Florida lures and catches people. It’s got a little voodoo going.
Forget the tourists that flock here; the Disneyland pilgrims, the week-long vacationers lounging in the Keys. I’m looking at the people who spend months down here at a time or more, people who have Florida in their veins, who don’t just drink the Kool-Aid but bathe and shower in it, too.
First, you got your snowbirds. These are people who live in northern parts of the country while it’s sane to do so (roughly May-October, though lately its anyone’s guess) then fly south to escape winter. Snowbirds are usually older folk, but I don’t think this is necessarily because they’re finicky or because they sincerely enjoy canasta: they just have the money to come here. I know plenty of thirtysomethings who would love nothing more than to split their year in half and escape to balmy climes when it’s -30. Alas, jobs.
Then there’s the Miami Factor, another lure. Miami is to the rest of Florida as New York City is to the rest of the state of New York. There are dairy farms and motor homes in New York State, but you’d never know it, deep in a throbbing, sweaty underground nightclub on any given night in lower Manhattan. Same goes for Miami: Jay-Z and Justin Bieber are surely doing disgusting/fabulous things with or to various body parts in Miami — possibly at this very moment! — while I’m preparing to demo quilt block construction to the fine people of Baker. Same state, different worlds. I’m still trying to figure out if Miami has gotten more fancy/cool in my lifetime or if I was simply clueless about Miami’s hotness and then someone told me. Either way, the Miami Factor brings legions to Florida because there are crazy parties there and there is apparently very good art there. So you have those party/art people here in Florida, too.
You’ve got immigrants, legal and otherwise, seeking refuge. Most of them come far across the terrifying ocean to touch Florida sand. The fingertip of the state is the first — and sometimes the last — U.S. point they touch. After that, we don’t know for sure if they stay, but I’m writing this from a popular/dangerous entry point.
You’ve a large number of indigent here, indigent for the reasons why people get that way: mental illness, addiction, poverty, abuse, etc. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development does a “Homeless Assessment Report” and in 2013, Florida claimed about 50,000 people without a home, third only to California and New York. The weather’s good here. It’s easier to be without a home in Pensacola than it is to be without one in Green Bay.
The rest of Florida, seems to me, is split into two groups: transplants, who fell in love with Florida and moved all operations so they would never have to leave (Ernest Hemingway comes to mind) — and the natives.
I think I like natives best. You would, too, if you had been meeting the people I met this week.
“Honey, you get yourself some’uh that strawberry wiggle?”
Strawberry wiggle is a dessert and yes, ma’am, I did.
I also got me som’uh that homemade fried chicken, fried turkey, gravy, green beans, candied sweet potato casserole, pecan pie, mousse cake, and sweet tea. I ate it sitting at big, long picnic table on the front porch of the shop where I’m teaching. Me and the quilters, we ate together, and I didn’t talk too much so that I could listen.
There’s a way down here, a way I love. The natives — and transplants who’ve been here for so long they count — are defiantly generous. You wouldn’t think defiance and generosity could live in harmony, but they can and do down here. And this defiance isn’t toward you: it’s toward life itself, toward the weight of it. These people simply will not be beaten by anything, man, nature, or otherwise, and their resolve is palpable. Perhaps the generosity rises from that, though it might be the other way around: the giving, loving nature came first and endures suffering against all odds. War, blight, hurricane, poverty, etc. — it’s all in His hands, honey, so get you some’uh that strawberry wiggle and git in these arms.
That’s what my new friend Margaret says when she sees someone she hasn’t seen in awhile. She opens her long arms wiiiide, like she’s praisin’ Jesus, and she smaaahles this huge smaaahle and she says:
“Honey, git in these arms!”
And you don’t want to her to let go.