They come from Michigan. And Colorado. Canada. Maine. Georgia. Ohio. Kentucky. And all points north. I especially look for the ones that come from Tennessee. They come alone. They come as families. They come in bunches.
Fire, wind, pestilence, sickness and hurricanes can’t stop them.
For years I thought they came to see me. And then I realized it might be the sunsets. Or the award winning beaches. Or the warm winters.
They fill our rental spaces. Some buy houses here just to spend a month or so with us. They spread out along, or at least close to, the water. They find a place on Garrison Avenue. They “settle in” at St. Joe Beach. Simmons Bayou. And Indian Pass.
They fill our restaurants. Grocery stores. Gas stations. And little shops. They attend our worship services. I see many at the football games.
The length of stay varies as to individual needs, desires or situation.
“Snowbirds” is the going term. But they don’t look like birds, nor do they bring any snow.
They do bring money. And they share it readily with our little community. And I don’t say that lightly or humorously. The monetary boost is real and life giving.
But it goes way past the money. They come asking about the history of Gulf County. They want to know why we are on Eastern Time. They support the Public Library. They join volunteer fire departments. They attend classes at the local Gulf Coast Campus. They provide pictures of sunsets, dead trees and birds flying high to add provenance, and color, to our local paper.
They are not borrowing our place or usurping it—they are investing in it!
And sure, some come telling us how they “do things” back home. But you know what, unless we are complete idiots, why would we pass up a chance to learn something about the tulips in Holland, Michigan. Or the Buffalo Bill Gun Museum in Cody, Wyoming. Or the Joshua Chamberlin House in Brunswick, Maine. Or the Huffman Prairie cow pasture eight miles northeast of Dayton, Ohio, where the Wright brothers developed their flying machines…..
And here is the good news. If I have to listen to them, it’s only fair they give me equal time. For every story they’ve got about ice fishing in Lake Champlain, I’ve got TWO about Leon and his fake jungle cruise or the night he was kidnapped by aliens or his headless horseman ride through the Christmas parade…..
They tell me how tough it was growing up on the “bad, bad, Leroy Brown” side of Chicago. I tell them about Ricky Gene Stafford sticking me in the belly with a pitchfork out at the end of Stonewall Street in McKenzie, Tennessee, in 1961.
And, of course, they regale us on how cold it can get in Bangor, Maine, or Silver Bow, Montana. That’s when we counter with the eggs frying on the sidewalk story…..and laughingly remind them of why WE are all in Florida on this particular January day.
The conversation over the years has progressed way past the weather. The dialogue is always interesting, educational and stimulating.
They ask about our families. Our children. Grandchildren. They show us pictures of theirs. Somehow geographical boundaries and whatnot fade in comparison. Good folks are good folks the world over.
And here is the best part of this winter invasion. You can’t believe how many free meals I have collected off of these folks! You talk about easy pickings! I get to stuttering through the time Leon tied himself in the trunk of our old Chevrolet, stuck a ketchup covered arm out the almost closed lid and had Jackie Burns drive him slowly through Frank’s Dairy Bar parking lot…. Someone in the group has “taken care” of the ticket before I even got to the part where the police chased us down.
I’m telling you with my hand up, having trouble finding a parking spot downtown is a small price to pay for the benefits we are reaping from our winter neighbors.
They will come by my house now, ask about Leon or the old St. Joseph-Iola Railroad and wanna know if I happen to have a story. I wrap an arm around their necks and say sure, I’ve got a good one, “Let’s go down to the restaurant and I’ll tell you all about it.”
You know, on second thought, a more apt title to this little discourse might have been, “Owed To The ‘Blow-ins’”…….