Sharon Citrin Goldstein

Sharon Citrin Goldstein

It is a frigid December morning in Connecticut, twenty-seven degrees if you consider the wind chill factor. I check the weather app with just a tinge of sympathy for our friends, neighbors, and family who are hibernating this winter in heated houses. "Teaser-alert," I could say to them, because here in Florida it is a balmy, seventy-nine degrees. Every day, the sun shines hot and bright with an inviting southeast ocean breeze that feels like a tickle on my bare arms and legs.  
            My husband Paul and I spend our days walking on residential streets where gardeners manicure tropical greenery and lush winter blooms. We walk over drawbridges that lift every thirty minutes for the passage of yachts, day cruisers, and an occasional commercial barge. By the town beach, we marvel at the downy, white sand and turquoise sea, warm enough for a dip. We pass under the shade of palm trees and dodge darting lizards on the hot pavement. We guess at the identity of native bird species and point out differences in the beaks of egrets and ibises.  
            From the paradise of our veranda, we watch as light winds ripple across the Intracoastal and the morning sunlight is reflected on the waterway like sparkling jewels. Some mornings, we spot Mort the Manatee, as we named him, lumbering along the water's edge. We recognize him by the two scars slashed across his algae-spotted back—wounds inflicted by the propellers of a speeding boat. 
            How easy it is to acclimate to this laid-back lifestyle. And yet, I never wanted to consider Florida as a retirement destination. Florida always conjured up images of elderly bench-sitting couples and clusters of old ladies by the pool kvetching about achy backs, swollen feet, and most especially, family woes, their tongues loosened by lazy afternoons lounging in the shade. The bubbies (grandmas) in this scene wear waistless smocks and headscarves. Their bulbous toes are compressed by support hose inside white stubby-heeled sandals.
            Florida, in short, stirs up memories of my grandparents.  
            Throughout their lives, my grandparents Hyman and Jennie were irresistibly drawn to the sea, sand, and sunshine. When Brooklyn's Brighton Beach ocean turned grey and cold winds began to whip across the boardwalk, they traveled to where they could swap wool scarves and rubber galoshes for open-toed sandals and sunhats. In time, Grandma and Grandpa joined the flocks of Jewish retirees making the annual snowbird migration to southern Florida, and they remained there through early spring.
            From as early as 1939, they vacationed in Miami Beach. I recall photos mounted on black paper pages in an old family album where my grandfather and dad—then a long-limbed eleven-year-old boy—are wrestling with a full-sized life-like alligator on the sand. The smiles on their faces signal triumph over the mock beast.
            When I was in the seventh grade, my parents, brother, and I visited my grandparents in Miami during spring break. Taking the role of local tour guides, Grandma led us along gravel paths of the Vizcaya formal gardens past blooming orchids, stone fountains, and a shoreline forest of mangroves. Grandpa took us to a live alligator show in the Everglades where Seminole Indians wrestled with real gators for cheering crowds. 
            They were fairly active and agile, I suppose, for aging seniors, not like the caricatures of my imagination. But wait, I just did the math and shockingly, I realize that Grandma was sixty-nine years old then, just about my present age. When did I go through the metamorphous from young granddaughter to someone of my grandmother's age? The transformation is illusive. Impossible. My bewilderment is compounded by another startling realization: I have landed in Florida with the snowbirds for the winter, just like my grandparents.
            About eight years ago when I was dating my future husband, he asked me, "What are your dreams?" Instinctively, I answered, "I dream of living by the beach." "Me, too! We will make that happen," he promised. But Florida? I was skeptical. He was uncommonly serious.
            Is there an inevitability to the circle of life? Or an inherited predisposition to the sand and sea? Is there a predetermined destiny? Curious, these thoughts cross my mind. But just then, the sighting of an egret—or is it an ibis—distracts me, and I go back to basking in the balm of Florida's tropical Eden.  

Sharon Citrin Goldstein expressed her passions through careers in the arts, business, education, and as an ordained Cantor. Since retirement, she has authored family memoirs, including a book about her father-in-law who survived the Holocaust.

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