When the snowbirds leave the North Shore in late October for sunny Florida and Arizona, they generally expect to be back by May. However, the midseason pandemic has complicated their migrations home. They’re now forced to make difficult decisions about whether to wait it out or risk the flight home, especially as cases rise in southern and western states.
“We don’t want to fly, nor do we want to stay in a hotel if we were to drive,” said Judy Remis, a Swampscott native currently staying in Boca Raton, Florida. Remis typically spends most of her time there playing rounds of golf, volunteering in the area, attending classes at Florida Atlantic University and meeting up with friends she and her husband, Shep, have met there.
This year has been different. The Remises have stayed put in their Florida home since March, when the pandemic touched down in the U.S., getting groceries delivered and forgoing hangouts with friends unless they’re six feet apart outdoors. They have never stayed in Florida this late in the year before, and the rainy season – with torrential downpours, thunder and lightning – is in full swing. Still, they don’t want to go home yet. “Our kids are encouraging us not to go home. And our doctor said that, you know, he thinks we should stay here, just because of being older and being concerned,” Judy Remis said. “So for the time being, we’re here.”
Although they feel “very safe” at their condo in Florida and have no immediate plans to leave, they miss their family and friends back home. To keep in touch, they message and video call their three children and five grandchildren regularly. They also keep regular appointments for virtual hangouts and card games with their North Shore friends.
Arthur Epstein and his wife, Bryna Litchman, live in the same Boca Raton complex as the Remises, and recently returned to their home in Brookline. In Florida, Epstein spent time taking walks and reading with Litchman. He stayed away from the beaches, restaurants and bars in the state, which he thought opening was a “big mistake,” especially as cases rose there. However, he didn’t feel nervous as the numbers ticked up. “We weren’t stressed being there at all, we followed the rules. We didn’t go out with anybody, we didn’t see anybody, we hibernated,” he said.
Eventually, though, the heat in Florida became overwhelming. Epstein said Litchman was having trouble breathing in the humid air, so they flew home on June 18, after staying more than a month longer than normal. Although he said his children wanted them to take a private plane home out of an abundance of caution, they flew JetBlue instead, choosing to save that money for donations. “That’s what I’ve done my whole life. [Epstein Hillel School] is named after me, and there’s a new building at North Shore Medical Center called the Epstein Behavioral Center that we finished in September, so my life is to make a difference,” he said.
Carolyn Perlow took a middle-of-the-road approach. She plans to travel back from Scottsdale, Arizona, to Marblehead in July, two months later than usual. Like Florida, the weather in Arizona is getting hotter, sometimes reaching over 110 degrees, partially prompting the decision to return home.
“We’ve been hesitant about coming home because the idea of getting on a plane is, you know, not great. But we’ve just made the decision, we’re going to do it,” she said. Perlow and her significant other, Gary Glenner, bought the first two seats on the plane, in first class, “so we’re the last to get on and the first to get off,” she said.
Perlow typically stays in Scottsdale until Mother’s Day weekend, then travels through New Jersey on the way back to see her three sons who live there. Once the pandemic worsened in March, she and Glenner knew that was an unrealistic plan this year. Since then, she has passed the time taking daily six-mile walks, playing bridge and canasta online with friends from Boston – with whom she is “hungry” to socialize face-to-face – and baking challahs and cookies.
She’s even started a new tradition with one of her sons, Josh, who lives on his own in New Jersey. “He calls it ‘COVID Cooking with Carolyn,’ ” she said. They agree on a recipe, separately buy the ingredients, and cook and eat their meals together over FaceTime. He wants to continue the tradition after the pandemic is over to learn his mother’s cooking skills. “It gives me such joy to be able to do this cooking with my son, because he does live alone,” she said. “We who have someone to share our lives with are really very fortunate.”
Friends have asked her if she feels “stuck” in Scottsdale, and she said she replies with, “Stuck? We feel grateful, we feel lucky. We’re outside all the time, and there’s a lot to be said when you can be outdoors during a time like this rather than just being stuck in the house.” While spring in New England tends to be chilly, “May and June here have been beautiful,” Perlow said. “We had the luxury of sitting out on a beautiful patio with flowers and having dinner outside every night.”