Down South

It was near sunset. I had walked across from my hotel room on Seville Street and sat on the short wall that separated the sidewalk from the beach on North Atlantic Boulevard.
An older man from the south noticed me. He smiled and asked, “You must be from New York?”
Smiling, I agreed with him.
The older man had tanned skin, salt and pepper hair with a matching colored goatee, and his face was slightly wrinkled.
He wore a blue baseball hat with an American eagle’s head surrounded by a series of golden stars. He wore a khaki pair of shorts and a crème-colored, buttoned down shirt, with short sleeves, and palm trees on the front.

We began to talk about the weather. We talked about the beach and the changes in women’s bathing suits since his time as a young man.
He was friendly and genuinely interested in my choice of tattoo art.
His tattoos were blotched and faded. The line-work was blurry and the lettering was difficult to read, but each tattoo was a representation of our country, so for that alone, he had my respect.

He joked about my accent and then he asked me to pronounce different words to hear the rhythm of my speech.
Then the older man began to tell me about southern living. He told me about the land he lives on and the small lake near his house. He spoke about the friendliness of his neighbors and he told me about an old weeping willow that was near his pond.

“That’s what it means to be a part of the south,” he explained.
“I like it down here,” I said. “It’s nice.”
“I can see why people move down here.”

The older man smiled. He shook the brim of his baseball hat with his right hand, and then he told me, “There are two types of Yankees; there’s a good Yankee and then there’s a damned Yankee.”
He said, “A good Yankee comes down, visits and then he goes back home.”
Then the older man spit a brown spew from his chewing tobacco into a small Dixie cup.
“And a damned Yankee comes down, visits and then he never leaves.”

“So what kind of Yankee are you,” he asked.
“I guess I’m a damned good Yankee.”
“What the hell is a damned good Yankee?”
I answered, “It means I’m down here, I’m visiting, and if I could stay here, I would…..but I can’t, so I won’t.”

The southern man laughed….

I never considered Florida as part of the south, though technically, it is. I always saw Florida as someplace New Yorkers moved to.
And I get that.
I have a special memory of Fort Lauderdale that I keep with me. I keep it like a lucky rabbit’s foot and I refer to that memory whenever I lose sight of what I want to do with my life.

Someday, I would like to live down south by the water.
I would like to look out of my front window and see palm trees.
I would like to live in a place where people say, “Hello,” and smile for no other reason than to be nice.

I have dreams of living differently, but I see them more as goals.
For now, I am working towards these goals, otherwise, my goals are just dreams that never came true.

I sat on the short wall between pavement and sand, looking out at the sea and watching the large cruise ships make their way deeper into the blue southern waters.
The older southern man passed by again.
He asked, “You still here, Yankee?”
“Yes I am.”
He smiled and held out his hand for me to shake it. “You go on and have yourself a good night tonight, son.” 

“Thank you, sir.”

There are small windows of time when we meet people or see things, as if there was a reason behind it.
I see this time as one of those windows. Come to think of it, I could use a change of scenery.
I could use a folding chair by a small pond with green grass surrounding me, a weeping willow to shade me, a glass of lemonade and the sunset.

But I wonder……do they have fireflies in Florida?
I don’t know if I could go through life without ever seeing fireflies during the sunset again.

Could you?

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