I never thought of Florida as “the South” until I lived with a Floridian. She called herself a Southerner. Now that I live here with my sweetheart, I understand that she really was.
It’s a whole different world down here from New York, where I grew up; Connecticut, a state with utterly no personality where I lived for 18 years; and wild-west Oregon, a state that probably helped prepare me for Florida.
The Tampa Bay area newspapers are full of news of the recent raising of a 50 by 30 foot Confederate Flag flying on a 139 foot flagpole. Supporters said that it’s a part of U.S. history and that the First Amendment gives them the right. Other residents say the flag is a symbol of a shameful time in our history.
In the early 1990s commissioners in the county where it flies passed a human rights ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. Four years later, the county rescinded the ordinance. In 2005, the same county banned recognition of gay pride when what started as a prohibition of gay rights library displays became a broad county policy. Is the whole country this homophobic, or am I just lucky enough to live in places where it flares up like wild fires and hurricanes? When I lived in Southern Oregon, my county was targeted as an AIDS Free Zone where people living with HIV would not be allowed. Oregon was one of the biggest battlegrounds for our civil rights. Now that civil unions are allowed in Oregon, I live in Florida, where not even Rosie and Kelly can marry—or adopt.
But Florida is a beautiful state. I finally get to live among palm trees. I never have to worry about being too cold. There are egrets and herons and wood storks and cardinals everywhere. I live in muscle shirts and shorts. I’ve retired my jeans for tropic weight pants. The old Florida architecture is as exciting to me as the Chrysler Building.
Of course, with exotica come the creepy crawlies. I skirt ponds and lagoons widely after hearing stories of alligators taking strolls in town and inviting themselves onto screened porches. You can’t avoid all the swampy critters, though. The first time I saw a flying roach as big as a hummingbird, it was all I could do not to scream like a girl. Butterflies as large and dark as bats flap their wings outside my desk window all day. I call the wolf spiders wooly mammoths because they’re the size of saucers. They move fast and sideways, like crabs. I hear they jump when threatened. It took me two days to use the guest bathroom again after I spotted one in there. When a workman discovered a wooly mammoth in a closet, I was the one who had to protect him from it. He couldn’t wait to get home and tell his wife he’d survived. It may still be living in our clothes.
Then there was the snake. I understand that I inhabit their territory, so, outside, I just run. One of the cats came to tell me this one was in the house. They had it cornered until it slipped behind a bookcase. Two weeks later it reappeared at about 6:00 a.m.
“Lee!” called my sweetheart with a note of panic. I managed to grab my clothes and glasses while she kept track of it. Mostly asleep, I followed her urgent instructions until we captured it in a bucket and escorted it to a field down the street.
Those things creep me out, but I have to say they are nothing compared to my memory of the civil rights battles in the 1960s and the reality of slavery in this country only a century and a half ago. Every time a neighbor’s oversized red pickup diesels past our house, a confederate flag decal pasted over half of his tail gate, I am more creeped out.
Earlier today I went to pick up a log from a local tree service in a nearby town (to use as a kitty scratching post). These guys were super nice. When I saw their Confederate flag bumper stickers I was glad I’d parked my car butt out, where they couldn’t see my rainbows.
I wanted a map of the town so I could explore. The Chamber of Commerce parking lot was adjacent to Boyles Backyard Bar where guys sat at the covered outdoor bar drinking lunch. Down the way was Billy Jack’s Burger Shack, and across from that I spotted the Patriot Bank.
No, I didn’t scream like a girl. I did skedaddle outta there like wooly mammoths were pursuing me. Like a damn Yankee.
Email Lee Lynch at firstname.lastname@example.org.