Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Florida Is Not The South

Florida is one strange place, let me tell you.

Geographically it is southern. But it sure isn't southern, culturally. Now, before you get your panties in a wad and start begging to differ, let me explain that.

I am sure that there are pockets of southern-ness in Florida, but where I live ain't one of 'em. Up there in the Red-Neck Riviera (the Florida panhandle) is the most likely spot, but it would take me six hours of driving to get up there and hear a southern accent. (The photo to the right is on Bayou DeSiard near my childhood home in Monroe, La.)

I live about 60 miles southeast of Orlando, in Palm Bay, Florida. Never heard of it? You and about 6.5 billion other people.

The closest towns to us that people have heard of are Melbourne (closest), Titusville, and Kennedy Space Center.

We're on the Atlantic Coast just about half-way betwixt Jacksonville and Miami.

Palm Bay is now by far the biggest city in Brevard County, but 90 percent of that size has happened in the last 20 years, so you've probably never heard of it. It's just that Cocoa Beach, Titusville, Melbourne and the other cities are older and were once the scene of all the growth in the area. Palm Bay is now growing faster than you can imagine.

In fact, about two months ago, our population was officially judged to have passed 100,000 people. We moved here in 1996, when Palm Bay was a mere sprout of about 75,000 people. I hear tell that in 1980, Palm Bay only had about 10,000 people.

And, like me and the fambly, most of 'them folks' are from other states. Lots are retirees lookin' for that famous Florida sunshine, some are from the Northeast, tired of shoveling snow all winter, and most of the rest are the creep of the masses that is moving northward from Miami.

I said all of that to say this. I miss southern accents. I miss the South and Southern Hospitality.

I grew up in Louisiana, and have lived in the Florida panhandle, Texas, and Georgia. All of those places are southern, with slightly different flavors.

But down here? Not one little bit southern.

And due to health problems, I haven't even been back to Lousy-anna in several years to see my Sainted Mother, Big Sis, or Younger Brother. But I sure do long to. I definitely want to make a road trip to visit Mama and get some good home cookin' before too long. (The photo to the left is of the cypress trees along Bayou DeSiard near my childhood home in Monroe, La.)

But I'm supposed to be talking about Florida.

I really like it here. I have a great job, working with great people. We have a church that we're involved in like no place we have ever lived. We have a more active and involved life here than at any other place we have ever lived.

I like being able to walk outside early in the morning, in January, wearing shorts and while barefooted. I like not having a big coat; all I have is a hoodie. But I wouldn't mind a nice cold snap a couple of times every winter just to smell some crisp air.

I like that flowering plants bloom pretty much year 'round down here. And in the 'dead' of winter, the grass is only slightly less green and only has to be mowed once every two weeks. Of course in summer, it only gets mowed once a week, even though it needs it every four days or so. (For the first few years after moving here, I made a point of mowing the yard on New Year's Day and we would swim on Christmas day just to be able to 'casually' mention these things to far away family on the requisite holiday phone calls.)

If we feel like having lots of fun (and we're in the mood to part with some serious cash money) we can go from our driveway to the parking lot of The Magic Kingdom in one hour and fifteen minutes, tops.

Heck, I only have 45 minutes for lunch, and yesterday I went from work, to a Wendy's by the Atlantic, parked by the ocean and ate my lunch, stood and watched and listened to the waves and made it back to work in that 45 minutes. How great is that?

So, I'm in no hurry to leave this place where I have been blessed by God in too many ways to possibly name here.

But I sure miss the South. I love the ocean but I miss southern accents.

I miss my family back in Louisiana.

I make fun of Louisiana, but I would love to go back for a visit and smell that rich farm soil (and the smell of some good vittles).

But I'll just keep trying to bloom where I am planted, as the old saying goes.

Years ago, my Dearly Departed Brother Paul, who lived his last 15 years or so in Salt Lake City told me about a run (he was a trucker) he had to the South for the first time in years.

He had stopped at the first Dairy Queen he saw, which was in North Texas.

He went in and up to the counter and said an older woman working there walked up to him and in pure Texas Drawl said, "Whut kin ahh git fer you, Huuun?"

He said it brought tears to his eyes.

I'm kinda feeling just like that today, if you hadn't already figured that out.


Marsha (Big Sis) said...

I do believe it has been five years since you have been home. We had a Johnny's Sweep The Kitchen Pizza this weekend. Thought of you while I was eating it! We also ate at the China Garden this weekend. I always think of Mr. Morgan when I eat there. I remember he was the one who introduced me to Egg Foo Young.

Emily said...

I had this counsellor at camp once as a kid, and she was from Mississippi, and she introduced us to the 'crooked letter' and the 'humpback'. As in "Em - ah- crooked letter, crooked letter -ah- crooked letter, crooked letter- ah- humpback, humpback- ah."

I always thought that was kinda wierd. Do you know where that came from? I don't know if that's anywhere near Louisiana, but I think that's the only time I had a true encounter with a person with a Southern accent. She was nice though, one of the best camp counsellors I could remember.

JAM said...

Marsha, yum. Thanks for thinking of me while eating that. I try to describe Johnny's Pizza to people, but it falls short. All anyone here knows is Chicago style (deep dish) or New York style (thinner leathery crust with a big fat edge around it). I can make my own that's pretty close to Johnny's though. Mmmm, China Garden.

Emily. Yeah, Louisiana is Mississippi's next door neighbor, separated by the Mississippi River. The 'crooked letter, crooked letter, ah', 'humpback, humpback ah', thing; you learn that pretty early down there. It has a rhythm that helps the kids learn to spell Mississippi correctly, and it's goofy enough to remember all your life, as you are living proof of.

Louisiana and Mississippi, all my years there, typically duked it out every year for having the worst public schools in the country (no offense, Sis). I'm not kidding. Though Alabama sometimes slipped in there every now and then and either LA or MS would rise to 47th out of 50.