Staying Young While Growing Old in Florida
July 26, 2014
By Jean Steiger
Twelve years ago, my husband and I decided to spend our winters in Florida. We were living in Rochester, NY and the winters were becoming an issue: I had fallen on black ice a few years before and broken my hip. In addition to receiving a diagnosis of osteoporosis, I had become ice phobic. My job demanded trips to nine counties. The driving wasn’t a problem but walking from the car to the office door in winter would send me into a panic.
Florida wasn’t a destination that either my husband or I had ever considered. My parents had lived on the East Coast and we had found it crowded, devoid of parks and preserves and lacking in educational opportunities. So we decided to visit the West Coast. We started with a condominium rental on Marco Island and a visit with friends living in Naples. Marco Island was quickly discarded (very little beach access if you didn’t live on the beach) and Naples soon followed (lovely but it had a wealthy snob attitude that put us off). We drove north along Route 41 until we hit Sarasota where we quickly discovered St. Armand’s Circle (a shopper’s haven) and settled in for a three day stay at a motel on Lido Beach. We liked Sarasota – the new library, a lovely downtown area, a feeling of space, tons of educational opportunities. But something was missing. We visited Lakewood Ranch which was in its infancy at the time. It seemed a long way from the beaches and a bit too uniform for our tastes. We hesitated.
One day we went for a ride along the Gulf of Mexico, through Long Boat Key. The view was lovely but it was obvious that the beaches were unavailable to anyone without property on the Island. This was an exclusive community and not what we were looking for. Then we went over the bridge and entered a whole new world. Funky beach houses lined the road; every color, every shape but none more than three stories high. Small restaurants and shops popped up here and there; people walked the streets in bathing suits and shorts and a casual bedlam seemed to exist everywhere. Best of all, the Island boasted miles of beaches and hundreds of parking spaces. This was our kind of place.
This place was Anna Maria Island and, within a year, we had bought a house two miles up the causeway from the Island. We could be on the beaches in less than ten minutes, but we could also be in Bradenton and shopping for necessities in ten minutes. Sarasota was a bit of a trip – 30 minutes when traffic was light and 45 during the prime winter months. But who cared? We were retired, after all.
We sold our house in Rochester and employed a contractor to upgrade our tiny ancient cottage on Honeoye Lake, one of the smallest Finger Lakes in Upstate New York. This would be our summer home. And – a big And- we decided to become Florida residents! Now we were really committed. What we hadn’t expected or realized were the amazing people we would grow to know, the number of activities and educational choices this part of Florida had to offer and how this combination would conspire to keep us young, even as our years continued to accumulate.
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