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A Family Reunion, of Sorts

It was twilight at the Golden Pond RV Resort. A few campers stood in a cluster outside the pool, greeting the latest retired couple come back to roost for the winter in the warmth of the desert. That would be Melva McFall and her husband, who had just rolled in from Northern California.

Everybody seemed well-acquainted, following as they do pretty much the same circuit across America: summer in the great parks of the Rockies or the Pacific Northwest; spring down in the Deep South, perhaps, traveling the history trails, or maybe on a beach somewhere; autumn up in some place like Maine or New Hampshire, some place where the leaves turn, and now, winter in the Southwest desert.

“Full-timers,” they call themselves--retirees who have decided to forgo the merriments of retirement villages or basement in-law apartments or empty nests and instead write their epilogue on the American road, in like company, chasing the seasons.

“There are some people in this park,” said Melva, “who have been full-timing for 20 years now.”

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She surveyed the pool deck, looking for someone to make her point. She spotted a slightly stooped figure, padding away in bare feet, suit dripping wet, a flotation device slung over his shoulder.

“How long you been full-timing?” Melva called out to the old man.

“You mean ‘two-timing,’ ” cackled an unseen wiseacre from the shallow end.

“About seven years,” the man called back.

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“How long you gonna keep it up?” Melva pressed on, ever helpful.

“Until the good Lord calls me back,” the fellow said, and with that, gray heads all around bobbed up and down in approval of this artful expression of full-timer gumption.

*

He sidled up and stood with his hands in the jean pockets, rocking back on his heels. He introduced himself as Ken Landis and said he’d worked his entire life as an accountant up in Puyallup, Wash. “That’s P-U-Y-A-Double L-U-P,” Landis said. The 71-year-old would cheerfully repeat the spelling every time he mentioned this town he’d put in the rear view of his fifth-wheel rig upon retirement some seven years ago. Maybe it wasn’t because he missed the place. Maybe he just wanted to make sure it was spelled right.

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“Did you know,” he asked Melva, “that RV-ers in their 70s have more AIDS than any other group?”

“No,” she said, a dutiful straightwoman.

“Yes, we’ve got Band-Aids, hearing aids, Rolaids. . . .”

Landis accepted an invitation to show off his 32-foot trailer, model name “Companion.” His wife, Betty, was seated under an awning outside the front door, reading Good Housekeeping and sipping a can of Boost. Theirs was a cozy, well-kept arrangement, with lace curtains hung in the windows and pictures of many grandchildren stacked like a tree on one wall.

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“Betty has a talent for making a house a home,” Ken said, “and let me tell you there is a difference.”

Betty had not exactly volunteered to sell the home place and box away a lifetime collection of furniture, clothes and other keepsakes. The ease of her adjustment surprised her.

“I really can’t even tell you anymore,” she said, “what I left in storage.”

Of course, the grandchildren she remembers.

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“But,” Ken said, “you find that when they get to be 18 or so you don’t see them as much as you used to. They’ve got things to do. It’s not like when they were little shavers.”

*

Full-timers seem to develop a keen radar for condescension. Press the melancholy angle too hard, ask too many questions about loneliness, and they’ll come right back, matching condescension for condescension. They’ll tell funny stories about the latest attempt to “talk sense” into Grandpa and Grandma, to reel them in from the road and back to where the creators of Hallmark cards and holiday television commercials agree they belong. They’ll talk, too, about the sound of telephones that don’t ring, and about the economic pressures of maintaining a family house long after the family is gone.

“It used to be expected that, at this age, it was time for the rocking chair,” Betty said, “and it isn’t now.”

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“And hey,” Ken said, “it sure beats sitting at home up there in Puyallup--that’s P-U-Y-A-Double L-U-P--looking out the window all day at the rain coming down.”

He spoke of some of the places they had seen, but more of the fellow wanderers they had met, people they now bump into all over America, sharing potluck dinners and war stories and, this week, holidays.

It sounds, he was told, sort of like a family.

Yes, he said, it sort of is.

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