The Vagrant: The View From Here

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by Vagrant

I’m in a city that stretches past the horizon in every direction. I’ll be here for a year. Hot, parched, cloudless sky above for months; the city itself a chaotic mess of beige and dirt and life. Wikipedia tells me that the population density of Cairo is near 50,000 per square mile; where I live it’s probably even higher.

It’s a strange and exhilarating change from growing up in Polk County—a peaceful, relaxed, even meandering haven—one I considered boring, slow, and boring again when I was younger.

Running with bags to the local orange grove to pick some fresh fruit, camping in Saddle Creek Park and kayaking through the entwining lakes was my normal. Now my alarm clock is the dawn call to prayer echoing through a city of millions. By the time I get dressed, enjoy my Turkish coffee at a local coffee shop, and start my day the streets are already packed and nearly immobile with masses of people. Exciting? Certainly. But there are plenty of things to miss from home.

There is something to be said for the quality of life a live Lynyrd Skynyrd cover band along with some cheap, decent beer with friends affords (the swill available here, while effective, is terrible). Not to mention the thrill of sailing along the beaches of Anna Maria; watching the thunderstorms roll through Lakeland; reading Tolstoy on a hammock strewn between palm trees in the back yard; or casually appreciating the epitome of southern belle fashion—the sundress.

That’s of course leaving out the surprisingly diverse local characters which make Polk come to life: the metal-head who’s on his way to becoming a doctor, the youth minister who moonlights as a beer expert, the childhood friend who is becoming something of a mechanical savant, or my retired neighbor who recently told me her twin retirement hobbies are travel and skeet shooting!

Florida may move at a bit slower of a pace than the rest, but it never ceases to be interesting. Especially from here.

Vagrant is a Florida native who got stir crazy and wanted to see the world like the stereotype of the twenty-something he is, but then somehow pulled it off. He is currently residing in Cairo.

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Sale Day

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S.G. bought a bear suit this morning. Cecelia found a concrete head and a copper stock pot. And I came home with a 1927 T.E.Lawrence first edition and monogrammed damask napkins.

It was just another Friday morning here in the South, where there is nothing better than a good ole eccentric estate sale. You get to see some old friends—or in S.G.’s case, the woman she tangled with over a painting a few months back. (Note: never leave me guarding fine art in a crowded sale.)

If you are prone to being nosy, a sale provides a rare glimpse into how people in your area really live; and that peek is never dull. Who knew that one of our neighbors owned a very expensive pale pink Italian breakfast set? Or why the gentleman in south Tampa had a signed Walker Percy first edition mixed amongst his cookbooks.

I acknowledge that it may be distasteful to some to go through a house full of the once cherished belongings of a person; a couple; a family. But things are not what are important in the end. That is the most valuable lesson learned by anyone who goes to estate sales or sits through antique auctions.

My husband has declared that our children will one day host the greatest eccentric estate sale of all time. But you will need to go to S.G.’s house for that bear suit.

Humidity

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It’s what my son misses about Florida while stationed in the desert too far away.

And it’s the first thing that welcomes me back after the plane lands, the door is opened and that slightly stinky thick air comes whooshing in.

Humidity.

Humidity is home. Humidity is pedaling a 10-speed alongside your best friend after a lazy childhood afternoon at the Plant City Swim Club. Humidity is a June wedding in full regalia 30 years ago. Humidity is deciding to clean out the garage with your teenagers in late August because it just cannot wait any longer. Humidity is the Bartow Halloween Parade.

And it’s a September evening spent enjoying a glass of sweating Chardonnay with friends in the backyard… while you complain about the humidity.

A cousin of my husband recently visited Orlando from her home in Wisconsin and was completely flummoxed when her glasses fogged as she exited a vehicle and stepped into the humid air. “How can anybody stand to live like this?” she pleaded.

How can you not?

Okhakonkonhee

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By Saunro

People can experience history in many different ways: in the love of old treasures, through genealogy searches or simply by engaging in hours of The History Channel or A&E television shows.

As a native Floridian, I find great intrigue surrounding the history of where I live especially since my home has a history that goes back to our prehistoric origins.

I live on Crooked Lake at 122 feet above sea level (awesome for Florida) on what is known as the “ridge” or “backbone” of the state, a geographic feature created by the rise and fall of the sea levels over millions of years which allowed the ocean to squeeze mountain tops in the middle of a peninsula.

According to local history, the lake was originally named Okhakonkonhee, then Crooked Lake, then Caloosa before the shift back to Crooked Lake again.

Happy to say that I don’t live on Okhakonkonhee!

The Florida Seminoles hold a very special interest for me due to my Seminole great-grandmother and Crooked Lake was home to some Seminoles who engaged and traded with locals in the mid-1800s, before they were driven into the Everglades. It’s not hard to imagine just steps from our back door a camp of Seminoles full of people that hunted, fished and swam on Crooked Lake.

After the Seminoles, Northerners discovered Crooked Lake. The early pioneers came to escape the harsh winters, grow citrus, and establish townships. Before long Babson Park and Hillcrest Heights and a women’s college (now coed Webber University) sprung up along the shores of the lake.

As in most of Florida, the railroads, new towns and their businesses came and went. Freezes and hurricanes hampered but never defeated the citrus industry.

The Hillcrest Lodge, which featured the Minnetonka, a seagoing yacht docked at the lodge, came along in the 1920s and was popular with big-name guests including William Jennings Bryan, Bobby Jones and Babe Ruth. A Women’s Club was founded in 1923, and in 1933 residents were treated to a flyover by a Graf Zeppelin.

Today, life at Crooked Lake is quiet. The local wildlife: eagles, fox, sand hill crane, otter, raccoon, and alligators along with an occasional bobcat or panther coexist with the castles and cabins that embrace the lakeshore.

It’s been said that memories are the new history and every day I am happy that there are more of mine being made at history rich Crooked Lake!

Saunro is an independent thinker who refuses to be swayed by commercialism. She is living the good life in retirement at Crooked Lake, and she continues to volunteer as an animal and child advocate.

Chairing

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The text might arrive while I shuttle my children to soccer or struggle with long-forgotten algebra as I help my seventh grader with homework. Or I’ll text as I switch laundry out or leave a PTA meeting. The texts are usually just one word: “Chairs?” That single word boosts my mood and enables me to make it through the day.

Why the word chairs?

Well, our neighborhood has coined the term “chairing” to describe our impromptu cocktail hours in our Adirondack chairs. My neighbors have owned their chairs for years; picking them up in Cedar Key as a reminder of the special hold that island has on them.

Mine came to grace my yard more recently. My husband surprised me with them at Easter-choosing four chairs rather than only two, so that we could always invite the neighbors to join us. To say these chairs have revolutionized the way I live and use my yard is an understatement.

We’ll gather in one yard or the other many evenings. It’s a given that if you see the other couple in their chairs, you’re invited. It’s that Southern Hospitality that you think died with your great-aunt Millie or the kind of Southern Grace places like Celebration try to recreate, but fall just short of capturing.

Bottles of wine, antique stemware and seersucker napkins are expected. Snacks are a must—I find myself keeping pimento cheese or cream cheese and peach pepper jelly on hand at all times for chairing. Cheese straws or fig flat-bread might be featured, or if it’s been a crazy day, we might just pass around a box of Wheat Thins.

We sit and visit, review our days, discuss The Goldfinch or latest Vanity Fair article, theorize on where the missing Malaysian plane might be or discuss the great mysteries of our neighborhood, the current topic being why another neighbor keeps a step ladder in his front yard.

We stay as long as we can until the wine’s all gone or the mosquitoes eat us alive.

Knowing your neighbors and knowing them well is a luxury in these times. We four—five now that Pookie is graduated and home from Ole Miss—benefit from this old Southern way of living. Using fine china, antique wine glasses and linen cocktail napkins during chair time reminds us to cherish and appreciate the lovely perfection of ordinary days. Sharing food and drink to nourish the souls of your neighbors and your spouse is an act of love and serves to build the kind of life-giving relationship that seems intrinsic to the South.

We are the 2014 versions of Atticus and Miss Maudie in Adirondack chairs instead of on porches.

Cecelia is a military brat turned Southerner. She is an avid reader and lover of camellias, blue and white china, gin and tonics and tomato pie.