Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Happy First Day of Fall

People think I'm kidding when I say that I moved to central Florida from southwestern Virginia because I was cold, but it really is kind of true. During the Virginia winters I would layer ridiculously. I'd get those thin-but-warm longsleeved undershirts that have lace around the edges and pretend they are "lingerie" but in reality they are just slightly prettier long underwear. Then over that I'd wear a longsleeved shirt or a turtleneck, then over that I'd wear a thick sweater, and possibly over that I'd wear a cardigan. This was just to be inside my classrooms, or the mall, or someone's house, mind you. To go outside I'd put a coat or two on top of all that. Often when coming inside I'd be so cold I'd keep my coat on, even though I knew that would just hurt me extra when I had to go out again. I remember plenty of snowy gray weeks when the temperature wouldn't get above 20, even in the daytime, and it seemed like the bitter cold would seep into my bones and I would never be warm again.

Luckily my parents built our house to have separate heat controls in each room. Well, lucky for ME, anyway. Mom would come in my room and cringe, and fan her face. "Oh no! It must be eighty degrees in here!" She'd turn it down, and I'd turn it back up after she left. Unfortunately, the dial didn't GO above 80.

I never liked being outside in the cold, my nose turning red and running, and my fingers stiffening up, getting icy windburn on my cheeks if I had to walk very far. Getting so cold that my stomach muscles would clench up, and my whole body would shiver uncontrollably.

After graduating college and working temp jobs, not finding a "real" job, I decided to move away. Why not? It seemed like the only time in my life I'd ever have the chance to do that, being young and single and pretty much unemployed. It seemed like an adventure! It was 1989 and I was 23. I considered San Francisco, New York City and a few other cities that I had been to and loved. After growing up in a very rural area, where cows outnumbered people and the idea of a sidewalk seemed exotic, I wanted to live in a city. Then I read an article in Newsweek about great job opportunities in the growing and impressive city of Orlando, and I saw a lovely little picture of the pretty Lake Eola fountain under a sunny blue sky, and I was sold. I had never been to Florida and didn't know anyone there, but that was the adventurous part!

Driving south in my Tercel I watched the landscape get less and less mountainous, then pretty soon after passing Valdosta I started to see the monotonous Georgia roadside pine trees turn into Florida palm trees and big lakes. I had never been south of Atlanta before, but I really felt at home in the sunny flat state.

I never intended to stay here, I planned to go home to the mountains of Virginia after a few years. I think I underestimated how much it really did matter to me to live in a climate with a lot of sunshine and no cold, snowy weather. A lot of people here (most of them transplants from northern climates) say that there are no real seasons in Florida; but they are here, they are just more subtle. Today is the first day of fall, and even though it is still plenty warm, overall the temperatures are getting slightly cooler. And the sun is setting earlier, which makes me feel the change in seasons as much as falling leaves ever did.

During the winter it regularly gets into the 40's at night, sometimes the 30's. That is plenty cold enough to turn on the heat and enjoy the cozy feeling of bundling up under comforters. But in the daytime the temperature rarely dips below the 50's, which is just cold enough to throw on an extra sweater (or five) before heading out. I never have to scrape ice off my windshield, or carefully dry my thick hair before going outside so a stray wet strand won't freeze solid, or step across brown muddy piles of snow scraped up on the side of the road (that never seem to melt, long after the pretty white snow is long gone).

I have to admit, having now spent half my life in Florida I feel pretty much native, but I still think the Floridians who put on gloves, hats, scarves and heavy winter coats to go outside when it's 60 degrees are HILARIOUS. It seems like they see people wearing "winter clothes" on tv, and they see "winter clothes" in the stores (Why? Why do stores in FL sell heavy coats and thick gloves?) so they automatically put on their "winter clothes" when "winter" arrives. I remember bitter wind cutting through my clothes and building up a layer of ice or snow on my jeans and coat, leaving a pile of melting ice and snow inside the door, and my toes getting so frigid that it hurt to warm up. These funny Floridians do not understand what clothes like that are FOR.

When it's a beautiful bright Florida day in January or February, the temperature in the high 60's, I walk outside and feel the sun on my face and I just love it. And actually, when it's a scorchingly, sweatingly hot day in July or August, and I walk outside at midnight and it is still sticky and humid and in the mid-80s, I love that too.