My father was an Air Force officer. This meant
we moved a lot. But in the summer that I turned 8 I left Cheyenne, Wyoming All my friends, my little white parakeet that I named Julie, and the never ending
winter. A past tense. We were headed for the land of sunshine, oranges, and Disney World. My father was leaving the military and the transient lifestyle that
the military shoves on you. I was told we would never move again. I was told we wouldn't have to deal with blizzards and the terrible flash flood we had
endured there known as the August 1st Flood. I embraced this idea. At the frail age of 8 I was ready to take root somewhere.
We made the long journey down with my three brothers in a big white station wagon with a trailer on the back towards Florida. We baked and sat on this long road through cornfields then went on forever. I was never so excited as when I first saw the ocean. The salty air was bliss. I never before held a sea shell and it stunned me see shells in the very soil! I was enchanted from the very first moment. Our neighbors were very southern and took to me right away. I took to them as well. My life was filled with strawberry festivals, boiled peanuts, and the much anticipated visits to the sea shore. My backyard was filled with a plethora of flowers that just happened to grow like Birds of Paradise, honeysuckle, roses upon roses. We had orange trees, persimmons, a Chinese Plum Tree and of course and in ground swimming pool. I felt like I lived in the garden of Eden. I barely remembered the north.
The years between 8-12 are very formative. When I was told we were to leave Florida I was beyond upset. With the addition of another sibling totally us to a family of 7 life was very expensive and had taken its toll. The pool shut down and turn green within weeks. The air conditioning remained unfixed. Clothes came from goodwill and yard sales. Cupboards were almost bares most days. For Christmas I had received a pair of used roller skates and our Christmas tree was barely two feet tall. Since we had moved down here so had my favorite Aunt and my Grandma. We were leaving everything I could remember and love for some place up in NY where one of my father's friends from his boyhood lived. And as beloved as this place was to me when we hit the state line of Georgia I was the only one crying. I remember turning around looking at the sign on the other side saying Welcome To Florida.
It's 19 years later. I still live in NY. Even though I left Florida, Florida never left me. I am and always will be a southerner in my heart. The hospitality. The food. The warm sunshine and emerald green waters are in my memory and can't be taken away. By rights I shouldn't even call myself southern. My parents are from NJ. I was born in Arizona. But a military brat never has a place to call their own except if they choose to. I choose to be southern with every breath I take. What my neighbors taught me. What the south gave me. Every time I make fried chicken or whip up a red velvet cake. Every time I dig in our rocky soil I think of the amazing amount of tiny seashells laying in clay. Being southern isn't determined by geography. It's a way of life.
I take life slow. I live each moment. I use photography and words to freeze that moment in time. I cherish the little things and harvest much just as I was taught 19 years ago by the southern women of Plant City, Florida.
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