look anemic while he looks like a million dollars with his tan!

 

Unfortunately, we cannot stop and hug while we walk for mental therapy, but we can give a big wave and greet others. It reminds us we are all family. I am grateful the rules are followed here while still missing my main home. What does keep me afloat is the incredible nature that resides with us around our condo. The black regal Cormorants sit beside the springs, spread their huge wet wings, stare at the water thinking about what fish they will nose-dive for dinner.   The gray-blue Herons love our plentiful pine trees while just “blowin’ in the wind.” I stare as they cautiously walk an iron fence as though wearing stilettos. There is a large population of the White Ibis, so much that as they roam around the condos, dozens will cross the street all in a line together. Of course, they always have the right of way no matter how long it takes. The Pelicans live here year around and as much as I love this animal, when they dive in the water and scoop up their prey, swallow it whole, I must look the other way.

 

Knowing we are all at an elevated risk in an over-55 community, keeping a positive yet realistic attitude is a must.  Yes, I want to be with people and watch the sunset, I want to go thrifting, but I take my lawn chair and have learned to bird watch alone. It is hard to navigate isolation but watching those fabulous water birds sure does help me. And then there is the bartering system at the grocery where Twinkies can reign superior to a droopy head of lettuce.  This too shall pass, but these memories will certainly be shared for generations to come.

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Cindy Small
Cindy Small arrived in N. Alabama following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. A native of New Orleans, she graduated from Tulane University with an undergraduate degree in Journalism and Masters in Historic Preservation Studies. She spends her spare time writing a weekly “Spotlight” column for The Decatur Daily as well as reading her non-fiction short stories on NPR. Published in various literary journals, her writings are always humorous added with a speck of arsenic.