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Birds of a feather are back

By PATTY RYAN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 6, 2002

EXPECT FATTER DUCKS soon. The girls are back in town.

My first inkling: a message on an answering machine in downtown Tampa.

Old McDonald had a farm. E-I-E-I-O.

Soon, they will be raiding day-old bread racks for tidbits to toss to mallards.

And on his farm he had a duck ...

Is this dignified behavior for widows in their 70s?

JEAN ALSPACH AND ETHEL TOMPKINS landed in South Tampa just before Thanksgiving, leaving Ohio for yet another season.

They made haste to the pond between Target and Publix on Gandy Boulevard and listened for familiar quacks.

"To make sure they had been fed," explains Jean, 74.

Ducks raced to embrace.

"There was that white one with the red around his beak," says Ethel, 77. "I think he's still there. We saw the babies the last time, and they've all grown up, so we didn't recognize them."

QUICK ASIDE: The other day, I was looking at a map and discovered, here in Tampa, a phenomenon called "Connechusett Road." No doubt it is a marriage of two New England states, an indication of snowbirds gone awry.

But can we blame Jean and Ethel? (Should we call them Jeanethel?) They're so well-behaved.

The two got off the airplane and drove directly to a "young at heart" meeting at Peninsular Christian Church.

ON OBISPO Street, a neighbor ran out of the house to greet them.

They live in a half-century-old Virginia Park house that Jean's parents built while stationed at MacDill Air Force Base.

"We came down here and got such a welcome, it almost brought us to tears," Jean said Tuesday. "Everyone was so glad to see us Sunday morning over to church. It's just like coming home. It was wonderful."

They expect to rejoin Thelma Donovan's water aerobics class in South Tampa. Leader Donovan is 90.

WHAT DO snowbirds do, when not in Florida?

I ask Jean.

"What do we do? Some of us still have a flower garden. And we grow lettuce and carrots. And we attend church services, just like down here.

"Ethel and I, being seniors, we go to the senior center there and take part and exercise, just about what we do here, but if you're up there in the wintertime, you're shoveling snow. We did that for 30 years," she says.

"The winter's slow up there. Frankly, it's quite boring to older people because you can't get out in it as much."

ETHEL has brothers and sisters in the Youngstown area. Jean has children.

And, of course, here in Tampa, they both have ducks.

"It's good to be back," Jean says, with a sigh.

"It's the best of both worlds."

- Tampa's Kennedy Boulevard was once called Grand Central. Now Grand Central is a weekly City Times column. Writer Patty Ryan can be reached at 226-3382 or .

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