I’ve been in St. Augustine now for about six weeks and I occasionally pinch myself. Me, a tried-and-true New Yorker up and moved to Florida? I was just as surprised about this momentous decision as my friends and family were. “What?” was their incredulous reaction. Or more like, “WHAT??!!!” Brooklyn-born, I’d moved to the beaches of Long Island, and then lived up in the mountains of Orange County, experienced the Catskills, Delaware Valley, New Paltz, but always returned to mid-town Manhattan – to the Rockefeller Center Tree, Chelsea Market, Hudson Yards and so forth. That was my world for 60-odd years. Though I got a bit rusty navigating the subway system over the years, that was overcome with meetups with my city-living daughter; even getting savvy at tapping my credit card for entry at the turnstile. (Still miss tokens!) New York — upstate or downtown –always offered up something new to experience, and it never failed being, for me, “always where it’s at.”
Historical marker outside a shop in St. Augustine
But, like everything, things can change. To our bodies, our beliefs, in things we know to be absolutely true. Which maybe weren’t anymore. One physical change had to do with the winter season, which became harder on me both from the cold which seemed to go through to my bones. And my mood, which immediately turned sour when the calendar was turned from September to October. I felt this mood change just like clicking off a light switch. That the days grew increasingly shorter had only one consolation: that come December 21st or so, daylight would increase minute by minute. I was out of sorts, and despite the holidays, would start counting the days until spring. It was not a healthy way to live – going through that dark tunnel every year — and at 65, I wanted to slow down time, rather than wishing months to pass quickly.
The Lightner Museum
So that was the physical part. As for my beliefs about New York being the only place where it’s at, I came to know St. Augustine. Another city with excitement, rich history, culture, events, street fairs, and a college town to boot, so on the same block, one may see a couple from Europe, a family from Ohio, and young adults with piercings and purple hair. There are musicians on streetcorners, plenty of coffee shops, a secondhand bookstore, and when the city puts on its December holiday Night of Lights display, it’s as if the Eiffel Tower came to town. Here’s one great example, The Lightner Museum, located in a most historic and beautifully designed building and it’s filled with exhibits of hobbies. Yes, hobbies of all sorts. Of matchbooks, cigar labels, saltshakers, quilts, stained glass. Begun in the 1950s by the Chicago publisher of Hobbies magazine, Otto Lightner, this discovery was a complete and utter delight.
Next comes the part about things I knew were absolutely true, like having to commute to an office every day. That was completely tossed on its head when I began a work from home position. As long as I have internet, and my company laptop, I can work from anywhere. Being a parent, I thought about my two adult daughters, and my own truism that I should remain living nearby. But, as they aged out of being on a parent’s healthcare, and now having their own busy lives and careers, maybe that rule had aged out as well.
Shopping in St. Augustine
The notion of moving began in the Fall of 2022 when I vowed not to purchase any more winter gear, no more hoarding the scarves when they went on sale at Kohl’s or asking for driving gloves for Christmas. I vowed that somehow, someway 2023 would be my last winter in New York. That matched with my own personal motto: “don’t postpone joy,” I had the stepping off points. The first order of business was an online search for St. Augustine rentals, then visiting those that matched my criteria, and one afternoon, I filled out an application. Exactly one year after making that decision, an affordable two-bedroom became available.
New York will always be my first love, I’ll always have my accent and my roots in Flatbush, Brooklyn. JFK Airport is just a two-hour flight from Jacksonville, the same amount of time it took to drive to mid-town from my Orange County home. I’ve made some trade-offs, like not seeing friends as regularly as I once did, but through social media, we post, we text, we chat. We send pictures back and forth, and we keep up with each other’s lives. Before me lies this experience-rich city with new people and places to explore, and with an average, year-round, temperature of 60 degrees, I’ll have plenty of time to see it all.
Photos by MJ Hanley-Goff