Kermit Goodger lived in Washington for 43 years, but he insists the only place he has seen the District of Columbia flag is in Florida.
It must defy the odds if Goodger, 75, a former congressional aide, has never passed one of the schools, libraries or other municipal buildings that fly the red stars and stripes. But a mere municipal flag could go unnoticed amid all the banners that mightier powers flaunt in Washington's winds. Besides, a home-town memento will sooner catch the eye and swell the chest 900 miles from home.
Goodger found the flag through the Washington, D.C., Club, a band of nostalgic vacationers and e'migre's who meet monthly in Fort Lauderdale from December to March and whose last meeting of this season is tonight. Club president Jack Brown mentioned the flag at a meeting, and Goodger ordered one for the club, which unfurled it early this year. As far as Goodger knows, the D.C. club in Florida is the only one of its kind.
"I feel at home here at the club," says Goodger, of nearby Boca Raton, as he digests a club dinner of London broil at the Galt Ocean Mile Hotel. "We have the same memories."
Florida's many transplants from the North have two competing identities. They shore up the older one through clubs organized by home state, city and -- in the case of the disproportionately represented New York -- individual schools, union locals and apartment complexes. Seasonal migrants -- known hereabouts as "snowbirds" -- have tried to balance their allegiances by staging not only Buffalo Nights in Florida but also Fort Lauderdale Nights in Buffalo.
At age 37, the Washington Club is the dean of Fort Lauderdale's home-town clubs, says Brown. Amid the palm trees and Gulf Stream breezes, an average of 50 members gather each month to reminisce about Chesapeake crabs and cherry blossoms. The official entertainment has ranged from a mentalist to belly dancers, but the members also entertain one another with stories about their favorite Washington bars, bowling alleys and more.
Over cocktails, John Stevens recognizes the long-lost face of Clifford Vogt, a fellow retiree from the Naval Ordnance Laboratory in Silver Spring. They chat about Stevens' yearly role as the office Santa Claus and their weekly participation in the Fish Club, which used to meet for Friday fish fries. "One of those extended lunches," Vogt explains. "We always got back before the end of the day."
He laughs. "Those were very happy days."
So would he move back? "Oh, no!"
He says a fond past would not a fond present make, and most club members agree with him. Trudi Gardner, a model, explains, "I don't particularly like shoveling snow." The Sunshine State's warmth permits outdoor sports year round and eases the aches of age for the club's many retirees.
Still, Cathy Stevens had to coax husband John to head south. "The humidity kills me down here," says John.
"The humidity is just as bad there, [especially in] the summers," retorts Cathy.
"I miss the social clubs," John continues. Cathy, a soprano, sang at many clubs as well as the White House, Constitution Hall and the Kennedy Center.
"I'm trying to get into that down here," she replies. John says her Washington roots just don't run as deep as his. "She's native, but her parents weren't. I'm a real native -- ninth generation."
Many of these transplants have trouble putting down new roots. "My hobby was roses, and after I left Washington I didn't seem to be able to grow them," says Vogt.
He used to belong to the Montgomery County Men's Garden Club. "I guess I should look up another [gardening club, but] it wouldn't be the same as the old-timers there. We used to have all these projects, like writing a gardening book or buying bulbs wholesale. I miss it."
But the Washington that the e'migre's miss is not the Washington of today. "It's become a large city," says Minna Cohn, a native. "It's a little too much for me to cope with."
Says Latimer Zigler, "Too many chuckholes in the street. So many nice things missing -- the theaters, the moonlight cruises."
Benedict Drago was miffed when he visited three years ago and got lost on what used to be a familiar drive to Bolling Air Force Base. "The roads they got now are for the birds!"
Still, wherever people move, change follows. Traffic, crime and other urban ills were stowaways in the trunks the e'migre's brought to Fort Lauderdale. On the good side, so, too, were such urban virtues as culture, says Cohn. "The city is growing to be almost the size that Washington was when I was a child, so I'm right back where I started, which is fine."
Most club members are content just to visit Washington in the summertime. Trudi Gardner makes an annual pilgrimage to Monet's "Venice, Palazzo da Mula" at the National Gallery.
Rosalie Carstens has visited only once since her husband's death in 1970. "I didn't feel like going back to all the memories," she says. But she eventually remarried, and she plans to show Washington to her new husband this summer.
The e'migre's find it easier to love local suitors than sports teams. Betty Schinke says athletic allegiances are the true test of hometown identity, and, by this standard, most of the club members are still Washingtonians at heart. They sang "Hail to the Redskins" at a meeting before the team's last Super Bowl appearance.
These fans are living behind enemy lines. The Redskins and the Miami Dolphins have become archrivals; Miami beat Washington in the 1973 Super Bowl and the win was reversed in 1983. Sharon Ellis, a former Redskins cheerleader, says Floridians have often attacked her Redskins bumper sticker.
As for the Washington Senators, the 1960s incarnation left Washington and became the Texas Rangers in 1972, and now the team plays more games in South Florida, where it conducts spring training, than in Washington. The team hasn't jilted Washingtonians; it has simply followed them to their new home, D.C.'s tropical outpost.
Vogt sums up the transplants' mixed feelings by saying he likes Florida because there are so many Washingtonians here. "I find more of them down here than I do back there."