Lately, instead of renting movies we’ve been watching ones we own and haven’t seen in a while (imagine that). Last night, we cracked out Apollo 13, and I must say, even though I’ve seen it probably about a dozen times—my parents bought it on VHS, and I was an only child, so I tended to watch and re-watch every movie we owned—I still think it’s a great movie. But what it really made me think about last night was Florida.
Recently, I’ve been downright homesick. Though, to be fair, I’m not sure whether I’m homesick for the actual place or for my childhood. The two are inextricable.
There were the space-themed exhibits at the National Air and Space Museum in DC, the lunar module and rover, the paintings of the lunar landings. There’s the talk of Marvin and Amie maybe visiting Florida next year to see a launch. And just today, I thought—homemade lemonade. How I would love to have some homemade lemonade.
So, the things I took for granted, growing up in Florida:
1. Launches. Rockets, space shuttles. We’d watch the countdown on TV and then if it was really going, we’d run outside to the front yard to watch. And there it would be, a big plume and a glowing ball at the top, rising above our house. I’d stand smack in the middle of our street and look up, and I can still feel the warm asphalt on my bare feet. I can still hear the rumble of the launches, the deep, almost crunchy sound. I remember waking up to that sound, the windows rattling, terrified for a split second, thinking we were having an earthquake or something, before realizing it was just a shuttle launch and going back to bed.
2. All the space stuff. I didn’t realize it was special to grow up a few miles from Kennedy Space Center. Space was so normal to us. Everybody’s dad worked at KSC or at Cape Canaveral. Our next-door neighbor was a retired NASA engineer; he helped me with math. My first official date with Jesse was to the KSC visitor’s center, and our first kiss was beneath a bright orange shuttle external tank. One of Jesse’s dad’s friends was an astronaut, and we got free tickets to see an IMAX movie he’d helped film at the International Space Station.
3. Fresh fruit. Dad’s thumb has always been impossibly green (I got my mom’s hands), so in our backyard we had quite the collection of fruit trees—oranges, grapefruits, lemons, limes, tangelos, starfruit. Bananas for a while, though I believe they were killed in one of our rare deep freezes. My childhood winters were full of oranges, the sounds of my mom making orange juice in the kitchen, picking bags of them to give away when someone visited from out of state. And when I was sick, Dad would make me limeade or lemonade, sometimes ice cold, sometimes heated up if I had a sore throat. The fruit I can get at Harris Teeter tastes nothing like the fruit that came out of our backyard.
4. All things tropical. I didn’t think I’d miss palm trees and the ability to take a day trip to Miami, but I do. I miss the colors of Florida, its neons, its flamingo pinks. I miss how gaudy it could be, how bright the sun was.
5. Theme parks. There, I said it. I miss Disney. I miss how just about every billboard advertised some new ride or attraction, how everything was geared toward tourists, how it felt like a perpetual vacation. When I lived in Orlando, I loved to roll my eyes at the constant barrage of theme park ads, but now I miss them. And though I was often bored, there was the sense that I never really had to be. There was always something wanting to entertain me.
There was just something fundamentally exciting about Florida, something I didn’t appreciate until leaving. The space stuff, being so close to something that represents what we can do with enough determination and brainpower and creativity. And all the rest, the excess of family fun and a growing season that never stopped, there is something wonderful about having grown up in such a place.