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Guest column | Larry Clifton

Grandsons, family call us back to our Florida home

We decided to head to Florida before it's so hot and humid that our eyeglasses fog up each time we exit a building or car. By June, flip-flops are melting and no one over 30 should be outside in midwest Florida for over an hour due to the excruciating heat waves and accompanying poor air quality. May was our last chance for a quick, painless visit.

Did I say painless?

From the cool woods of our North Georgia Appalachian property, I carried supplies into our RV motor home. On my last trip to the RV, I was toting 50 pounds of luggage and a small desk lamp when the painless visit turned into a painful stumble. Who knew the cabinet door beneath the dining table bench was open?

I pulled a pair of underwear from my face and stared at the blood oozing from a significant scrape on the shin. The good news is that the lamp was spared as my now sore elbow impacted the floor first, thereby absorbing the shock.

Eventually, the preparations were completed and we stopped in Jasper, Ga., to top off the fuel.

"That must be a mistake," I said, pointing at the large neon sign proclaiming gas prices to have jumped 35 cents a gallon since I filled my car's tank a week earlier.

"I don't think so, this is cheaper than down the street," said my wife, Leigh.

After fueling I gave her the receipt for $85 and climbed back into the cab mumbling something about sheiks and shams. This scene would be repeated seven or eight times, including filling up the towed car during our painless visit to our hometown of Land O'Lakes.

Two special reasons that we traveled to Land O'Lakes four times last year are Mason and Collin, our young grandsons. Occasionally, while we are watching a comedic sitcom at home, I observe my wife, Leigh, crying openly at really funny lines. Being a sensitive man, I know that watching King of Queens should not stir such behavior and so often asked probing questions, like, "What's the matter?"

Usually, the conversation involves her missing those two precious grandsons, although other names are often mentioned in secondary fashion. I have developed a system based on counting the number of sobbing episodes during cheerful sitcoms vs. cheerful sitcoms viewed in a 60-day period to create a ratio that tells me when it is definitely time to head south. There was little doubt that this trip was overdue.

After docking at the Encore RV Park in Land O'Lakes, we visited Bill and Tracee and confiscated their sons to stay a night with us at the RV park. It was that evening, while watching the 6- and 7-year-old grandsons play outside, that we started to seriously rethink our lives. Since we sold our Land O'Lakes home and moved to the North Georgia Appalachians 18 months ago, we have traveled from coast to coast in the RV, visiting places like the Grand Canyon; Death Valley; Lake Tahoe, and many more exciting world-class wonders. We have enjoyed the rural, high elevations of Georgia and established some close friendships. Nevertheless, it has been a sweet-and-sour experience.

Profitable work has been scarce, as it is in many regions of the country during this recession. Positions for reporters and feature writers in rural areas today are as rare as significant gold strikes in Dahlonega, home of the fabled eastern Gold Rush. My original and secondary career in the building industry also has few jobs to offer. The world economy virtually collapsed after we sold our Florida home in 2007. We enjoyed a solid equity gain that would be impossible in today's cratered housing market. On the other hand, buying a new home in the Tampa Bay area today is an exciting prospect. They are worth a fraction of their value in 2007 and the interest rate is very low.

After having a wonderful time shopping for toys, and after talking, laughing and playing with Mason and Collin at the RV Park, the boys finally went to sleep. I noticed that with all of this joy, my wife was weeping as she put their toys away.

We talked a lot that night. I broached the subject of moving back to Florida carefully, like a member of a bomb squad cutting the wires to an explosive device. To my surprise, there was little resistance and no explosive commentary. We had arrived at the same place at the same time, so to speak. Perhaps the ability to make major joint decisions is where we shine brightest.

Before long Leigh and I turned our Florida visit into an excruciatingly painful search for a new Florida home. The air-conditioner in my Jeep went out just as the June temperatures arrived. We struggled to keep searching but were ultimately unable to find the right home and deal before returning to Georgia.

Ironically, safe at home in Appalachia and with the Jeep in the shop, we came upon just the right new home in a desirable location and at an affordable price via the Internet. The Internet is cheap on gas, and can be driven from the comfort of a recliner, even if your wife requires Kleenex tissues during a particularly comedic rerun of Everybody Loves Raymond.

We weren't about to purchase a home that we have never seen. The situation required a quick trip back to Florida, a trip during which the air conditioner once again stopped working.

We had brought our two small dogs Buster and Bitsey along but got to the kennel too late to leave them. Buster the Boston terrier is a high-strung neurotic little guy who normally pants approximately 250 times-per-minute but his pant-rate increases as the temperature climbs. I know because he leans on the back of the driver's seat right behind my right ear and I can feel his breath on my neck. Bitsey is a tiny, black Chaweenie with a shrill bark that can nearly shatter a glass goblet.

My wife's normally ebullient persona suffered greatly without air conditioning. The dog's fidgeting, panting and barking ratcheted up our level of discomfort.

The circumstance required us to stay at a hotel that accepts pets. It is now a goal in my life to never do that again. These are actually kennels where masters are allowed to stay with their dogs, if they can stand it.

We finally visited our prospective Florida home, and at this time have secured the deal with a hefty deposit. Hopefully, we will soon be the newest Hernando County residents, but I can assure you that all air conditioning systems will be thoroughly tested before our next painless visit to Florida during the dog days of summer.

Grandsons, family call us back to our Florida home 06/24/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 24, 2009 5:17pm]
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