|Jinny's article will be written this week by her daughter, Adele Anderson.
Who said that the more things change, the more they stay the same? Some wise individual who had lived a long time and figured out that there are constants in life and human nature that run like blood through the veins of existence in a continuous unbroken loop. I have lived from one end of this country to the other during the course of my life and I can testify to the veracity of this statement on change, if not its wise author.
I am currently living on the coast of Florida, a location that is a dream come true to many people, although I have never been one of them. My being here has everything to do with my children and nothing to do with personal desire. But here I am, and as it is with any new environment, there is much to observe and learn.
I am currently caretaking a condo on the beach for a family member while it is being renovated. There are many condos on the beach, all of them obscenely expensive, rented out to people of means from the northern climates who happily spend the winter months on the beach while those less economically fortunate huddle in the months of deep freeze back home. Most of these condos sit right on the beach and rise many stories into the sky. They have fabulous amenities and spectacular views. The individual condos are being continuously renovated because the competition for the "Snow Birds" is stiff and maintaining the cutting edge is essential.
The small town in which I am living is without question, a tourist town. Unlike the tourist towns of coastal Maine that thrive because they consciously attempt to downplay their image as stereotypical tourist traps, this one makes no pretense of being anything else but. Billboards remind us all that this is a place close to paradise, that the sun shines almost every day and the beach stretches for miles. The permanent population is not much bigger than Bangor, but it swells to bloated proportions at certain times of the year.
If one is living here day to day, the perception is obviously different. Living, after all, is more like a business and less like a vacation. My son, Chuck, found this out when he started 7th grade here in a new school. The most glaring difference between his new school and his school in Maine was that in Florida, all students in public schools are required to wear uniforms. At first, Chuck interpreted this fact in a negative way, as if the school were trying to crush his individuality. Personally, I was pleased by the uniforms; my years of raising and working with adolescents had taught me that they frequently have a liberal interpretation of what constitutes appropriate attire. I have seen boys wearing pants so baggy and long, and with waistlines so low, that they resemble circus clowns in pantaloons. I have seen girls with necklines more appropriate to Las Vegas showgirls than schoolgirls, shirts so short and tight that they look like they borrowed them from their baby sisters, and hemlines and footwear that look like they ought to be worn by working girls on the strip. I like the nice, neat uniforms with polo shirts and khaki shorts and pants. The dress code is rigid and there is no room for loose interpretation. If you are not dressed per the regulations, you are sent home.
Chuck came home after the first day and told me that there were cameras in the outdoor halls, cafeteria, and gym. This shook him a bit. I pointed out to him that if his last school had cameras, they might have caught the school bully on at least one of the numerous occasions he physically abused other students in the hallways when the teachers weren't looking. He had to admit that this was true. He was tormented verbally and bullied in his old school, so the fact that his new school is rabid about stopping bullying makes him feel safer. I also like the fact that the law says that every student, K through 12, has to have one hour of physical activity every day. This is a new law that is designed to fight the fact that our children are overweight, out of shape, and obese. Makes sense to me.
On the down side, I miss trees. There are lots of palm trees here, which have always looked almost like fake trees to me somehow, and are a far cry from the beautiful trees of Maine. It is hard to grow anything here; the soil is sand and the sun is brutal in the summer. I miss the fields of green and the carpets of wildflowers. The land is as flat as a bad joke and the only things that rise above the horizon are the condos that soar above the palm trees. Fortunately, I grew up on the beach and love the ocean, and the sea here is spectacular, if totally different than the one I grew up on or the one in Maine. The Gulf is so placid it is almost like a lake on some days, lapping onto the shore sedately with no waves in sight. It is the most vivid shades of blue and green and the colors swirl and blend together differently each day. In the heat of summer the ocean is the temperature of baby's bathwater and you can float around in it all day if you desire or walk along the white beach for miles.
Those are the things that are different; the things that are the same are about people. The contractor who is doing the renovations told me one day that the guy who was going to do the tile on the floors would be there the next day. He warned me that he was a really scary looking guy, but a sweetheart. When he showed up, he was about 6'4", with startlingly blue eyes and a full, bushy beard that was so long it rested on his chest. He didn't look scary to me, he looked like half the guys I ran into in Maine. It turns out that his father had been in the Airforce and that he had actually been born in Maine, although he was a baby when they left and doesn't remember it. He graduated from high school down here and stayed, but he isn't in love with the beach; his dream is to live in the middle of the woods in a cabin he built himself. I told him that he may have only been born in Maine, but he definitely had somehow ended up with Maine in his DNA because that was the dream of quite a few people born and raised there. He prefers the cold to the heat and loves the idea of being surrounded by trees and living on the shore of a big lake. The longer I spoke with him the more I realized that despite the southern accent, he was a Mainer through and through, looking to build and live in the last house on a dead end dirt road. He asks me lots of questions about Maine and the woods and likes to hear me describe the seasons, even the frigid barren landscapes of winter. He spent time in Vermont growing up and loved the fall and winter. So, while the people up north dream of the endless days of sun, he dreams of the snap in the air in autumn and snow on the treetops in winter. Life, if nothing else, is ironic. The things that are different may be more obvious, but the similarities are far more interesting.