We three women, all retired, all seeking escape from the winter cold, found each other a few years ago at the 55+ Victoria Palms RV Resort in Donna, Texas. Pat was born and raised in New York, trained in classical dance, and attended universities in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and California before marrying and, subsequently, becoming divorced. Christa and Barb are Canadians: Christa from Manitoba and Barb from Ontario. Barb was born and raised in a large Mennonite community in rural southwestern Ontario, attended a private Mennonite high school, married a divorced man and was forced to give up her church membership as a result. Christa, an only child, came to Canada with her German immigrant parents after World War II, settled in Manitoba, became a teacher, married and raised two daughters there.
Living on the same street in the Resort, the three of us began meeting at street parties, those common occurrences in RV Parks and Resorts in the southern States where retirees congregate to pass the winter months. There are no strangers among retirees. All are grateful to be sitting in the sunshine in the middle of January, their common denominator. Seniors love to gather for mid-afternoon happy hours. One person sitting in a lawn chair having a liquid refreshment is a welcome sign. In no time at all someone else arrives carrying a lawn chair in one hand and a cold drink in the other. As soon as three or more people are gathered together in plain sight, that patio, yard, deck or front porch becomes the host site for the street’s happy hour celebration. Stories are told, laughter occurs, and new friends are made.
On retirement, we no longer introduce ourselves to others by what we do for a living. Now we explain ourselves differently—where we come from (state, province), why we chose to come to this place, how long we’ll stay, where we’ll go next season. Once we assess the other as someone we’ll invest time in (e.g. personality traits, conversational ability/style), we delve further. We talk about spouses, families, life experiences, and values. It’s the shared life experiences and values that draw us together and keep us connected. During later conversations, we often come to find out that our struggles and earlier life challenges are quite similar.
At one casual gathering at Victoria Palms, we three—Pat, Christa and Barb—met and each, enjoying the art of storytelling, began to reveal their common interests—chatting about their personal lives, telling their personal stories. As the months went by and we became good friends, we began detailing the intimacies of our personal and family histories. Pat, for example, told us about having worked as a go-go dancer in the mid-1960s. After college, marriage, a baby and a divorce, she lived in a commune Vermont. Christa recounted the loneliness of being an only child to German immigrant parents who refused to speak about the past. Her father, a baker, eked out a living to support his family in their new country. Barb, born and raised on a farm in rural Ontario, was the eldest of five children in a deeply religious Mennonite family recently immigrated from Russia. Her life challenges were linked to a childhood and adolescence lived largely isolated from the dominant non-Mennonite society and culture.