These are the first words I’ll write in the small second-floor room I’ve set up as an office/study. Susan and I started planning to sell our house in the Tampa Bay suburbs in early May. It sold six days after hitting the market, and before we had much time to think about it, we’d chosen a home in Statesville, North Carolina, to make an offer on. Within a month, it was all done, and we started preparing to move.
As we approach the end of June, we’re exploring a new town. We’ve met several neighbors who have brought us baked goods. Our mailman, Matt, stopped by to chat for about 10 minutes yesterday and told me about a good place for a haircut. We’ve sampled the fare at three local restaurants so far, all delicious. I think we’re going to love it here.
The weather, compared to Central Florida this time of year, is gentle and pleasant. Our house is surrounded and shaded by a massive oaks that make this part of town an oasis of cool, moist air. Songbirds and woodpeckers dominate the day, and at dusk thousands of fireflies appear, lighting up the night like they did in Seffner, Florida, when I was a kid. Their habitat in Florida is mostly gone now, pushed out by the burgeoning population with its need for more storefronts, parking lots, and mass-produced neighborhoods. I’d almost forgotten how magical it feels to walk outside among all those tiny, twinkling creatures.
Best of all, we have friends and family nearby, here in Statesville, in other parts of North Carolina, and in Kentucky, South Carolina, and Tennessee. And some of those friends are musicians I haven’t seen in a long time. I look forward to getting in tune with them again soon. And if you’re anticipating the November Baghdad Bad Boys reunion—well, I’m sure by now you’ve figured out that it’s not going to be in Florida. We have a back deck large enough to accommodate you and your instruments, and if it gets chilly, we’ll light the fireplace and bring it inside. For most of you, having the reunion in North Carolina means a much shorter trip, so I hope that’s some consolation for missing out on visiting the Sunshine State.
Yesterday, we finished emptying the PODS shipping containers that arrived two days ago with most of our stuff. The house is full of boxes and disorganized furniture, but the hard part of moving is done. It’s time to settle in and do some exploring. Our kids all plan to visit in July, a good friend from Florida is going to join us a little later for a couple weeks, and my sister may be here in October.
There are people I love in Florida, and I’ll miss things like the sound a warm breeze makes in the fronds of a palm tree, fresh papayas from the back yard, and Cuban food. But I’ve loved North Carolina since I first served at Fort Bragg in the 90s. When I retired from the Army, I expected to return to certain aspects of life in Florida that had always made it “home” in my mind. What I found was that Florida had changed so much in the more than 20 years I’d been away that it wasn’t the same place I’d left behind, and some of the reasons I’d wanted to return to the county where I was born and raised turned out to be illusions I must have dreamt up over the years in the heat and loneliness of distant, arid, war-torn places. Like the fireflies, the magic was gone.
So, I’m looking out my window at 8am sunlight on bright green leaves. A mockingbird is singing. I just finished my coffee, and I plan to go see that barber Matt the Postman told me about. Then I’ll unpack some boxes and maybe plug in the television. Susan and I love it here, and we’re grateful for so much. And if you’ve read this far, I’m grateful for you too. Come out for a visit. Take off your shoes, listen to the birds, and stay awhile.