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GENERATIONS: ART LEE: We are 'foreigners' of sorts in our own country

Never, until this past year, have my wife Judy and I ever spent a New Year's eve our entire married life (64 years) when and where there's never been snowbanks outside our front door.

The month of January and snow always went together. Until this "winter" season, that is, when we moved to Tucson, Ariz., in November.

We had spent most of our married life living about 100 miles from the Canadian border; this current "winter" we are about the same distance from the Mexican border. In the local Tucson newspaper, the issue of immigration and "the Wall" are almost daily frontpage news; those subjects are also argued vehemently in Letters to the Editor. A lot of emotion, and some nastiness, in columns and the letters. However, In the local Bemidji newspaper, those subjects may be viewed on the last page if even there at all. To suggest many issues are a bit different in southern Arizona then in northern Beltrami County is an understatement at best. Wow! Two different worlds!

This past fall, we decided to try something different for Christmas and New Year's locations, namely head south early, in November. Of course, having both a son and a daughter living in Tucson was a major factor in the decision of when to leave the Minnesota North Country. So we're now snowbirds in Arizona. Sure different (our front yard is gravel); green grass only near banks.

There are thousands of fellow northern snowbirds in the Tucson region right now, soaking up the sun's welcomed warm rays while waiting impatiently for their trek north again by early May. Ahhh, to get home again to the White Pines and Walleyed Pike. The North Country's American Dream. The locals here of course have mixed feelings about all these northern "invaders," who don't know how to drive and screw up the roads with their multi-wrong turns and stupid stops and using wrong lanes, but the local merchants like all the money they spend in the city.

How many snowbirds? Lots. How to measure "lots?" Well, many churches need to add several extra services—and extra clergy—to accommodate their hoard of visiting Sunday snowbirds. Just sit in the balcony and look down on that sea of white-haired parishioners seated below—and then come back in June to see that same nearly empty church when there's needed just one service and one pastor.

Jumping Santas and more

Getting used to Christmas "decorations" find snowbirds amazed and amused, e.g., the tall saguaro cactus on the front lawns wrapped from top to bottom in blinking colored lights. There's also a special Tucson upscale residential neighborhood where for a month prior to Christmas, all the houses are essentially drenched in gaudy ornaments and lighting on their front lawns (and roofs) with all the decorated houses are complete with automatic "figurines," with sound boxes blasting carols, with jumping Santas and running full-sized reindeer and marching soldiers on the roofs. All those sights—and more—viewed as so special for viewing that guided tours are available to drive through that neighborhood just to "ooo-and-ahhhh" at this spectacular display of upper-class homes all decked out and immersed in gaudy and changing light colors, et al. In that sense, the elaborate scenes are indeed spectacular. Whew! Such sights!

U of A dominates

Viewed by the local daily newspaper, the Arizona Daily Star, extra special and newsy in Tucson are all of the University of Arizona sports teams, with men's basketball stealing many of the headlines and articles, sometimes on the front pages as well as the sports pages. This season, however, there came an early shock: it was a citywide sad day when the U of A men's basketball team lost a game at home, thus breaking the record of 52 straight home wins. (The overall win/loss numbers for recent years at home: 82-4.) Everybody loves a winner; but no love, and few fans, for the losing football team.

In our complex of 80 condo units, only nine snowbirds live here during the winter months and thus to the rest of the condo folks, snowbirds are not true Tucsonians; they're. . . well, "foreigners." (That's us.)

A local Arizona Star columnist gave his opinion of snowbirds and also a reminder where Christianity began: As he phrased it: "With sun-rich beauty surrounding us, I feel sorry for the misguided newcomers who pine for snow-covered pines, snowmen and Nordic elves made up by those who assume were unaware of Bethlehem's location. I am convinced the spirit of Christmas is in the deserts of the world. . ."


It takes awhile for new 'Birds to get even semi-familiar with Tucson culture. Like learning to use correct local terminology, e.g. it takes a short time to find out that an ice-pick here is a "hand awl." One does not drink "pop" in Tucson, one drinks "soda." Takes a very short time to figure out also that Tucson is a big city! And still growing fast! Second-biggest in the state. (Phoenix, about 100 miles to the north, is the largest.) Within the Tucson city limits, about 500,000 people reside, but when you add in the surrounding towns, Tucson has about 1,000,000 people. And when the aggregate populations are all in their automobiles, well, be in no hurry to get to the green light that will allow you to inch forward again to the next green light. The 5 p.m. rush is not a rush at all but really a slow late afternoon crawl. One gets used to it, even while longing for Irvine Avenue.

All things considered, however, Tucson is still a nice location in the winter season. Even us "snowbird-foreigners" have figured that out. Walking to the grocery store in January, wearing only shorts and a short-sleeved shirt, helps in the figuring.