It was right around 20 degrees the afternoon I talked to Michael Morris. Everything outside seemed to be covered with ice. It was dark and frigid and forecasters were talking about another series of snow storms expected to plow into Maine over the weekend.

Against this bleak backdrop, I asked Morris a question to which I really didn’t want to hear the answer.

“I’m in Sunshine Key,” Morris told me brightly. “It’s about 78, 79 degrees here. Yesterday was 85, and this is a cold front.”

There was more.

“An average day? Oh, we get up, we go swimming. We ride the motorcycle pretty much every day. It’s beautiful on the Keys. It’s relaxing.”

Snowbirds, right? We love them because they are family and friends who worked hard and found ways to winter someplace sunny and warm. And we hate them – at least once in a while – because while we’re all up here shivering and shoveling from October until May, they’re calling us from tiki bars or posting photos on Facebook of palm trees and sun-baked beaches.

Morris, spending his winter on the Florida Keys with his wife, Pierrette, is a classic snowbird. After living most of their lives in Auburn, the couple moved away from the harsh Maine winters four years ago, making the journey south in an RV they bought used, and towing a Harley Davidson three-wheeler behind it.

The first year, they stayed in Daytona. It wasn’t right for them. What Michael and Morris were after was pure, sunny relief from the Maine cold and Daytona just wasn’t providing it.

“We went to the race in February. We had to wear winter jackets,” Morris said. “Then we came down to the Keys and fell in love with it – we fell in love with it because it’s hot.”

Like so many Mainers who spend their winters in warmer places, Michael and Pierrette Morris had to earn their way – he worked as a manager at Bath Iron Works. She worked production with L.L. Bean.

The couple had always planned to spend their later years somewhere warmer, Michael told me. They planned to wait until they were retirement age, but then Michael was diagnosed with cancer and that changed everything.

“It dawned on me,” Michael said. “I better start doing stuff that I can do now, because I’m not always going to be able to do those things.”

The couple retired a few years ahead of schedule and now it’s swimming pools, beaches and motorcycle rides each winter for Michael and Pierrette Morris. They spend Christmas in Maine with their kids and grandkids and then a day later, they’re headed south toward the Keys. They stay until mid-March when they’ll head back north again for the spring and summer.

The Morrises are not alone of course. And everyone who leaves Maine for warmer climes does so under different circumstances and has different ways of making their “home” once they reach their southern destinations. From couch surfing, to The Villages, to tailgating. For their stories, read on.

Yummy Raubeson: Doing whatever it takes to evade the Maine winter

The Morris’ Florida experience is a fine example of a well-crafted plan executed when the time was right. Meanwhile, there’s Roland “Yummy” Raubeson, a 66-year-old Minot man and former “Downeast Dickering” star who heads to Florida each winter whether he’s fully prepared for the journey or not.

“Right now, I’m at Pompano Beach in the Walmart parking lot,” Raubeson told me on a recent day of single digit temperatures in Maine. “I come down here every winter and I live in my truck. I bought a camp stove this year so I’m cooking meals on my tailgate. This morning I had home fries, bacon and eggs.”

Raubeson is proof that one doesn’t need an intricate and decade’s-long plan to escape the Maine winters. His adventures in snowbirding began eight or nine years ago when a friend flew Raubeson down to Florida for a job, but then sold the company, leaving Yummy without work or a place to live.

That’s a big problem for some people. It wasn’t a problem for Yummy. He simply decided he liked the warmth of Florida, so he went and got himself a Dodge pickup truck and decided to spent the winters there, and to heck with planning.

“I park all over the place and just sleep right in the front seat,” Raubeson said. “I find work here and there. There’s a church down here where I go to take showers. I go to church there on Sundays and I donate food to them.”

In mid-January, Raubeson was scoping out possible work parking cars at the airport for a rental agency. Meanwhile, a brother who lives in Florida had offered Raubeson a more traditional place to live.

“I said, ‘What’s wrong with you?’” Raubeson said. “Are you trying to mess up my adventure?”

He said he’ll probably head back to Maine by Memorial Day. Or, you know. Whenever he feels like it.

Larry and Patricia Gilbert: Escape to central Florida

The way Larry Gilbert Sr. describes The Villages in central Florida might make you weep a little, if you happen to be stuck someplace less hospitable in winter.

The golf courses. The happy hour gatherings. The swimming pools, social clubs, pickleball, live entertainment and fresh seafood . . . To hear Gilbert tell it, every day in The Villages is a little like Spring Break for older folks.

“If you get bored here,” says Gilbert, “there’s something wrong with you.”

The Villages is a community of roughly 115,000 people over the age of 55. Gilbert and his wife, Patricia, have been spending their winters there since around 2013, after Larry got done serving five years as Lewiston mayor.

Originally, that first winter in central Florida was supposed to be a one-time affair.

“Our intention was just to rent for three months in the winter,” Gilbert says. “The people we met here, at the pool or whatever, told us, ‘You’ll probably end up buying before you leave.’”

And that’s exactly what happened. So smitten with the summery leisure of The Villages were the Gilberts, they ended up buying a home there so they could come back every winter.

“It’s modest,” Gilbert says. “It’s nothing fancy, but it’s home.”

Like so many snowbirds we have come to know and envy, the Gilberts got there through hard work and careful planning. Larry spent 25 years with the Lewiston Police Department, with five of those years as chief. He was later Maine’s U.S. marshal, the associate director of the Maine Community Policing Institute at UMA, and of course Lewiston mayor from 2007 until 2012.

The Gilberts – Larry is 73, Patricia 71 – had lived, worked and raised their family in Maine, enduring the harsh winter weather every step of the way. It was time.

“Being retired and all, we decided that, hey, winter is getting tougher,” Gilbert says. “We want to enjoy our retirement.”

And enjoy it, they do, although their place in The Villages doesn’t get them out of the Maine winters entirely. Because they have children and grandchildren back in Maine, Larry and Patricia tend to spend the holidays – Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve – in the wintry north.

“I really feel bad when I go back for Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year and I have to shovel out a storm,” Gilbert says. “I think, ‘What the hell am I doing here?’”

So, sometime in January, they head to their sunny home-away-from-home in The Villages, where it’s warm and sunny and snow is unheard of.

“The only snow I see is in church,” Gilbert says. “All that white hair, you know.”

There they stay until June when they’ll return to Maine as it finally blooms into summer. They can enjoy their family in decent weather until winter rolls around again and it’s time to head south once more.

“It really is the best of both worlds,” Gilbert says.

Velma McConnell: A snowbird who made the move permanent

A “memory” popped up on Velma McConnell’s Facebook page recently from a time when she was still living in Auburn, Maine. The memory was from the winter of late 2017 when it was -17 degrees up here and winter was only getting started.

She can look back at that memory without much pain now, because for McConnell, the days of sub-zero temperatures are behind her – that winter, a particularly hard one, was her last in Maine. Before the next winter swept in up here, McConnell and her husband were long gone, off to the Palm Coast, Florida, where a 40-degree night in January is considered frigid.

“Palm Coast is located roughly 25 miles south of St. Augustine and I still feel like we’re living in a dream! I put a plan into motion that cold day in Maine – that plan was to move to Florida sometime mid-to-late 2020. Lots of things had to happen: pay down some debt, beef up my skills on my resume, get a few more Salesforce certifications.

“Well, a few months later a house went up for sale in the same town as a specific company I was interested in (working for), so we started the ball rolling – things like: Can we get a mortgage? Can we find a house?

“And wouldn’t you know, it was simply meant to be. We didn’t get the first house we looked at. We house hunted in May with our adult children and I had a job interview with that company, and wouldn’t you know, I moved down here in July and my husband followed in August.

“Haven’t looked back, honestly. I have been outside in the heat of summer in Florida more than I ever would be in the dead of winter in Maine!”

Dianne Ward: An RV named Wilbur and Bella the cat

Dianne Ward, who hails from Auburn, Mechanic Falls and other winter-plagued towns, took the Yummy Raubeson approach to snowbirding: doing whatever it took to get out of Maine. But unlike Raubeson, she stopped just short of Florida to get her sunshine fix. At first, anyway.

“I’m 63, left my full-time sales job and signed up early for Social Security, but my retirement savings I’ll try not to touch as long as I can. I purchased my first motorhome, a 35-foot Winnebago Adventurer (in) April of 2018 and moved into it full time. Sold, gave away or donated all but my cat, who travels beautifully —sometimes on the dashboard.

“I work-camped at a campground in the midcoast to learn the full-time RV lifestyle.

“The week before Halloween it snowed, so I had to leave. I rolled down the road with only less than 50 miles of practice driving my rig. I really had no interest in Florida as that’s where I feel like old people go to die. It was a white-knuckle trip – overnight stops at casino and Walmart parking lots. I arrived in Georgia! I have not seen the sand beaches, but boiled peanuts and pecans are everywhere.”

A couple days after I talked with Ward about all that awesomeness, she wrote to tell me she was heading to Florida after all, to take a job at a music park in Live Oak.

“If I love it, I’ll go back next winter,” she says. “I’ve lined up fall jobs in Georgia selling pumpkins until the Christmas trees start, then I can sell fireworks between Christmas and New Years. I’ve spent a ton of time researching (about) all there is to do to raise cash, travel and stay places free.”

Lin Prescott: Rambling away winter

Lin Prescott once traveled across the United States in a beat-up RV with just a guitar and a dog and cat for company. The RV lost its door in Wisconsin, but Prescott kept on rolling. With that kind of rambling history, traveling across Florida to escape the Maine winter really isn’t much of a thing for this 70-year-old school teacher from Auburn.

“I have some friends that live here all over the state, so though I officially roost in Lady Lake with an old friend, I visit all over,” Prescott says. “I bring my car always. I used to sleep in a truck stop on the way down or all night Walmarts to save money, but have been banned from it in the winter months.”

Prescott said she will be back in Maine come spring because she’ll need to do her taxes, renew her driver’s license and plant her garden. Meanwhile, she feels no guilt about missing all the snow, ice and cold she left behind in Maine.

“I really am sorry for everyone up there,” Prescott says, “but glad I’m not doing that this winter. I did my time, so to speak and am sure I will again.”

Jill Jordan: Transitioning to Tampa

“This is my fifth winter in Florida,” writes 56-year-old Auburn native Jill Jordan. “I have to work while I am here, but it works for me. I have two grown kids and three grandkids here and a son and two grandkids in Maine. Sold my house in Maine this past summer – huge relief of worries.

“I am in Tampa. Been a little chilly but doesn’t last. I do temp work while I’m here. Just got a part-time job at Delta for the free airfare so I can pop home to see grandkids and friends.

“I was born and raised in Auburn, went to ELHS. Married and raised three wonderful children there. I recently sold the house this past summer and will stay with my son in Leeds, ’til I decide what I want to do for the time I am in Maine.”

Nellie Goulette: Splitting time between Florida and Jefferson, Maine

“We winter in central Florida in a city called Bartow. We are equal distance from Orlando and Tampa, and are in . . . the Good Life RV Park. Bought our place in January 2016,” says Nellie Goulette, a former Twin Cities resident who now summers in Jefferson, Maine.

“I have three other siblings who also live in the same RV park and all on the same street in the park. My older brother, Roger, has been doing the snowbird thing for at least 20 years. We love it here in this park, as do pretty much everyone who lives here. The park is a 55-plus park.

“I vacationed here visiting my family about 12 years ago, and sort of fell in love with it. When places come up for sale here in the park, they don’t usually last long. There are over 400 lots in our park. There are park models, RVs, 5th wheels (and) campers in the park.”

Jim Palmer: Bunking with buddies in Florida for winter

“I have osteoarthritis in my joints and cold weather is painful!,” writes New Auburn resident Jim Palmer. “My best bud (since 1969), Paul Arsenault, and his family headed to Florida several years ago and now live in “Bare Foot Bay” (Micco, Sebastion area) and we fly down to visit.

“Condition is that WE buy all the groceries for our time there! They take us to all the sights and we have a GREAT time just hanging out in the warm weather. In the summer they snowbird north to their camper in a Maine campground and we host them while they’re here.

“Paul and I played in several successful Maine bands together including Axis, a mainstay popular act doing the “A” circuit in Maine in the early ’80s. This year we celebrate 50 years as friends!”

John Lessard: Livin’ the life in Riviera Beach, Florida

“Snorkeled yesterday off Singer Island. It was 80. Did a crossword puzzle, had a couple of cold ones at the tiki bar – keep your snow.”

Andy Levesque: Seeing green in Tampa, Florida since 2007

“The grass is not greener on this side of the fence, it is just green year-round,” writes Auburn native Andy Levesque. “I moved away to Florida for opportunity. It is here, along with issues.

“In Hillsborough County, Tampa, Florida, we have 1.3 million people. That is more than the state of Maine. It was fun at first, but there is no sense of community here versus back home. It has advantages, but also comes with a price. I won’t mention TRAFFIC!”

Suze Blood: Feeling hot but healthier in Lakeland, Florida

“I’ve been down here on and off for eight years now. Florida feels like home regardless of how dysfunctional it can be,” writes former Auburn resident Suze Blood.

“It’s better all around and especially for my autoimmune disease/osteoarthritis. I had terrible seasonal affective disorder up there; the sunshine, warmth and light has been fantastic. You folks who brave the winters: my hat is off to you. I’m not that brave anymore!

“I’m also very cognizant of how miserable winters can be in Maine, so you won’t see me bragging consistently regarding the milder weather. I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to transplant, as it were.

“As far as downsides . . . at my last job I had to wear all black (she works in a salon). In the middle of summer it can feel pretty oppressive. And last summer was incredibly rainy. And right before it rains it gets ridiculously humid; I sport the Don King look all summer.”

Bonnie Lee-Dubois: Finds a welcoming South, but memories linger

“In 2011 I lost my husband to septic pneumonia, and I was lucky enough to find love again. Unfortunately, my husband died March 24, 2018, of cancer. My daughter had lost her husband after he was injured in Afghanistan and (then) murdered in Olympia Washington 10 days before being discharged for his disability from that war. He was 28. I had also lost my mom and my brother in the past few years, so I had no obligations to keep me here,” writes Bonnie Lee-Dubois, formerly of Casco.

“My daughter wanted desperately to leave Maine because for her the winters made her more depressed. It just never seemed like the right time. I was fostering two veterans in my home and the assisted living facility I worked at was getting ready to close. One of the veterans went to hospice and the other veteran moved. Then my husband, Paul, passed away. Too many memories in Maine.

“My daughter and I put our homes up for sale and decided to look for a place in sunny Florida. I spent three months trying to find a place in our price range. As soon as I put in an offer, it was already taken. We decided to find a place close to Florida, but not quite Florida.

“We finally found a place in (Dothan) Alabama. No snow. Sun. Sweet southern people. We put in an offer and it was accepted. My daughter’s house sold quickly. She left first and got things set up. My house, once on the market, sold within three days for more than my asking price. Could this be a message from above that this was the right thing to do? I took it as such. So off I went on the 1,400-mile drive to Alabama. Nobody ever moves to Alabama do they? I doubt it, because when I mentioned it to people they would give me a weird look and say, ‘Alabama? Why?’

“It was nice here, everyone called me ma’am, they took my grocery cart and emptied it on the counter and brought it to my car for me. As soon as I walked into Publix, they would say very loudly, ‘Welcome to Publix.’ The bars stay open until 6 a.m., except on Saturday they close at 2 a.m. because there is church in the morning. I could get used to this.

“When I wanted to go to the beach I would go to Destin Beach. It was so peaceful, and a great place to think about life, sitting by the azure blue ocean. . . .

“I transferred my nursing license over, got my administrator’s license here in Dothan. Nobody knew me here. Many of the regulations were different for my position. I started to miss walking into a place where I know people and they already know me. In Maine, in my field, people know my work. Nobody knows me here.

“I miss my son who lives in Maine. I miss my bi-monthly poker games. No lottery in Alabama. I miss going motorcycle riding with my friends, I miss running into familiar people in the stores when I look my worst, I miss staying in the house when it’s nasty outside. I wanted to leave Maine to forget about my losses, but it hasn’t worked out that way. It seems that there is something to be said for sharing memories with old friends. It turns out, I never really wanted to forget anyway.”

Lovebirds and snowbirds Larry and Patricia Gilbert of Lewiston at their winter home at The Villages in Florida. (Courtesy of Larry Gilbert Sr.)

An alligator soaks up the Florida sun not far from the home of Velma McConnell, who moved to the Sunshine State from Auburn last year. (Velma McConnell photo)

A view from Lin Prescott’s gym in Lady Lake, Florida. Prescott lives in Auburn in warmer months. (Lin Prescott photo)

Lin Prescott of Auburn photographs the flora and fauna she encounters during her winter trips to Florida. (Lin Prescott photo)

Bella the cat paces the dashboard of Dianne Ward’s recreational vehicle as the pair head to Georgia to escape the Maine winter. Ward is from Auburn.  (Submitted photo)

Dianne Ward, formerly of Auburn, and her recreational vehicle Wilbur en route to Georgia to escape the Maine winter. (Submitted photo)

Roland “Yummy” Raubeson, of Minot, frolics in the sand in Pompano Beach, Florida. (Courtesy of Roland “Yummy” Raubeson)

Roland “Yummy” Raubeson, of Minot, cooks breakfast on the back of his truck in Pompano Beach, Florida. (Courtesy of Roland “Yummy” Raubeson)

The home of Bonnie Lee-Dubois, formerly of Casco, in Dothan, Alabama. (Bonnie Lee-Dubois photo)

Bonnie Lee-Dubois, formerly of Casco, frolics at Destin Beach, Florida, which is not far from her home in Dothan, Alabama. Lee-Dubois moved there from Maine last year. (Courtesy of Bonnie Lee-Dubois)

Julie Mitchell, of Auburn, basks in the Florida sunshine at the home of her daughter, Velma Mitchell, who moved to Palm Coast, Florida, last year. Mitchell plans to join her daughter permanently in the Sunshine State in the spring. (Velma McConnell photo)

On Jan. 3, it was 65 degrees at Flagler Pier on Flagler Beach in Florida, not far from the home of Velma McConnell, who moved to the Sunshine State from Auburn last year. (Velma McConnell photo)

Who are you calling a snowbird?

The term “snowbird” has been in use since the late 1600s, but it has only been applied to humans since the early 1900s. It was first used to describe men who enlisted in the armed forces to get food and clothing during the winter months and then deserted as the warm spring weather approached. Not long after, the term was applied to the Northern laborers who would flock down South to work as the cold, harsh winter set in up north. Today, Northerners of all kinds, from vacationers to retirees, can be seen migrating as soon as the first frost arrives.

Source: Merriam-Webster


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