Tuesday, March 06, 2007


I have just returned from a few weeks in Florida, leaving behind a balmy eighty degree temperature to arrive in a blast of frigid air and a dismal winter landscape. I wasn't sorry to come home, because my Homesick Gauge hits the panic button after about a month away from the grandkids, but memories of that warm sun do nothing to ward off the biting cold. The thermometer swings down to kiss the zero mark, the wind cuts like a sharpened knife across the face, and no amount of clothing keeps the chill away.

The Florida landscape is bland and peaceful. It stretches out like a blanket of sand, with few, if any, hills to vary the monotony. It is speckled with palm trees and, away from populated areas, fields of scrub palm, so thick it is impossible to walk through them form a jungle-like terrain. But it is hard to believe this flat, rather barren land with its almost constant sun can spawn killer storms that wreak havoc on anything in their wake, like a serene and cheerful person suddenly changing into a raging, foot-stomping maniac!

Most of the dangers and annoyances in Florida are hidden, be it hurricanes or sharks. The alligators lurk in the vicinity of the ponds and rivers, seldom venturing forth. And that same scrub palm holds another hidden enemy, the tick. It leaps forth to land on any part of your anatomy and clings there, sucking the life from your body.

There is one Florida resident that is not hidden, even though it tries to be. That is the cockroach. It may live in the corners and crevaces of your home, but it is visible enough when you run into it accidentally. At one point, when my son rented a home, I spent night after night waging battle with an army of cockroach, armed with spray and a flyswatter. This cockroach army was more numerous than the Chinese military, kill one and a hundred more appeared. When he thankfully moved from that infested place, I had to concede that I had lost the war. Robert E. Lee could not have been more crestfallen as my realization that I would never rid the world of cockroaches.

I enjoyed walks in Florida, early morning saunters in the warm sun, enjoying the view of the palm trees and the homes with their tidy, handkerchief lawns. I enjoyed walks until the guard at the gatehouse of this subdivision told me to take care walking near the bushes, since a Gator had been sighted lolling in the underbrush a few days before. From that moment on, I fully expected a huge mouth to descend upon my legs, dragging me into some smelly pond to flounder about, swatting that knobby, ugly flesh and screaming for my life.

One thing about Michigan. We may have ice and snow, but neither of them gobble you up, or take off an arm or a leg...at least, if you watch your driving and aren't gobbled up by the Highway God. Florida looks peaceful, but it isn't. In the middle of the night, children were sleeping, families were nestled in their beds, when a violent tornado ripped across those acres, smashing homes and slamming those families from their beds. It was a poor trailer park that suffered the most damage, FEMA material, and that made it even more tragic. As well as the loss of their loved ones, these people would have the bureaucratic struggle of constant red tape to face for months to come.

It is their faith that sustains them and carries them through tragedies like this. Florida is filled with the faithful, most of them dirt-poor. The rich, now, they aren't so churchy. I think they may worship a different God. Or else they pray better prayers. They inhabit the restaurants, play their golf and sail their yachts and seldom thank the Lord for their bounty. But the poor cling to religion like a boat in a perfect storm, a refuge in a tumultous times.

It's a Death Penalty state. Nothing they seem to love more than to sending some twisted, ignorant, half-demented sinner to his just rewards. For some reason, I think it is the weather, Florida has more than its share of the Homeless and the Helpless and a healthy amount of the downright criminal. The Homeless cluster there, sleeping in shelters and in cars, roaming the streets, carrying their earthly belongings on their backs. The criminals plot idiotic schemes, kidnappings, bank robberies, murder. Life in America is dangerous. Even paradise has its serpent.

The younger set in Florida resent the older crowd, the snowbirds and the transplants. For one thing, they drive too slowly. Traffic is intense on the major arteries, as in cities everywhere, a mad scramble to get to one's destination as swiftly as the law allows, and sometimes far swifter than the law allows. The snowbirds shuffle along at a reasonable rate of speed, enduring the honks and rude gestures and road rage. They forget to turn off their turn signals and slow to a crawl at every turn. Residents are allowed to carry guns in their cars and there have been instances of their use, usually in highway incidents.

There are two pets of choice in Florida...the poodle and the pit bull. The poodles are nestled in the arms of their adoring masters, fluffed and manicured and polished to perfection. The pit bulls, on the other hand, are left for the rain to clean. There is one other breed of dog, the greyhound, the starting point for every abandoned and exhausted dog of this breed adopted by people in other states. Gentle and forgiving, they make wonderful family members.

The lure of the sun, the lure of the waters, the lure of a life filled with fishing and golfing and wearing summer togs throughout the year, this is the attraction of Florida. However, one must be willing to put up with the giant bugs, the alligators, the humidity, the traffic. And, one must be resigned to, at least once every year or so and possibly several times a year, climbing into the car for an escape farther north to avoid the whirling winds advancing like a carnivorous beast across those gleaming waters.

No matter where I go, no matter how long I stay, my return to Michigan is a return home. I consider it a curse, because Heaven knows, there are prettier places and warmer climes. There are mountains with vistas that reach into infinity and prairies with rolling hills of green. But, somehow, they aren't home. Home is that state with the automotive woes and the unemployed workers. It's the state with the frigid winters and humid summers, where it is either too hot or too cold.

Someone once said, of New York, that it is a nice place to visit, but they wouldn't want to live there. I feel the same way about Michigan. I wouldn't want to live there.....but I do!