My Winter with the N.U.T.S (aka: Snowbirds)
Before I enlighten you with tales of intrigue, sensitivity,
unconditional love and warmth, I should remind you that these
emotions may not be found in this story. When one has the
opportunity to work anywhere the sun rises and an internet
connection is in the air, the natural inclination is to move from
the snow to the sun. Add in a beach and you have quite the deal.
When I migrated from the tundra of Minnesota and to record, one
of the coldest winters in decades to the cool and refreshing sands
of Myrtle Beach, the last thing I expected was to be adopted by
the League of Northern Snowbirds
What is a snowbird? It would seem appropriate at this time to
define the term before delving deep into their rituals and habits.
It is a phenomenon that has transpired for hundreds and perhaps
thousands of years. When the warm moist air begins to become
cool and crisp, one or a small group of rather insightful birds
realizes that they can sit on branches, poop and eat in much
warmer temperatures and more importantly they can fly for free.
So thus begins the winter migration to the warmth of the South.
Down Tobacco Road they flew to the sands of Myrtle Beach.
Low and behold, humans do this as well. Without the fortunate
ability to fly they must utilize the great emancipation known as
the Cadillac or Buick for the more frugal minded.
Some of these stories may intrigue you and perhaps some may
even frighten you, but rest assured they are true. Growing up just
outside of New York, you were either a Mets fan or a Yankees
fan, Jets fan or a Giants fan but no matter how deep the inter city
hatred got, we all had one common goal, we hated New
England. Little did I know that Middle Atlantic residents and
New England residents could cohabitate in the same area let
alone the same building. When I first heard the Boston and
Rhode Island area accents like the aftertaste of Clam Chowder
that won’t go away, it was clear I had to do something. I was
taught that New Englanders talked funny and looked even
funnier. Thus Faye and Jerry proved me right but more on them
in a bit.
This group didn’t regionalize themselves to just the Northeast but
members of the Canadian regime, Michigan and the Great State
of Alaska found their way to the Blue Water Resort and Villas,
Myrtle Beach’s home away from home or my little piece of
heaven in the confusion of the South.
Early on I was able to maintain a level of anonymity. I hid
behind my computer and observed patterns of behavior that
would leave me baffled for sometime. The puzzle table, like
vultures to a cadaver left me shaking my head in awe and
wondering if I was in a clinical asylum. Each day a new puzzle
would appear. Couples would come downstairs and work on it,
husbands escaping from their wives or via versa would spend
time working on the puzzle until it was done. Then like a true
Olympic celebration, an honorary photo was taken and then it
was gone; replaced quickly by a new puzzle. Some would spend
hours and some would take solace in finding two puzzle pieces.
Others would pass the time late at night when they couldn’t sleep
as I would see Clarence many a night working late under dim
lighting or early in the morning before their beach walk, but even
until the last of the snowbirds vacated, there would be a puzzle.
While the asylum was fresh in my head, I had my first interaction
with Brownie and Marge, two of the wonderful citizens of Lake
George. As I sat one morning hidden behind the shelter of my
computer, the wonderfully cute couple made their way to the
back door of the resort (my thoughts were that they were going
for a beach walk), but stopped. Then they turned around and
walked away. Nothing strange about that; they must have
changed their mind. Several minutes later, they appeared
walking to the back door, stopping and turning around once
again. Thus, the clinical asylum theory is back on the table. It
took several days to realize that they were exercising together.
It didn’t take more than a few days before this energetic group
befriended me and made me their mascot. Not in the dress up
like an oversized animal mascot but more like a punching bag.
With mascot title came mascot duties. For a young professional
adult that meant Bingo, Wii Bowling and Shuffleboard and a
rather confusing lesson in Cribbage. Weekly rituals that would
become my inauguration into the Fellowship of the Snowbirds.
Rusty and Barbara missed their true calling in life: Event
Coordinators to the White House. Every birthday, every
anniversary, every pot luck dinner, every weekly meeting, every
Super Bowl Party (ok there was one), every Wii Bowling night
and every farewell had Russ and Barb behind the scenes planning
every details with precision accuracy. Yet the hardest thing they
had to do all winter other than say goodbye was to compile their
1000 pictures portfolio to a video scrapbook of only 250.
Before I get into any detail on the individual personalities that
made my journey to the heart of the south so memorable, one
must not forget the constant that was here prior to the snowbirds
and will remain long after; Marcus. Marcus was one bad joke
short of a recall but given my history of being so poor with
names, he was easy to remember. Marcus has the heart of a
teddy bear or is that the body. Anyway, he was part of the
maintenance team but clearly the one that stood out and took that
extra step for us. I won’t end my discussion on Marcus without
sharing the news that he just recently learned that he will be a
father for the first time.
Ray and Joanne, a couple with subtle wit and charm, never
missed an event or a good joke to email to the rest of the group.
Yes, they would really sit across from each other and email
jokes. Ray awakened me to a game that has not seen the light of
day in my life since I was ten or even younger. That game was
shuffleboard. After the first few rounds or games I was
comfortable with it but not my first choice of a major sporting
events; but over time I learned to not only enjoy it but appreciate
it not for the game itself but the company I shared it with.
Bill and Colleen. The Ying and Yang couple. While Bill
maintained a calm and collected personality, Colleen was crazy.
This woman would bowl a strike and act like she was on ESPN
winning the PBA title. Of course, she never relinquished the
opportunity to tell me that I ate all the time. I didn’t. I drank a
great deal of coffee, but not to be mistaken with constant eating.
Fred and Harriet, our illustrious Mutt and Jeff, Abbott and
Costello, Andre the Giant and Mini Me. I think you see where
this is going. They were physically different in height and
stature but the way they cared about each other, especially when
Harriet was sick showed how much they meant to each other.
Willy and Hedy just made you laugh. Willy had a knack for kite
flying. More than just a hobby, it was a passion that brought him
and the beach together in a way that I didn’t see with others. He
become one with the skies and the ocean and shared his passion
with many passing observers. Hedy was in control and on top of
her game until the night of the mighty margarita pitchers. As we
will always remember her famous line (prior to her passing out at
Bingo), “They taste just like lemonade”
Bob and Jan and Lori were all in some way related, yet I am still
trying to figure it out but they were never without a smile or a
little peer pressure to put my work aside and enjoy the sun. A
key fact you won’t see in the back of the sports section is that
Lori at age 91 shot a 53 in the front nine in Conway. I even
thought about playing her but thought again.
Maureen and David approved of me right away. This was
important, one because I didn’t know I was being tested, but two
they were the only ones to share my floor. Believe me; I
wouldn’t share my floor with anyone.
Gerry and Connie the resident tour guide and photographer.
Gerry had the state of the art camera and Connie would keep a
room entertained and make sure everyone knew everyone by the
end of a conversation.
Marie played sarcasm and charm like a concerto in Carnegie
Hall. She would embrace a room, share a story and be gone
before you realized what time it was. Marie is always on the go
but always stopped to enjoy the company of her friends. Marie
has been part of this community for 28 years and hasn’t missed a
beat. She could be alone or with many but always smiling and
maintaining her Irish pride. One could not forget the thoughtful
gesture of 10 boxes of post Christmas Candy Canes she gave to
me on my birthday. Of course leaving the receipt in the bag that
showed she paid ten cents a box lost some of the sentiment, but
her heart was always in the right place.
Bernie was the quiet observer. He never missed an opportunity
to share the spectator sport of puzzle mind games or cribbage and
in the most opportune moment, with a smile or a gesture, you
knew what he was thinking or feeling. He was able to convey his
sentiment with silent prominence.
Let us not forget Bob and Carolyn who graciously invited me
into their second home, taking a break from the winters of Alaska
to offer me a home cooked meal, insight into the group and more
college basketball knowledge than I could fathom two people
having. Of course their romantic courtship began at referee
school. Just don’t watch a game with them because it becomes
less about the game and more about the efficiency of the
Jean and Karey are a little different, not in the mental state but
that they live in the Carolina’s and own a unit in our little Blue
Water Heaven. Karey always carried around his wind up radio (I
don’t understand, but it works) listening to Rush Limbaugh. I
never had the heart to tell him how much I hated Rush. Jean
would be steady working hard on her computer. I don’t know
what she did until she needed me for tech support but she helped
me fulfill a little dream of mine. Ok, I really whined about it
until she said yes. I got to call my first and only game of bingo
on the final bingo night of the season. After my game I got a
standing ovation, not for how good I was but that I was done. I
can’t ever forget bingo. My first time I won a car and $10.00 for
gas money. Don’t be silly, not a real car. Did we have our
moments: Marie and Faye drunk on champagne, Jean calling
games drunk and getting numbers and letters wrong, the vinegar
that no one would take, beautiful hand made gifts, Russ making
weird sound effects with each call, and Jerry not even knowing
he won and he was sober. For two hours each week of number
and letter calling, this group made it fun.
Faye and Jerry really understood the importance of family. They
watched what I ate, how late I was working and even brought me
food so I wouldn’t dwindle away. They provided me with my
independence but put an extra hand forward if I needed the
feeling of support.
The months went quickly and not without hardship that forced
many to band together and share in the reality of life and the
pains of death. Mike celebrated the ripe young age of 88 while
he was down here, but with the knowledge of cancer making a
home in his body. Ed, a simple and very talented artist shared
his work that he has been doing for 50 years, but unfortunately
had to leave early due to some heart issues and while in route
home hospitalized. Carolyn and Helen could only stay a short
while due to breast cancer. As an outsider looking in, their outer
strength was amazing. They were always up and energetic and
never let on that anything bothered them. I admired that.
The common theme was togetherness. Every evening at seven in
the evening, whether there was an event or not, the group found
their way to the lobby to engage in conversation ranging from
childhood to politics. This group never lacked a topic nor was
there ever a lull in the conversation. It was fascinating how
everyone belonged, especially me. I wasn’t treated any different.
I was harassed just like everyone else. They found value in life
that I don’t even think I am close to finding. It was this feeling of
family that ultimately created a safe haven. Not everyone was
healthy or without pain but we all looked and played the part of
the healthy family. Not because we had to, but because the
greatest medicine is the world is a common sense of love that
each shared for each other. I was told a few weeks ago by Hedy
“You will never forget us for the rest of your life”. She was
right. They brought sanity to an insane world or was that the
other way around. They made me belong when I didn’t know a
What is a lifetime but a concept far from the reaches of my
mental state until now: Bob and Geri have been married since
1960, Ray and Joanna since 1969 and Jerry and Faye and Bill
and Colleen since 1957 respectively. Minors in the playground
of lifelong love. Paul and Annie Marie shared 61 years together
this March, with Ray and Terry to follow in May with 61 of their
own. Dave and Maureen have 59 wonderful years of memories,
but at the top of the cake is Brownie and Marge who in August
will turn back the clock of time to reflect on 67 years of beautiful
As each member departed, a ritual ensued involving a Friday
night meeting without invitations or advertising but a common
place to share memories, exchange gifts and reflect on true
reasons each person returns to this place. With a hug and
laughter, we retreated to our rooms knowing a few less people
would be there in the morning.
Every day is a journey of discovery. Delving into a new culture
and environment without so much as a parachute has been my
signature for many years. Myrtle Beach is a very unique cultural
blend of generational differences that is a testament to the
direction our society is turning. We live in a modern age of
greed and irresponsibility and ignorance, but we can’t forget that
we were built on the foundation of caring, sensitivity and
companionship. I was able to experience both, being in the
crosswinds of multi-generational living habits. The community
of Blue Water wasn’t a church group, a single town or even a
single country but a melting pot of flavors with a common goal, a
temporary escape from the burdens of a northern winter. Along
with their clothes and personal belongings, they brought with
them years of life experiences rich in passion and success. The
optimism they share for each other was so prevalent each and
every day. Life is not about being young but feeling young.
Happiness is a mental state that no level of physical aging can
ever take away. This common bond of happiness spilled over to
me for the few months I was able to be part of this journey.
I will meet new people and have new experiences as I continue to
follow my path. Some will be good and some will not, but it is
the memorable ones you need to hold onto very closely. Maybe
that is the single greatest lesson I will take away with me as I
begin my journey back north. Only time has written the words
that I will follow.
There are very few absolute conclusions one can draw from life.
For instance, you can never determine where you will find your
friends or what you will have in common but the only certainty is
that when you find them, you need to hold on. I was fortunate. I
picked a random place in a random city to call home for a few
months and was able to meet some of the most amazing people I
have ever had the opportunity to spend time with. Was it the
games, the war stories, the recipes, the dinners, the parties, the
drinking, the puzzles, the long conversations, the free food and
wine or the rides to the airport? It was the unselfish way they
took a complete stranger and let him into their world. After I
returned from a visit north, my desk had a single red rose and a
sign that said “Welcome Back Mark. We Missed You. Love the
What more can I say. I’m a NUT now.