Clayton and Marjorie Markusson have been flying south for 17 years.
They spend about four months in Texas and the remainder at their home on Fishing Lake, about 19 kilometres from Foam Lake, Sask.
The first time they travelled to the United States for the winter, they went with another couple. They later bought a 16 x 60 foot mobile home, which is now located in a trailer park in McAllen, a city in the Rio Grande Valley.
They say they prefer the Texas climate to Phoenix, Arizona, another popular snowbird destination, for one important reason: “Not as many allergy and air problems for me,” says Marjorie.
At a population of about 100,000, McAllen is considerably smaller than Phoenix, although it has grown since they first went there and swallowed up the little towns around it, says Clayton.
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“We’re very close to grocery stores, pharmacy, everything we need, “ says Marjorie. “We don’t have to venture far but we do go to other parks to visit.”
There’s plenty to do in the trailer park too. Classes and activities offered on-site include everything from Bible study to dancing, from bingo to cardio, from bowling to genealogy to stained glass. Clayton golfs once a week, Marjorie enjoys doing Swedish embroidery, a craft she learned at the trailer park, and they both like to play cards. Early on they found a church home in the community and a farmer friend that they make sausage with.
It’s become like a second home.
“People say welcome home when we get there,” Marjorie says. “It’s pretty nice.”
Before retirement they went south for only a few weeks each winter and tasks such as grain hauling and buying seed brought them home earlier. Now they can stay a little longer, though they never leave Saskatchewan before Christmas and generally spend about four months at their winter get-away.
It was probably just as well those early holidays were shorter. Marjorie says she “got awful homesick” that first winter. One of the cons of the snowbird life, she says, is “not being here when grandchildren, great-grandchildren are born, not being here, missing birthdays, missing weddings….”
“Missing funerals,” Clayton adds.
They always celebrate Christmas at the lake with their family of three daughters, one son, 15 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren before they head south. Their beach front home has plenty of bedrooms and bathrooms and includes a second story with a theatre room, a family room with a pool table and a sunroom looking out over the lake. It’s perfect for family gatherings, like the celebration of Clayton’s recent birthday which began Thursday and ended Sunday morning. “We built our home for the kids to come and live in it,” Marjorie says with a smile.
When they retired they talked a to their three daughters and one son about various options such as selling the land or renting it. They were hoping their son would farm but he chose another career, as a trucker. One of the daughters loved the farm but realized she could never farm.
The only descendent who might have wanted to farm is a grandson. Now 25, he was too young when they retired to think of taking it on. But he does live in the farmhouse.
“I guess if we could have seen ahead that Jay would have liked to (take over the farm) we could have kept on,” says Clayton. “We could have easily kept on. We would have had to hire help.
“It was time to trade off some of the machinery. I thought it was a good time to do it. I still think that but… .”
They sold their machinery at an auction, and eased into retirement by renting some of the land and arranging for another farmer to custom farm some of it. They eventually sold four quarters and arranged to cash rent the remaining 11 quarter sections to Clayton’s nephews, an arrangement that still continues.
Was it hard walking away from the farm?
“Not really,” says Clayton.
Marjorie thinks it may have been harder for Clayton than for her.
Clayton says no but concedes that “I get more restless when they’re combining now, wanting to be out there, than I did when I was farming,” added Marjorie.
“He cares about how it’s going …. It would really concern him if things weren’t going well for them.”
It makes a difference though that it’s his nephews farming the land. “Yes, that means a lot,” he says.
Marjorie nods. “They’re good boys,” she says.