Much like New Yorkers, Those from The Region flock as fast as they can down to the shady palm trees of Florida. Especially the Gulf side. We in The Region call them snow birds.
At the time of this posting, there will be five days til I get on a plane that is, hopefully, headed for a sweet, soft landing on a smooth runway at Southwest Florida International Airport. And once that plane touches down, my sister, mother, grandfather and I will be doing the sprint to The Mucky Ducky on Captiva Island in hopes of getting to the Gulf shores in time to watch the Green Flash wink off the horizon at sundown.
This gulf shore sprint is among my family’s more recent holiday traditions: trimming palm trees, dressing up golf carts for parades and swimming and sunning after Christmas breakfast.
The simple, sad truth is that I didn’t always partake in these family holiday traditions. My family didn’t start to all meet in Ft. Myers for the holidays til around the time I was attending Denominational University. They didn’t do this simply because I was at Denom U. I certainly didn’t take it personally, but I first avoided the family holiday trips to Ft. Myers, Margaritaville. The reasons for my absence were not because I was holy-rolling and they were hip-deep in vices or anything. I come from a dry family – aside from an infrequent Holiday toast. I even had a father whose life we learned from in spite of his actions. His life reaffirmed our family’s sobriety.
The reason wasn’t them. If anything, the reason for my absences came from a deeper place. At the time I couldn’t quite put my finger on the sensation aside from a feeling of separation.
A few years after those fishbowl days and I still can’t explain it. Denominational University wasn’t filled with crackpot cultist kool-aid drinking messianic maniacs or anything. OK, sure, there were a few, but those nutjobs are everywhere. At Denom U, they were simply embraced as “emphatic”. Most of them truly were the salt of the earth – “Good People.” There is still a broadly shared belief in the destination between me and Denom U; there just isn’t any agreement between us in regards to the journey. The fishbowl was too small and I couldn’t swim with that school anymore. “I was goin’ down the road feelin’ bad in a Pleasant Valley Sunday filled with Shiny, Happy People. I begrudge a couple sheltered fishbowl admins at Denom U who were spawned and never left the mating grounds of Denominational University, but not for whom the are supposed to administer.
It was a feeling of alienation between me and my family. That was probably it. Feeling alienated from your family and feeling that the reasons were senseless is grounds for anxiety. And I couldn’t do it anymore. In the end, everyone at Denom U, including myself, were searching for their Father. I just spent more of my time searching for the one with a lower case “f.”
After my emotional crash second semester Senior year, Jimmy Buffet classics dominated the sounds in my claustrophobic dorm room those last few weeks at Denominational University. It made me feel more at peace, like I was actually spending time with my family. I’ll never regret choosing to go to New Mexico instead of Ft. Myers / Sanibel Island that Spring Break. New Mexico saved my life, again. But as I packed my books, slept 13 hours a day and listened to Boats, Beaches, Bars and Ballads again and again and again, I started to feel more at peace, more like a member of my family.
As I spent those first couple years after Denominational University walking off the fishbowl experience while valet parking at a riverboat casino, Ft. Myers, Margaritaville and the family started to come back even stronger. The revival started that first winter when I became consumed by both Marley and Buffet. Especially Bob Marley, with a religious soul in his sound that is rarely found in music – secular or religious. There’s probably a rare few of use who don’t smoke yet proudly own 25 Marley albums.
The many walks, the talks, the sounds and, time, sweet precious time, allowed me to freely go back to Ft. Myers, Margaritaville. Ft. Myers, as well as the accompanying islands Sanibel and Captiva, have become a point of reference for me. Every holiday season, now, I go. I think about the year gone by and the year ahead. This year, I’m staying 16 days, through New Years.
With glee, I am able to be a snow bird, again. I’d invite y’all along but it’s getting too crowded down there. Find your own island.