Monday, May 7, 2012

Thoughts of Places: Florida

At my house in California with my dad and paternal grandma.
I remember the living room and the pool. And that the summers were hot and inside the house everything was nice and cool, especially my super awesome toy kitchen set. I would sit in the corner of that living room and pretend to cook and bake and clean. I wore a yellow floral dress and flaunted my pretend skills. And everyone loved it, including me.

But that went away.

I remember getting a phone call from my grandparents about them moving house. It was a long distance call back when long distance calls cost a lot of money. I could only stay on the line for a short time and while I talked with them I heard about one thing - the pool.

The old house had a pool, but for some reason this would be a much better swimming facility. Why? I had no idea, and my guess is neither did they. But they made it out to be the pool of all pools. I imagined swimming in my grandparents' private pool and lounging waterside while my dad played Billy Joel on an electric keyboard.

But it wasn't a private pool, it was another community pool.

Yet I still made invaluable memories there, both good and bad. Once, my grandma cut her finger while cutting fruit. Her fingers bled and it was the first time I ever saw one of my relatives injure themselves so terribly. Another time, I sat in the den and watched Nickelodeon on the giant TV while eating Spaghetti-O's. And all the time, outside the living room and the guest rooms, in front of the door, there was an electronic dalmatian dog toy that barked whenever loud sounds came near it.

But that went away.

The good and the bad memories, they all became lost once the houses were sold.

Now, my dad, my sister, my brother-in-law and my niece are all in Florida visiting my grandparents. They're staying in the house that came after the first two I knew. By the time the new house was being lived in, I was already a preteen.

I don't know what it is about being a toddler or a pre-pubescent, but there is something glorious about going to your grandparents' house when you're that young - something that gets lost when you're older.

My grandma who lives in California has also created a similar problem for me. The house that I grew up in with her, the one that she lived in since I was born, she sold when I was around 13. I was too old to grow attached to any more homes she lived in, and even though the house she has now is even nicer than the old one, I can't get past the effects of nostalgia.

Calling my dad as he hangs out in Florida with so much of my immediate family, I feel a sense of longing - to be there with everyone, even if I don't like Florida in general.

It makes me wonder whether I would feel even more strongly about returning to the Sunshine State if perhaps I had good memories associated with my grandparents' house.

The truth is that after they moved I could no longer have an idealized memory of my time at their new house. I was old enough that eating a bowl of Spaghetti-O's wasn't an experience worth commemorating. If they had kept my kitchen set, I would have been too old to appreciate it anymore. And by the time they moved to their new house, I was no longer the youngest grandchild. There were two littler kids to take my place.

I decided to write this blog not because I was hoping to be nostalgic about Florida. Hear me talk about the place, and you'll realize I am the bitterest visitor of all. I complain about the weather, about the lack of entertainment, about the fact that I still detect hints of racism when I'm visiting.

Instead, I wrote this because I wanted to figure out for myself why I can't like the place anymore. And I guess the answer is pretty clear - it just doesn't have any valuable memories save for my grandparents themselves.

I know I'll remember my grandparents in multiple homes. The past several years that they've lived in their current home won't be erased from my memory. But it is true that latching onto a certain period in time cements a particular image in your head.

For me, the cemented image of my grandparents is them peeking through the window that separated the kitchen and the living room as I hid behind my toy oven and stove.

Most of the time when I watch Thoughts from Places, a repeated segment by the vlogbrothers on YouTube, the locations visited are surrounded by intrigue and introspection. The voice-over reminds us that there's something to take away from the story and the place behind it.

For once, I have nothing to take away from the story - except that nostalgia is irreplaceable. It's a thought I've had no less than a million times, but with the thought of Florida it comes back full-force.

I'm in my room at college in the numbing cold of the Chicago spring that feels like winter. But all I can think about is how much I want to be in Florida, regardless of how little I care for it. Because in that dumb state far away from where I am now, there are a ton of people I want to be with. Even if in 15 years I don't look back and think about sitting around the coffee table with them like I think about the mechanical dalmatian barking at the door, I still wish I could be there to have that experience.

If I'm lucky, maybe I will think back on those times with fondness. Maybe the "ick" of the Florida humidity will be drowned out by the always-78 degree temperature in my grandparents' newest home. Or maybe I'll just miss it because I miss my grandparents. I guess only time will tell.

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