Friends can make a ‘snowbird’ feel at home

  • Cindy Lull with her dog Mia on the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, beach. Allen Young

  • Cindy Lull conducts a city tour in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for the city’s Sun Trolley. Courtesy Cindy Lull

  • COURTESY ALLEN YOUNGCindy Lull with her dog Mia on the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., beach.

For The Athol Daily News
Thursday, March 08, 2018

While driving earlier this week on U.S. Interstate 4 heading east from the Gulf of Mexico coast, I saw a sign for Zephyrhills, Fla., a town of 15,000. I first heard of Zephyrhills in the 1980s, when working as a reporter for the Athol Daily News, because every winter, people from the North Quabbin, living thereabouts, have a gathering and send the news up north (maybe to make their friends envious).

A zephyr is a warm, gentle wind, but I don’t know why Zephyrhills is one word when it ought to be two words. I didn’t stop there, in any case, as I needed to get to Orlando to catch a train north.

While there may be some who adore winter in New England, let’s face facts — a large number of us try to get away to warmer climes for a vacation, as I just did. Some leave the north permanently to put down new roots in the land of sandy beaches, palm trees and orange groves. Others are what Floridians call “snowbirds,” sometimes with a mocking tone of voice — these are the people who come to the Sunshine State for just a few weeks or months. They bring money to spend, but they crowd the roadways and the restaurants, too.

Hotels, timeshare resorts, apartment rentals, second homes, campgrounds and new opportunities, such as the popular Airbnb website, make this possible, depending on one’s budget. My Florida visit is premised, in part, on generous friends, and also on Amtrak, because my travel partner doesn’t like to fly. We take the train from Springfield, then change in New York for the Silver Meteor, which takes us to Orlando (with a sleeping car) in 20 hours. A rental car takes us down the Atlantic Coast, two hours on I-75 across Alligator Alley to the Gulf, and then back to Orlando to return the car and for the train ride home.

One of those generous friends helping us is Cindy Lull, a native of Gardner who lived for a while in Royalston, where we began our friendship in the 1970s. Cindy found an apartment we could use for a week in a modest cooperative housing development where she and her husband, Tom, have lived for 10 years.

She used to work with developmentally disabled people for The Bridge of Central Massachusetts, but after moving to Florida, she became “a Florida Master Gardener and Master Naturalist to learn about sub-tropical naturescapes.” She added, “I have always enjoyed nature and the workings of Mother Nature since the hippie days. From Royalston to Florida, the ideals of a clean earth and leaving a better world have been a driving force and no matter where one lives, we can contribute to making life enjoyable, fun and rich and rewarding.”

Aside from working on landscaping in her co-op, she landed a job with the Fort Lauderdale Sun Trolley, a unique transportation system that serves tourists, as well as residents of low-income neighborhoods. Cindy conducts an informative and entertaining city tour on the trolley, focusing on history and the arts. Our tour took place during Black History Month, and I learned about how the Fort Lauderdale public beach, where blacks were not allowed, was finally desegregated in the 1960s under the leadership of a courageous woman named Eula Johnson.

The trolley tour included a stop at the historic Bonnet House, which we toured, and we hiked with another friend in Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, where we observed exotic tropical plants along with some hurricane damage.

Our hosts on Siesta Key in Sarasota, for 10 days, were longtime friends Sam and Sacha Rosenfeld, who have often visited the North Quabbin. Sacha was a childhood pal in Philadelphia of a mutual friend, the late Arthur Platt, former president of the North Quabbin Chamber of Commerce.

“Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days,” goes the saying attributed to Benjamin Franklin, but my Sarasota friends have a spacious home, and we know how to be guests that are welcomed back. The key is to be independent and have no expectation that your hosts will provide you with daily entertainment, housekeeping and meal service, nor should you think your job is to entertain them. Cleaning up after yourself and contributing to any household work is essential, as well. We helped Sacha with some gardening, for example.

We shared some good conversations and watched the Philadelphia 76ers on TV with Sam, who is an avid fan and who taught me stuff about professional basketball that I did not know. This reminded me of my iconic trip to Fenway Park a few years with retired police Sgt. Chris Casella of Athol, who sought to counter my shameful ignorance about his precious Red Sox.

We all got together in Sarasota for a great lunch at a Peruvian restaurant with retired Athol businessman and former Selectman Thomas “Sid” Mann, his Colombian-born wife Sandra and her niece Lina. Sid, who is my age (76), is permanently settled in Sarasota and keeps busy with family and his various hobbies, including railroads and U.S. history (with a membership in Sons of the Revolution).

Vacations are supposed to be relaxing, and this one served its purpose well — with excellent weather as an added bonus. Now, spring is about to arrive, but everyone knows we have to wait just a little.

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