I love the smell of motorboats in canals and of chlorine pools. I love the feel of hot pavement and longleaf pine needles under my feet. I was a little kid in Florida, and it is the place every cell in my body remembers most.
Yep, that’s me on the right, with my little brother. 1976. Orlando, FL.
I told my friend Kaya the Cake Guru that, in the 70s and early 80s, Florida was the place where my only business was that of being a kid, of learning how to be alive outside and in the world. Botany, zoology, neighborhood cartography, physical fitness (swimming, biking, tree-climbing), neighborliness, resilience, problem-solving, etiquette, curiosity, independence, troublemaking, and consequences were all taken care of by my Florida neighborhoods – the kids I played with there, plus their parents and their cigarette-smoking memaws and the old military guys with tattoos under their hairy forearms whom you always called “sir”, no matter what.
By the time we moved to the midwest, when I was almost 13, it was obvious some things were changing. It was clear that the culture was going to demand, if it hadn’t already begun demanding, different things of its young men and women than the trees we were climbing together or the forts we were building out of magnolia branches and palmetto leaves and Spanish moss in vacant lots. I know the rip tide that was Southern culture at that time was at least part of the reason my mother insisted we leave it. And she wasn’t wrong to want to leave – difficult questions and experiences regarding race, sex, religion, and class started tripping up us junior high schoolers more and more. Corporal punishment (“paddling”) was a much-discussed thing at our school. I was keen to be a cheerleader (the height of cool and acceptable/desirable female athletic accomplishment), but also wanting to play baseball like Zanboomer (still rather unacceptable for a young Southern lady in 1981). There were… interesting interactions with neighbors. Eventually, we left for Minnesota. No one got paddled at school and the coolest girls all played basketball and soccer, but my Southern accent and other quirks in 8th grade were liabilities. I lived in Minnesota for 10 years, and I loved my time there, but I’ve been moving progressively more to the south since 1991.
We were on the road the day spring 2015 arrived in the northern hemisphere. We started off as soon we could after waking up and getting coffee in foggy & cool Tennessee, and continued south. We ended up in muggy & hot central Florida twelve hours later for a visit with my dad, who lives in a place where the orange groves of my childhood have given way to RV campgrounds and strip malls. The next day, we were on the road again, cutting directly through west central Florida to Anna Maria Island on the Gulf Coast, where it feels like it is, or at least could be, summer forever. Those three traveling days felt like a week – in the best way – and then we had six days of staying put before having to return north.
People comment on the fact that we’ve returned each year – since 2004 – to the same coastal place in Florida each late winter. Why not try someplace new? Go with what you know is always my answer. Anna Maria Island isn’t where I was a kid – that was central FL and NW Florida – but it is a place where young me would have happily spent most days. Current me can literally unclench my stiff, tight body there because I don’t have to do anything except exist. We don’t plan much beyond eating food, drinking beer, and spending time outside. It’s pretty delicious, if you’re into that kind of thing. No one in my little family grew up there, but they’ve grown accustomed – to a week and change in March, anyway.
I’m not sure how they’d feel about July. And Southern culture, especially politics, remain a serious conundrum.
We’re back now. We came home yesterday to a busted furnace, cat barf on the bed, and cold windy rain (or windy cold rain, or rainy cold wind – whatever, it sucked). Please send sunny days and 75° (more degrees welcome). Thanks.