Peach Among the Palms

It is a sunny, brisk Christmas morning as I sit here alone by the pool. There seems to be no other living creatures stirring about, well, other than the half a dozen or so birds flocking around the area. They tend to stay close to the pond, which is located about ten to fifteen feet from the pool area. On the occasion, I hear a random car passing by on the highway, and there has been a plane or two passes overhead, as they shuttle friends, family, and associates to and fro. But mainly the only sound I hear is the fountains in the pond. The sound of water is quite relaxing, and blended with the sounds of the birds, make for a great soundtrack for a little self-reflection.
For quite a few years now, I have talked of little else than the notion of one day throwing caution to the wind, taking off, and moving to the Gulf of Mexico. And, on this peaceful Christmas morn, here I am. The pool and the pond are actually part of the amenities at my apartment complex. It is truly a lovely place. The landscaping alone at my complex gives the feel of being off on some tropical getaway. One of the selling points the complex uses in their website advertising is “resort style pool” and it truly is. Sitting here, one can easily feel as though they have slipped away from reality on some amazing tropical adventure in peace and tranquility.
However, the irony of it all is that in realizing my ultimate dream of living in the Gulf of Mexico, is the reality of being here without my family. And, that has proved to be a fairly hard pill to swallow. When we first moved here, to this specific dot on the map, it was because my son had chosen to move his family here. I had long planned to move to the gulf area, but perhaps, not quite this far south into the sunshine state. Sadly, life in the sunshine state has not rendered itself quite so full of sunshine for my son and daughter in law, and they have made the decision to move back to Georgia. I will miss them and the girls terribly, as I already do miss my daughter and mother and brother. Circumstances has placed me in a position whereby even if moving back was something that I wanted, it would not be in the cards, at least for this moment in time. As much as I wish I could hold all of my family here, perhaps hostage, and keep them with me for as long as I am here, I understand that they are all adults with their own rights to their own choices.
Initially, I was deeply saddened at the thought of being here with no family or friends, and utterly heartbroken over the idea of not being able to spend time with my granddaughters, or to have the chance to develop a relationship with my grandson, who will be born in a few months. But I am slowly coming to terms with the reality of how things are going to be. There is always FaceTime and a flight is only about one to two hours away. While driving is also an option, it is a ten-hour drive, and not highly adored.
I have been trying to come up with ideas and things to do to better blend into the culture down here that is so different from my little dot on the map in Northwest Georgia. It is not always easy to fit in to a new place. And it does not make things any better when you leave a small town and move to an actual city, there are far more people and less likelihood of seeing any one person enough times to form a friendship. I have investigated things like joining a book club, transferring my volunteering with the Red Cross, and even joined a local rock group- a group who paints rocks and places them in random areas about town, as little hidden treasures for someone to discover. At this time, I have not got around to getting any rocks to paint myself to hide about town. Henry and I have gotten out a time or two to attend local events, such as the lighting of the tree downtown, the local art walk down the river district, and the Christmas boat parade. On each of those events, we discovered new things that we plan to go back and visit again, places to go shop at, local eateries that we wish to try out, and have even made random conversations with people who make Florida seem not so bad.
I believe, for me, the simplistic customs and laid-back lifestyle in little town north Georgia is so different than here, there was an initial culture shock. Back home, you shop in the same stores, and you, over time, get to know the employees, and they in turn recognize you. In many places, the slogan is “we treat you like family” and that bears truth for most of them. You learn all the short cuts and back roads to avoid the main roadways that may be congested at various times. Neighbors get out in the evenings and walk around the neighborhood, and always take the time to stop and hold a conversation with you if they catch you outside. Many of those neighbors even take the time to make treat bags full of home-made goodies to personally deliver to their neighbors during the holidays. Where I come from, family is first, and traditions mean something.
Here, things seem to be much different. I’m sure a lot of it has to do with the fact that this is a city, and much larger than any town I have ever lived in. However, I believe a lot of it has to do with the people here. Apparently, this is an area that is common place for retirees and “snowbirds” (a term used for people who migrate south to live for the winter to escape the bitter conditions from the norther towns they normally reside. I think, in many ways, the blending of so many people from various other states and towns, lends itself to the fact that there are few people who are actually natives of this area, and with many of them only residing here a few months of the year, and many more, much like me, just newly moved to this area, we are now a city made up of strangers.
I plan to continue to research groups or activities to get involved in. I have a whole new appreciation and respect for the proverbial “new kid” in school. It is not that easy to blend in and make new friends in a place that is so unfamiliar to you, and where the people are not as warm and welcoming as you would hope they would be. But, for today, Henry and I are going to embark on new traditions. We will go and spend time with Ryan and the girls, it is Christmas, after all, and we will exchange gifts and food with them. But, afterwards, we will do something that neither of us have ever had an opportunity to do in our lifetimes, we are going to the beach to spend some of our Christmas day, just taking in the reality of our new life, here in the Gulf of Mexico. Then, we have decided, to try something completely new. A Christmas Story is one of our all-time favorite holiday movies to watch, and we have decided to start a tradition in honor of that movie. We are going to find a local Chinese restaurant open and have our Christmas dinner there.
So, as we prepare to end this year and look on toward the next, some traditions will end for us, as life has a way of changing, and so with it, people and circumstances change as well. Being separated from family will force some changes in our holiday plans and traditions. Being in a place where we do not have friends to make plans with, will surely change many more. But we will look at this as a time for growth, opportunity, and chances to make new traditions, to try new things, and to experience a life, well lived.

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