Monday, April 12, 2010
loving the languor of lakeland
My sister,mother and I are surrounded by luggage on the platform at Penn Station in New York City.We are about to board the East Coast Champion for a two day train ride to Florida.It is the middle of the school year and it's either January or February.I am 6 years old ,my sister, almost ten.My mother's double pneumonia is not clearing up so we are headed for warmer climes.We will not see my Father for months.I have no idea if I welcomed this change or not.
My childless aunts and uncles live in Lakeland,Florida and that is our destination.This city is in central Florida and when we arrive we will be enrolled in a Catholic grammar school and finish first and fourth grades there.I am a stranger in a strange land.
The sisters at the school are delightfully mellow .We have hot lunches every day ;I can still see rice and gravy.Since the teaching is behind where we were in the school up North, we find school relaxed and very easy.Conversation with new friends is slow and comfortable.People smile alot.The attached picture shows our first day of school and another liberation;we don't have to wear uniforms!
At that time, the city aerated the water supply to purify it.This was accomplished by shooting it into the air and to my eyes, this display looked like wonderful fountains.I was enchanted.
Lakeland is so named because there are over 38 lakes in the city and I recall 3 of them ;Lake Bonny,Lake Parker and Lake Beulah.They must have been the ones closest to my aunts' houses.They are fraught with terror,these lakes, as every year a few people disappear ,grabbed in a careless moment by alligators.On Long Island, where we live, there is no place that a six year old could pass or be near where a 15 foot creature might leap at you to devour your body.And yet, this danger is part of the wonder of being dropped down into another world.
Palm trees speak when the wind hits their fronds.The pink and purple bougainvillea
take over trellises and red hibiscus grow everywhere.The highways are lined with pink or white oleander.Spanish moss hangs from the tall trees and sways in the breezes. And if you have never driven passed an orange grove in full flower,you must stop everything and head South.The scent is subtle, rich and unforgettable.
My relatives are patient and so kind.As I type ,something I hadn't thought of surfaces.They don't drink ,so neither does my Mother.The people you sit down with at breakfast are the same ones that show up for dinner.Nothing has happened to change them into surly,slurring aliens.In the evening there are no arguments, just canasta under the whirring fan on the back porch, with my dear aunt saying, "Oh boys,"each time she gets a bad hand.This is a languid land ,dreamy ,colorful and slow; I blossom there.
What I felt about going home is lost to my memory but I think I carried the colors,easy smiles,warm days,the ease of it with me.When my husband said we were moving to Georgia from Denver in the '70s,it felt right.Moonlight through the pines has replaced oleander and the sun is on kissing terms with the earth.Always on my mind.