Earlier this week, a moving van containing the entire contents of another house arrived in our Gloucester driveway. It was bittersweet, especially for my husband.
The three-bedroom condominium we had bought as a vacation home in Florida 20 years ago had served us well. It was a welcome respite from the ice, snow and cold of the northern climes when we could find the time around both of our busy work schedules to travel south. Sometimes, simply knowing it was there would suffice; it was ours, waiting to welcome us.
During these last five years, retirement has allowed longer and more frequent visits south, with neither of us bothered by time restraints. This last winter, we stayed in Florida for three-week stretches in January, February and March. Those three-week-long spans of leisurely time were the longest time I think we had ever spent living away from home.
Over the past couple years, as our bones craved warmth, my husband has asked in earnest whether I would consider making Florida our home (I already knew that he would). The drop of my jaw indicated my sentiment without my ever uttering a word.
The most encouragement I could offer after a too-long pause was: “But if I die first, then you could go.” I agreed, though, that renting a furnished place for a few weeks in the winters would be nice. “I just don’t want to live there,” I told him.
We agreed we were feeling the financial strain of owning two houses now that we were both retired. The time had come to let go. “Come on!” I said cheerfully. “Let someone else be happy there. And who knows? Maybe they’ll buy it as an investment, to rent out, and we could be renters for a few weeks when the northern winter gets too bone chilling and depressing.”
“We could even swim in the same pool. Have the same view of a baby alligator floating around in the pond as a hungry pelican eyes it. Reacquaint ourselves with the fragile little lizards that slip in under an impossible sliver of space beneath the screen door cocking their heads to the side as if they’re listening carefully to my ‘baby talk babble’ as I coax them to eat a piece of avocado on my finger until they’re distracted by a male flaunting his bright orange, undulating throat in their direction.”
It really was the time for us to act, to get real. There were the jobs of fixing all the little things that needed fixing. There was “deep cleaning,” torn shelf paper to replace and the biggest task of all — disposing of the “stuff” that accumulates in a house after so many years.
We found an experienced Realtor who was full of sensible suggestions from years of selling property in the area. It’s hard to change things in your house for a possible buyer, things that you yourself would never think to change. We had cared nothing of these things when we bought the place.
We had first moved into the place during a 10-day vacation from home, each day going in different directions for the essentials: a bed, pillows, and sheets; towels, a few dishes, glasses and a Mr. Coffee; then staples and groceries. While other people might have been more adventurous, we had just emptied our pockets buying the place, so we took our time with furniture.
It felt akin to “just married,” minus the string of tin cans. After that, whenever we could get down there, we had fun finding little things that made the place feel like home, but with a different “bent.”
The first 10 or 15 of the 20 years, we spent “doing” things, and exploring surrounding areas. South Naples is quite a sophisticated area with interesting shops, good restaurants (many with exquisite ocean and canal views), and a beautiful art museum.
But in these last few years, we had settled into relaxing routines. Mine was of reading, writing and bike riding. For him, reading, sunbathing, frequenting the hot tub, and planning and cooking the excellent dinners for which he is well known. I do the dishes.
This was it — the year we would sell. It made good sense. Our Realtor was a neighbor there, who knew the ropes; the best time to sell was January through March. She worked hard at it, but it didn’t sell. She suggested taking it off the market for the summer: “It’s not a good season. Late autumn and winter are best. Nobody thinks of buying a condo here in the scorching heat.”
Well, somebody did. After the anxiety of not selling it “in season,” we were surprised, relieved and very pleased to get that bittersweet call, even though it came just two weeks after we had flown home.
My husband got a plane ticket back to Florida, called a moving van company to meet him there two days later to pack up the furniture and truck it all back here, and arranged for “Got Junk?” to take away everything that was left.
Another chapter of our life has ended, and like all chapters read, when the book is done, we reluctantly “put it on the shelf,” thankful that we still have each other.
Gloucester resident Susan S. Emerson is a regular Times columnist.