Thursday, September 18, 2014

Seasons in Florida

People always say that South Florida has no seasons, and while I know what they mean and that to some extent they are right, I also know that in the most important way, they are wrong. When I was growing up in Florida, we had seasons, and they did not change when the leaves began to turn colors, or the snow began to fall, or the daffodils began to bloom—they changed when my dad lugged a ladder over to the attic’s entrance, retrieved the next season’s boxes of decorations, and delivered them up to my mother. Then she would begin the process of transforming our house. I realize now that I still stare blankly, uncomprehendingly at anyone who says Florida has no seasons because my mom created the seasons each year within our home.

I awaited these transitions with great anticipation—the way I’m sure my peers in other parts of the country looked forward to huge piles of leaves in autumn or the first snowfall of winter. Many days in advance I would begin asking, “When will we get the boxes down?” And when the day finally came, it was as a holiday.

We had a small house, which seemed huge and wonderful to me as a child, and in retrospect is tiny and dearer to me than any place I’ve ever known. The center point of it all was the tall hutch in the dining room, which was built into the wall, and the connecting shelf that stretched across two of the dining room’s walls. It was here that the transformation began, and ran delicious threads of color and seasonal, festive cheer to every corner of our little home. In the fall, the shelves in our dining room were filled with pumpkins and scarecrows, pilgrims and turkeys, and fiery-colored leaves and acorns collected on trips up north. Additional autumnal accents were scattered throughout the house: dishes and hand towels in the kitchen, pumpkins on the doorstep and pumpkin seeds baking in our oven. Hand-made Indian corn necklaces circled our necks and Squanto felt like our next-door neighbor.

Christmas was the grandest time--with a whole shipload of boxes coming out of the attic and washing ashore in our living room. Out came branches of holly and garlands of evergreen to line the shelves and fill my mom’s collection of Longaberger baskets. Out came Christmas lights for my parents to frustratedly untangle and books about St. Nicholas and the Nativity to read by the glow of the Christmas tree. Out came the ornaments with their stories and memories, the stockings handmade by our grandma, and the crown jewel: Mom’s small ceramic Christmas tree frosted with snow and sparkling like stained glass with tiny, colored lights.

I’m indulging myself in the dearest of memories as I risk digressing from the point of this essay—suffice it to say that after Christmas came winter and our house became a wonderland of snowmen and icicles. It was easy to imagine cold weather as my sisters and I huddled in blanket forts with fans blowing on us and pretended to be snowed-in. (Little House on the Prairie also helped a lot with this.) In February, our home brimmed with valentines and red heart-shaped lights strung up cheerfully around the room. With springtime came bunnies, and chicks in an abundance of stuffed-animal delight, and Easter grass and bright flowers and a kaleidoscope of colorful eggs. Meanwhile, the temperature outside rarely varied from a steady, humid, 85 degrees. But who knew? Not I. As far as I could tell the seasons were processing along exactly as they should and I loved the predictability and rhythm of it all.

What I am not trying to say is that the actual seasons are unnecessary or not worth experiencing. What I am marveling over is my mom’s ability to create the seasons for her kids in a place where they don’t really exist. She was helped out by the occasional cold-snap, but for the most part she made something out of nothing, and raised kids who knew what it felt like to eat a bowl of chili on a crisp night in the midst of a world that was turning from yellow, to orange, to red in a blaze of dying glory. She raised kids who knew about the earth’s rhythms and patterns, though we lived far from them in many respects. She gave us beauty and excitement and a land much bigger than our city, or region, or state. She gave us the tools to experience things far away from us. Now that I am grown, I wonder how she found the time or energy to do it. In the midst of raising and homeschooling four children, it might’ve seemed a bit superfluous to put so much effort into decorating so beautifully and thoroughly for each season. Did she know how essential it was? Did she know that atmosphere of beauty was something worth fighting for? Did she know the gift of joy and imagination she was giving us? She made our little lives so much bigger than they actually were---she did it through books and movies and education and allowing us endless hours of imaginative play, but also through simply decorating our home to give us an environment of wonder and nature that sparked our creativity.

This past Thursday I walked into the grocery store to pick up a few things and found myself greeted by huge bins full of gigantic orange pumpkins. I thought first of my mother, and then of the way fall feels in Florida, when the air is just the tiniest bit cooler, a difference so small that only a native would notice and know that the seasons are once again changing.