Because we had to, literally, travel north to go south, today finds me in Hilton Head, packed and ready to head to Florida. Because it’s my life, there’s a slight problem with the refrigerator in the camper. Probably not a big one, but big enough that I’m in a holding pattern while people more mechanically inclined than I sort it out.
Mechanical difficulties aside, I feel a little bit like I did when I was seven and my family prepared to move from New York to Florida. New Yorkers, as many of you may be aware, don’t have the best reputation among some southerners, and, even though Florida isn’t the deep south, their reputation precedes them there as well. My mother did her best to make sure that the Catholic Italian girl who had never been to a mass spoken in English wouldn’t stick out among the Floridians.
“You can’t say ‘yeah’ and ‘nah’ in Florida, Cathy,” my mom coached me. “It’s ‘yes’ and ‘no’ and ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ People have good manners in Florida.”
Considering that my mom spent her entire life in New York, she certainly painted a grim picture of New Yorkers. As an adult, it speaks to me of how much she must have hated it there. She has been back exactly three times in 31 years and swears she will never return. I can’t say I blame her, but, to a seven-year-old immersed in a large Italian family, the prospect of leaving New York terrified me.
My mom, of course, did her best to get me excited about the trip. She would lie down with me at bed time and tell me stories about what my room would be like and what fun I would have. It worked, because by the time we left for Florida I couldn’t wait to arrive.
The trip, of course, took forever. We loaded up a moving van and piled our family of three into that and our 1976 Buick Regal. My two grandfathers helped us. There was no air conditioning. We made it as far as Maryland the first night, I think, and stayed – this part I remember vividly – at a Quality Inn. I remember this because my parents told me be on the lookout, and as a result I chanted “Quality Inn, Quality Inn, Quality Inn” until I am certain my mother wished she knew the specifics of child abuse laws in the middle states.
We drove through what I’m certain was a tornado, there was no air conditioning to speak of, and the general fun Italian families have when they cram a bunch of themselves into a small space speaks for itself. Despite that, I have great memories of the trip and a stunning photo of a shirtless me (age seven, don’t get excited) to prove how exceptionally hot Interstate 95 gets in July, we arrived in Florida.
I bounced in the seat with anticipation, much as I do right now. Here we come, Florida.