Columbus, Ohio USA
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Bye Bye Snowbirds
By Betty Garrett Deeds
December 2011 Issue
If my husband, Danny Deeds, had not died years ago, I know where we would be right now: Daytona Beach, Florida.
As snowbirds go, Danny took flight rather late in life. Decades of working as a country club manager, theatrical entrepreneur, owner/operator of The Maramor restaurant, administrator of the Wolfe family’s Wigwam, along with his compulsive workaholism, kept him indoors so much that his hobbies amounted to only two: gambling (mostly investments in the lottery system) and golf. And if it were not for his love of golf, it is quite possible that he might never have seen the sun in his entire 79 years.
As Thurber once put it, he was not “at one with nature.” Trees made him nervous. He thought they should be “cut down so things would be neat.” The outdoors was a place where apartments and houses were built, the material of theatrical scenery, and where holes were dug, by necessity, on stretches of real land so he could play golf.
Golf is best played in sunshine and reasonable warmth. In Columbus, that meant he started the earliest possible day in the spring, playing throughout the summer and up until the holes filled with ice come winter at The Rivera Country Club, an Italian-American enclave which took the Austrian-born Deeds in as honorary (as well as paying) member and re-named him Deedsiano. The group were comrades on the Riviera course for at least three or four decades.
At one point, around 1963, Danny visited one of his retired buddies in Daytona Beach, at least ten years before his own retirement, and became convinced he should buy a place there. Sunshine whenever he wanted it. That made sense to Danny, so he bought a condo in a posh settlement named Spruce Creek.
Secluded and surrounded by armed guards 24 hours a day year-round, the condos were often located on man-made lakes. The spacious grounds planted with gorgeous Blue Spruce trees contained numerous mansions with hangars as well as garages, for many of the residents settled there to use their private airport – John Travolta was one of them.
Well, in his first ten years or so as an owner, Danny visited his condo no more than a half dozen times to decorate it (resembling an Art Deco set from a Fred Astaire movie) and played golf. The rest of the time, he pursued his punishing work schedule, and did not officially take up the November-May schedule and lifestyle of Florida’s snowbirds (most of them from Ohio) until his retirement.
His next-door neighbor, Erv Hardison, a native of Tennessee, was an accountant and lifetime Air Force Reservist. He spoke as slowly as most Southerners reputedly do. Relaxation was Erv’s art form, while Danny, the non-stop worker and worrier, only stopped twitching when he picked up his golf clubs, using the miraculous firm and steady stance and aim he had developed.
The Odd Couple, as his wife and I called them, became great friends. They greeted the dawn together and returned to their condos and helpmeets only when dinnertime neared. They would start the day with breakfast, usually at the Cracker Barrel, a franchise “down home” restaurant where they dined on cholesterol-clogging courses of bacon and ham, 2 or 3 eggs, home fries, scalloped apples and biscuits and gravy.
Erv liked to shop at local bargain emporiums such as Sam’s Club and Wal-Mart. They would browse around an hour or so, finally leaving with Erv toting one or two purchases. Danny just watched and walked, and they chatted in Viennese-American and Confederate camaraderie before enjoying the highlight of their day on the golf course. Occasionally they went out in the evening to Greyhound races next to the Daytona Beach raceway and enjoyed a few “wagers,” most of which Danny lost. His specialty was poker; his facial expression was legendary for never changing.
Meanwhile, Erv’s wife Marguerite and I would go out to lunch, bargain movies, and to the beaches, Flagler Beach to the north was a delightful break from the commercialism of the famed Raceway belt – the big annual race was one of its seasonal highlights, with the newspapers and the locals turning out to get a glimpse of celebrity racers and actors such as Paul Newman. The other highlight at the end of snowbird season was called Bikers Week, with good reason. Nearly half a million bikers from around the world descended on the town, along with the college breakers.
Otherwise, Marguerite and I spent our spare time, which was all the time except for when we prepared dinner, driving around the “city” streets watching other snowbirds drive. It was the most palatable alternative to walking along the beach and seeing people who had reached at least seven score and more, male and female, unabashedly displaying their sagging bosoms, bellies and pasty limbs to the sun and anyone who cared to watch the parade. I rather envied their total lack of self-consciousness, but found the sight depressing. (Being of Baptist background, I do not even feel comfortable wearing shorts outside my home.)
Not to mention driving. There is some law, or lack of law, in Florida which permits people of any age to continue driving without renewed testing for fitness. The result, if you value your life, gives new meaning to defensive driving maneuvers, especially “assured clear distance.” In Daytona Beach, that meant staying about a half-mile behind the closest driver in front of you: just close enough to see that someone was ahead of you, but far enough away to save yourself when octogenarians of all ages suddenly decided they might like to go to a shop four to six lanes to the left of the one they were driving in.
I could never see whether or not they used their signals before cutting across the highway; I just watched in amazement and horror the bold swath the spontaneous driver made without a backward glance. These maneuvers were not as frightening as the drivers who, while proceeding north on the highway, decided they might like to go south instead, making U-turns around obstacles of almost any variety.
Danny Deeds, who seemed to have gotten his license out of the proverbial Cracker Jack box, always insisted on driving the 1989 Buick Skylark, which I subsequently inherited and treasure.
The Goddess has more electronic and computerized gadgets on it than the craft in the film 2001 – white with posh red interior, sleek lines, very sporty indeed. But Danny didn’t really know what to do with it. He had no idea what the knobs, buttons, and gadgets were for except to turn on the radio or roll down the driver’s window. The sunroof stayed shut because Danny never knew it opened. That didn’t stop him.
He also had a notoriously poor sense of direction. When told he was going the wrong way, he would proceed at 65-75 miles an hour (often with his left wheels on the brim of a concrete median, with the right wheels on the road) and assured people, “Don’t worry. As long as I have gas, I am never lost.”
Well, I have not returned to Florida since Danny’s death. But it pleases me to think that he is now where he can play golf any time he likes, and the scenery is all painted to his theatrical liking, preferably the backing for a Strauss or Lehar operetta.
As for me, six weeks of Florida in winter could seem like heaven. But after six months of palm trees and aimless, boring living, my snowbird wings moulted. Frankly, my dears, I just didn’t give a damn anymore.
Betty Garrett Deeds is a former reporter for the Columbus Citizen-Journal and author of Columbus: America’s Crossroads. She can be reached at Bettydeeds1@aol.com. This article was first published in our February 2003 issue.
© 2011 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.
First published in the February 2003 Short North Gazette.
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