Compliments of the Season

“If he doesn’t cut my hair right this time,” my mother says, “then next season, I’ll find a new hairdresser.”

“Next season?” I repeat, bemused.

“In the fall,” she explains. “We can’t say ‘next year’ because that’s too confusing. It’ll still be this year when we come back.”

“I know,” I say, “but it sounds so…”

“Odd?”

“Aristocratic.”

“Well, we are!” she happily replies.

She loves this, that she winters in Tucson and summers in Denver. I remember the winters of my childhood and how she hated the snow. How she’d stand at the window staring at the snow blizzarding down and give a cry of incoherent rage. She especially hated this time of year, when the wet spring snows crush the daffodils under their weight. This has been her new husband, Dave’s, greatest gift to her: the freedom to both live in the city of her birth and to escape the winter that comes with it.

Last year she and Dave came back to Denver too early, so they’re hedging their bets and staying in Tucson until June 1. Some Tucson neighbors do it by the thermometer: on the first day over 100 in Tucson, they pack up for Michigan. On the first day it hits 32 there, they pack up for Arizona. Our own neighbors, the elderly couple across the street, used to drive their RV down to Arizona just after Christmas and return like robins in the spring. But she has Alzheimer’s now, so they stopped going. David’s folks are the same: no longer making the annual RV trek to Yuma because their health isn’t good enough for the drive. And their pride is too great to let any of us take them down. Instead these snowbirds are grounded in their winter homes.

I think about these people, who spend the winter of their lives in the winter climes. I know it’s hard on them. Two winters ago I sprained one ankle severely and the other mildly (falling down a flight of stairs in front of 200 people — don’t ask). I felt so fragile on the snow ice, so afraid of slipping, of the pain, of the danger of further infirmity. For the first time I really felt in the skin of someone less than robust health and it was a scary place to be. The winter is colder, too, every year, and I’m only in mid-life.

Some of it is money, sure. But a lot of it is flexibility, too — the willingness to move away from family, away from the familiar and to make a new home somewhere else. Maybe it takes more than some people have. It may be easier to give in to the winter, to stand at the window and glare at the snow, than to fight and escape.

But then, there’s always next season.

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