The new year was barely a week old when the Blizzard of 1996 hit the United States’ East Coast, with the area around Washington D.C. getting between 13-17 inches in one 24-hour stretch, followed by another 15-25 inches less than 24 hours later, accompanied by lightning and 40 mile-per-hour winds.
A second blizzard followed four days later, and residents from West Virginia to New York were shut in for days. They felt they had dodged a bigger bullet when the nor’easter was quickly followed by unseasonably warm temperatures, but only until the massive snowfall began melting faster than the region’s waterways could take it on, resulting in massive flooding that did more than $1 billion in damage.
Claire Smith was living in Annapolis, Maryland, back in the days of the blizzard, having retired from a lengthy, fascinating career with the US Postal Service. She remembers the storm, and its fallout, with decided clarity.
“I was house-bound twice that year, once for 10 days, and once for four days,” Smith, a resident of Aston Gardens At Sun City Center, in Florida, says. “The following spring, I was sitting outside with a neighbor and I said, ‘If I can find someone crazy enough to pay market value for this house, I’m selling it and moving to Florida.’ My neighbor said, ‘Are you serious?’ And when i said yes, he said ‘I’ll buy it.’ And he did.”
Exploring a new area was no stretch for someone like Smith. Born in Massachusetts, she left home when she was 20 to move to Washington D.C., determined to do her part for the US’ effort in World War II.
“They called us the G-Girls, the G being for government, and we just poured into Washington,” Smith said of her first trip away from home. “Washington was a great place to be during the war. There were a million free things to do – concerts and all sorts of things, and many, many important world figures that you would get to see.”
When she enlisted in the Postal Service, it wasn’t just as an average letter-carrier or postal worker; Smith worked as an international program officer and a translator/interpreter. That role meant lots of work in the highest levels of government, and as the war ended and peace took back hold, lots of travel to exotic ports of call.
“I was very very lucky, my career included a lot of travel, and I got to visit every continent except Africa. I liked something about every place,” Smith recalls. “I got to meet heads of state, emperors, kings, queens, princesses, and so forth. The first royal people I ever got to see were the first Queen Elizabeth of Belgium and King Leopold. When I was stationed in Belgium, we had an expo there in 1958 and Princess Margaret of England came to visit. She was supposed to go around the whole thing, but she did what she wanted to and came right up to our stand.”
After 10 years in Washington D.C., she and her husband moved to Annapolis, which reminded her very much of her hometown.
“When we came there, it was a small town where people knew you at the stores,” Smith says. “They’d call you up and say, ‘I’m going to New York, do you need anything?’”
When she was preparing to make her move to Florida, Smith visited friends and loved the climate, as well as Sun City Center, the age-restricted community that nearly 20,000 senior citizens, including those residing at Aston Gardens, call home.
“Sun City Center reminded me of Annapolis when I first lived there,” Smith said. “I bought a house there at first, then moved to Aston Gardens in 2012.”
It took a while for Smith to get used to apartment living, having not stayed in one for more than five decades, but she said the staff of Aston Gardens made a huge difference.
“I was used to be walking out the door of my house to go outside so it took me a while to adjust, but they worked hard here to make us happy, and they really spoil us,” Smith says. “The people are absolutely wonderful; the staff and the maintenance cannot be beat. And the young people who wait on us are the most marvelous people!”
The lure of Sun City Center – with activities as far as the eye can see – is the biggest draw for Smith and Aston Gardens makes it a snap for her to indulge in any recreation she chooses.
“In our rent, Aston Gardens pays for the annual fees for the Sun City activities,” Smith says. “I It truly is wonderful, the effort they make for everybody.”