To Warmer Climes: A One-Way Trip Down Memory Lane

To start, a quick PSA: if any college-aged student overhears his or her parents talking about a long-haul drive to Florida for the winter—shut it down.

With the graduation of my younger brother last year, I am most certainly hearing these grumblings and, regrettably, I didn’t act fast enough.

This past winter, my parents made the retirement-aged pilgrimage to Southern Florida for what I thought was a brief stint of three months. Coming from a place where the long-term Florida resettlement of empty-nesters is as common as Equinox memberships, I was aware of the inherent dangers of this “trial” trip. Countless friends who had experienced the reality of having their parents vacate their childhood home warned me of the long-term implications of this first foray into the Sunshine State.

I can even remember the ignorant bliss of helping my friend pack up his childhood when his newly empty-nester parents made the definitive decision to permanently vacate his local address and make the migration to warmer climes. For me, deciding whether to keep or discard his childhood artwork was an entertaining afternoon activity, but I realize now that for him it was more of a closing of a chapter in his life.

But again, I was pretty fearless at the time—my parents had it too good back home, and the dog, who had more of a say in this matter than my brother and me combined, would definitely never approve.

So it came to pass, and between semesters my brother and I found ourselves thoughtlessly packing a winter’s worth of clothing and gear into the family car for a nearly 1,300-mile journey south. As we affixed the bike rack and picked up the dog’s Xanax prescription from the pharmacy (no, actually), I can confidently say that the thought of our days in Connecticut beginning to be numbered never occurred to us.

As the mile markers and exits on I-95 became less familiar and the air around us slowly became warmer, I started to think back to the uninhabited house that had long since departed from our rearview mirror. For the next three months, the only activity within those walls in which I grew into myself would be the product of timers on lamps and the heat set on a low hum.

Almost like a life-support system for a house, the heat would be just warm enough to prevent the pipes from freezing.

The twice-a-day flick of the lights and the low purr of the boiler were finally starting to hit me. The thought that this year those walls would miss out on birthday cakes from our favorite bakery and brightly colored Easter pants began to haunt me.

It occurred to me that our mail forwarding would mean that even the mailbox would spend three months without human touch. The same mailbox in which I received my first report card, or my first paycheck, or even my acceptance letter to my dream school would remain cold and empty for the first time in my 20 years of existence.

At that moment, the big envelope from BC that arrived three years ago, the envelope that began the slow two-person exodus from the house, began to seem more like a death sentence.

This train of thought was interrupted by a fit of rhythmic highway sleep, and, looking back, the same fit of sleep kept it off my mind for the duration of my short stay in Florida with my family. The warm sun and wide spectrum of bright colors that Connecticut lacked at the time kept me woefully unaware of the life I was leaving behind, and the rhythmic waves of the ocean lulled me into a trance.

I flew out of the small local airport and watched paradise shrink below me, and with that ascension I woke from this trance and remembered my life, past and future, just a few degrees of latitude north. Though now, my mind a little more tanned and a little more salt-washed, had never felt farther away.

For the time being, my childhood house is in the clear. The Florida experiment was merely a rental, and, like my brother and I, my parents with their bike rack and my dog with her Xanax made the trek back to those empty walls. For one more spring and summer, there will be lights and cakes and flip-flops.

I suppose that all of these things exist where family is, but still, the sentimentalist in me cannot help but wonder—whose report cards and paychecks and acceptance letters will inhabit that mailbox this time next year?

Featured Image by Kelsey McGee / Heights Editor

Maddie Phelps

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