BY DAWN DEBRAAL
Copyright is held by the author.
A SINGLE white blossom of the camellia bush greeted them when they arrived. The house they’d purchased after a half-hour showing, 1200 miles from home, had turned them into “snowbirds.” Retirement for her, a throat surgery gone awry paralyzing a vocal cord for months. Surviving a bout with cancer, 33 radiation treatments, six chemotherapies, and an 80-pound weight loss for him. He was a shadow of the man she had known after 44 years of living with him. “No more winters,” she said, amazed when he agreed.
Everything here was new and strange. Until that moment, they’d spent a week in the Florida Keys each winter. Realizing they couldn’t afford to buy a home in the Keys, they found a place in Northern Florida, near the “big bend,” to hibernate. The plants were different, the bugs were different, the people were foreign. They found themselves listening intently to distinguish what was being said. The northernly nasal flat tone was absent in the locals, replaced by a lilting southern drawl.
The winter went entirely too fast. Every day felt like they were on vacation. She told him she wasn’t leaving until the nun’s lily bloomed. A plant they’d purchased and planted in the stump he hollowed out for her. She babied it all winter long covering it with the frost warnings. The sun rose higher and when day light savings time came, they started watching Wisconsin weather.
The nun’s lily bloomed. So beautiful with its rose-purple colour, its spiked delicate winged petals, breathtaking. The waning camellia bush offered the last few blooms. They were nearing their departure date with mixed emotions. It had been lonely here, but the beauty of the area, the weather — God, the weather — the newness of things at their age, was a miracle in the making. There were no distractions, no friends, only the two of them. It was more than they could take, and there were times they couldn’t stand one another. She watched him gain some weight, build a porch on his own without her help, (another fight). They planted tropical plants, the kind they couldn’t grow in Wisconsin, awed each day by the overnight growth.
The count down to the big trek began. Closing one home opening the other was similar to “The Great Migration.” Twenty hours on the road for two days with two dogs and a cat. Back to spring again, to friends and neighbours. He would jump back into all of his hobbies, the gun club, his interests. She would jump back into hers. She would miss him and the way they were this winter. The distractions taking them away from one another again. It was probably a good thing. The intensity of their forced “togetherness” had been too much at times. Now that their time here was ending, she remembered how close she came to losing him last year. She took time to be grateful for the choices they’d made and the second chance they were given to grow.