Perfect Models for the Snowbird Lifestyle: My Parents

Spring 2001 CSANews Issue 38  |  Posted date : Mar 08, 2007.Back to list

Until recently, my parents, Reg and Olive Hunter, wintered in Texas . . . or, to be more precise, just outside Harlingen at an RV park, about an hour or so north of the Mexican border.

Why Texas? They have always loved dancing in all its forms. I recall seeing photos of them as a courting couple in the 1930s, dancing on roller skates. And, as a child, I remember their many local, and one notable BBC-TV, appearances square dancing with the "Corn Crushers," a demonstration team they organized with their friends in the post-war period. As a young, impressionable nine-year-old, I was so impressed to hear (we didn't have a TV set in those days) that Dad actually executed an "allemande left" and "allemande right" for a whole minute while eating fish and chips out of the Daily Express, without missing a beat . . . or dropping a "battered bit."

What skill! What greasy hands he must have left behind in his path! This was something a young son could really identify with!

So, becoming "Winter Texans" was a natural for them. They, of course, gravitated to the park with the best square dance caller, and before long were highly involved in the almost nightly dances in the local community centre.

These memories came flooding back to me recently while listening to Medipac's President talking on CHWO's "Sunday Morning with Earl Warren" show, about the four key reasons why we become "snowbirds" (apologies to Texas and the Southwest . . . I'm using this term generically).    

Reasons one and two were closely related and quite predictable . . . to spend the winter in a healthy environment, and to escape winter's northern weather. As he grew older, Dad had a particular problem with cold, icy Ontario days . . . his hands would become very cold (even with gloves on), and he would often faint. Far better those hands be warmed at a poolside Texas barbecue. Before his "Winter Texan" days, Dad would often end up in the emergency department of a Toronto hospital, at OHIP's expense; in Texas, he only had to go to hospital once in all the years he wintered there . . . and that's when he accidentally severed a heel tendon while diving off the swimming pool high board, showing all his "girlfriends" what he "used to do!"

The third item on Mark's list was interesting . . . a sense of adventure. Well, Mom and Dad certainly had their adventures! Each year, Mom drove for six solid days (Dad had deteriorating eyesight) from Ontario to Harlingen, via various Interstates and the lovely Natchez Trace through Mississippi. They had tire blow-outs at 65 mph (104 kph), 360-degree turns in the median strip while towing a trailer . . . and, the best one of all . . . the car's top neatly sheared off by a tractor-trailer which misjudged its turn on the Ambassador Bridge forecourt and forced its trailer bed, guillotine-style, right across the upper section of their car.

We were all in a panic when we found out but, as Dad said, "we were fine . .. we just undid our seatbelts, lay down on the seat, and watched the bottom of the trailer go across above us!" In fact, he was more impressed by their treatment as celebrities by the city of Detroit, because they were the major news item of the day.
It's not that Mom is a bad driver, she isn't. It was more a case of them having more than their fair share of adventures. When on the road to and from Harlingen, we used to insist that they phone home every night . . . just to hear what had happened that day.

But Mark's fourth point was the one that intrigued me the most - a strong sense of camaraderie with fellow "snowbirds."
As business allowed, we visited Mom and Dad several times during their southern sojourns, and were always impressed by the quantity and quality of their group of friends. It seemed that every time we visited, there was always a party being organized, or in process at time of arrival. In fact, they even had one person appointed to keep the "party roster" to avoid conflicting dates.

But the most noticeable thing was the strength of the friendship bonds. These were not just Americans and Canadians escaping winter together in a benign climate, but a group of true friends - Winter Texans - who bent over backwards to help each other during the occasional moments of crisis, and enjoyed true friendship and camaraderie in all the other good times. Nationality was rarely mentioned; I'm sure Mom and Dad only knew where people lived from the many invitations they received to "come visit and stay a while" during their travels. I judged these southern friendship bonds to be much stronger than the casual ties of their Ontario summer community.

But, sadly, it all had to come to an end. Dad's eyesight deteriorated to the point at which he could no longer help with the journey; Mom could no longer drive the sustained six days, and flying was out of the question since both had difficulty with health-related issues.

However, all is not lost. They recently moved into a very comfortable retirement home in Ontario, which has "visitor" reciprocity with similar homes in British Columbia, the UK and the USA (including Hawaii). With its excellent dining room meal service, private bus, and weekly visiting banking and other services, they are already enjoying this next stage of their lives.

Are they busy and having fun? You be the judge.

Dad has discovered corridor bowling and, from all reports, has become very good at it . . . possibly because of his accidental "wall shots" (little do the other residents know that in his youth he was quite a billiards player, and could easily make "jammy" shots with both eyes closed - but I won't tell). And, of course, there's the large-screen TV room and the Stanley Cup.