Tomorrow I’m going home to Florida. Home has so many definitions. It can be where you live. It can be your best friend’s house. It can be anywhere you feel welcome. I’ve lived in four different states: Louisiana where I was born, Florida where I was raised, California where life changed and Massachusetts where I’ve now settled in. To me, Florida will always be home.
I grew up in a small town called Keystone Heights — founded in 1925 by Pennsylvanians who named it after their home state. At the time of the 2010 Census there were only 1,350 people recorded in the 4.6 miles it covers. I was one of those people for over 25 years. People always assume that just because it’s in the South and has so few people that it must be farm country in the middle of nowhere. While we do have a few farms and plenty of forest areas — it’s more of a quaint town than the boondocks.
From the 1920s to the 1950s it was actually ‘the’ place to vacation in Florida; a favorite spot for the wealthy around the country. The Keystone Inn, a hotel built in 1924, was host to everyone from movie stars to famous gangsters. In 1954 a massive fire destroyed the upper floors and the hotel was never rebuilt. The city, for years, wanted to buy the hotel and renovate it — but the property owner refused and, instead, let it crumble into ruin. Today the hotel is gone and a beautiful community park has been built on the lot.
When I was younger all I thought about was getting out of Keystone. The nearest (decent) movie theater is 40 minutes away; the nearest mall even further. At 17 the idea of a quiet place to raise children was the farthest thing from my mind. Once I had a child of my own, I realized how valuable little towns like Keystone are. Peaceful, extremely low crime (except for aggravated assault – we have quite a few bar fights lol), good schools with a perfect teacher-to-student ratio and you can trust your neighbors because you know them — all of the things that are hard to find (if at all) with big city living. When I moved to California I missed seeing 10 people I know while I grocery shopped, being able to walk alone after dark and letting my son to play down the street with no worry about danger.
Luckily our neighborhood in Massachusetts is very close to that kind of peaceful security – but I still love going home to visit. Seeing the moss swaying in the big water oaks along the road. Driving past the park full of children and not vagrants. Sitting at the picnic table at my parents’ house and having an amazing home cooked Southern meal. The memories span the years and warm my heart.
This time I’m going back for my little bother’s wedding. You remember him, right? Mr. Eats Strange Ribs. He’s finally tying the knot at 27. But it will be an emotional trip for me not just because of the wedding, but because he’s leaving for basic training a few weeks later. He’s off to South Carolina and the National Guard. I’m proud, I’m sad, I’m happy, I’m excited…. such a mixture of emotions. All I know for sure is that I’ll never stop going home to Florida.