When people ask me what living in Florida was like, I speak my true experience. It was 18 years of culture shock. There were great things – my fabulous friends, Cuban food, Coconut Grove Art Festival, my orchids. As a kid, I had visited Florida many times with my parents, so visiting certain tourist attractions was fun, but it was never home.
I grew up in a quintessential New England town: As a teenager, I once ran a red light down town, and by the time I got home, my parents knew about it. The traffic light is located in front of the police station and one of the constables had been looking out the window as I ran the light. He didn’t chase me down and give me a ticket, he called my Mom. I got into so much trouble! That was home for me.
After 18 years in South Florida, and due to the effect of the economy, Big Daddy was “made redundant”. I wasn’t all that upset when he told me the news. In fact I was horribly conflicted because all I felt was joy and relief. We’d really missed our New England way of life and now we would likely be going Home. The SoFlo style just isn’t us. It’s not that there isn’t a lot to like, or that I don’t miss, but it just isn’t us. Plus, I didn’t doubt for a minute that Big Daddy was going to get a great new job.
While BD looked for a job – there were some great options as soon as word got out that he was no longer with his previous employer – we talked about where we would live. After 18 years of culture shock I wanted to go HOME. Very few of my SoFlo neighbors interacted in my part of the ‘hood. the neighbor's kids were pyromaniacs when they weren't trying to kill each other. I rarely saw anyone I knew on the sidewalk (though my good friend KimO still mentally waves to me as she jogs past my former home), and I never felt comfortable enough to even let MiniMe play in our yard by herself. Play dates were hard to come by because MiniMe had to go to private school and it was such a drive between our home and the homes of her friends. So she was lonely, too.
There were some job opportunities in and around The Big City. Big Daddy needs access to major airports for his job related travel, and I wanted access to museums, shopping and cultural opportunities, so we knew we didn’t want to be more than a 1 hour train ride away.
We thought about moving to the town in which I grew up. I still have family living there, the schools are blue ribbon, and there are only 3 stoplights (up one from when I was a kid). Sometimes it’s a little like that country music video –Craig Morgan, I think – where the farmer is driving his combine down the state road on the way to his next field with a pretentious, cell phone talking moron in a drop top beemer hard on his tail.(no offense to any drop top beemer drivers is meant)
I could imagine MiniMe stopping at the same Western Auto for help with a flat tire on her bike – no money in her pocket – and the owner helping her fix it then saying “just tell your Mom she can drop the money by when she gets a chance.”. That’s the kind of town I grew up in. The constable who turned me in to my parents for running that red light? His son is a constable now. Unfortunately, my Mayberry was just a little too far from the beaten path for Big Daddy who didn’t relish a 30 minute drive to the closest train station, then a 1 hour train ride to The City.
Big Daddy, on the other hand, grew up in a commuter town with a stop on the Metro North Hudson Line and, if he was going to work in The City, he wanted to be in a town with a train station. I though I saw my New England fantasy life slipping away.
Smack between the two towns in which BD and I grew up is the quintessential Snow globe town in which my Mother in Law grew up. BD had many fond memories of the town where he had spent a lot of time with his grandparents. I fired up the laptop, entered my favorite Real Estate Search Engine (www.williamraveis.com) and entered the name of the town. I swooned with joy at the pictures of the antique center hall colonials with their wide board floors and their 12 over 12 pane windows.
I delighted in the Chamber of Commerce pictures of down town that appeared to have plenty of parking (which it still does at 7AM, the time the photo was taken), the train station, and the recreation department’s vast menu of activities for MiniMes of every age.
I looked up the public school system and nearly cried with relief – public school would be a reality!! And there were no metal detectors at the doors of the schools! Spanish is taught as an elective – not as a first language! Be still my heart parsimonious heart.
With a little more sleuthing, it turned out that one of my childhood neighbors lived in the town, and another was a pastor at a church in the next town over. Is there anything better than moving to a new place and having people who already like you because they liked you “back then”? Or someone whose name you can enter on the “in case of emergency please call…” line on school forms? Is there anything more lonely than an empty “in case of emergency please call…” line on a school form?
Big Daddy had a couple of job interviews lined up, and we realized that the move was going to need to be made sooner rather than later. We made a reservation at a big, old inn and my Mom stayed with MiniMe. I made plans to look at rental homes with a real estate agent who was an associate of a friend of my hair stylist in Florida. She’s now one of my besties. I miss my stylist.
My Agent/ Bestie pulled a great rental out of thin air for us (or so it seemed), we plunked down a heart stopping amount of money for a deposit, and six weeks later we moved in.
Within a few days of our arrival, I was being teased by the regulars at the local coffee shop for wearing winter clothes (it was 80 the morning that MiniMe and I flew out of the Fort Lauderdale Airport and 50 when we landed that afternoon), the size of our moving truck (colossal), neighbors were stopping us on Main Street to invite us to stop by for coffee. People knocked on our door to welcome us to town.
Remember my childhood neighbor that was living in the same town? She arrived 10 minutes behind the moving truck with a bag of goodies that included all kinds of local information, take out menus complete with recommendations, sweets from the locally owned businesses, the phone number of her pediatrician, hugs and loads of good cheer.
MiniMe (who, mind you, had just gone trick or treating in SoFlo and brought her 5lb load with her), got a bag of candy from a neighbor who was glad to see a kid in the community, plus a Christmas stocking loaded down with treats from our Agent/Bestie who stopped by to make sure we were settling in. I’m sure there was more, but I might have blocked it from my memory but I filled her Christmas stocking with dental floss, toothbrushes and toothpaste.
I started referring to our address as “123 Fairy Tale Lane”.
MiniMe was kindly welcomed into the 5th grade of her new Catholic school upon her mid year appearance. A couple of weeks later, she was already getting invited to skating parties, birthday parties, slumber parties and after school playdates.
There was a constant bustle of friends old and new and family stopping by, saying hello, coming for dinners. Getting reacquainted. One night my daughter said to us at dinner “Mom, Dad, I want to ask you something.”… BD and I looked at each other for a clue, but neither of us had anything… “WHERE have you been hiding all of these people? WHY don’t I know them?”. I really had no answer for this. I was stumped. MiniMe went back to her plate and said, “I just want you to know that I think it’s great!”.
I needed a moment just then, and I still do just writing this.
Though I miss my long time SoFlo friends, I am so glad to be home.