I can’t seem to get a conversation I overheard out of my mind.
It took place last week at a Home Depot in Hadley, Massachusetts, while I stood waiting with a full shopping cart for my husband to return with one more piece of lumber he needed for a project at our daughter’s house.
As I stood there biding time, a man and a woman about my age strolled by. As they rounded a corner, the woman practically bumped into a Home Depot employee whom she obviously knew but hadn’t seen in a while. They stopped to chat just a few feet away from where I was waiting. I couldn’t help but hear their conversation.
“Are you still working at the same place you were before?” the employee asked the woman.
“Oh no,” she replied. “I’m retired now.”
“Ah,” the Home Depot worker said. “Does that mean you’re moving down to Florida?”
Although I was half-heartedly listening up to that point, at the mention of my home state, I gave the conversation my full attention.
“Ha!” said the woman, practically spitting out the exclamation. “I’d never live there. You couldn’t pay me enough to move to Florida.”
A few minutes before, I’d felt my patience dwindling because of how long it was taking my husband Ralph to find one measly piece of lumber. Suddenly, a new feeling arose in my chest — ire at the woman’s irrational condemnation of a place I’ve come to love.
I felt a strong urge (which I wisely ignored) to tell the woman how wrong she was about Florida. I wanted to walk over and say, “Excuse me, but I used to live in Massachusetts and now live in Florida. I can tell you from personal experience it’s not all Disney and Spring Break madness. Florida is a wonderful place filled with U-pick farms, clear springs, beautiful beaches, an incredible array of fragrant flowers and distinctive wildlife, beautiful sunsets and small towns just as charming in their own way as any New England village.”
|Many non-Floridians don't realize there's more to Florida than Disney and Spring Break. The Sunshine State has a rich agricultural base producing a wide range of fruits and vegetables.|
I wanted to tell her that although she may think Florida residents are just rednecks and retirees, it is actually a diverse society of individuals and families who live in a place where it isn’t necessary to don wool socks and insulated parkas to prove one’s toughness.
While I was mulling over my imagined diatribe, my husband finally returned with the board (His explanation: “It took so long because I couldn’t find a straight piece.”) I told him about the conversation I overheard.
“Maybe they just like cold weather,” he said. “Not everyone likes a warm climate.”
And maybe Ralph’s right. Perhaps the woman’s disdain for Florida was as simple as a dislike of hot weather, but I don’t think so. From the venomous manner in which she spat out her words, much more than weather seemed to motivate her sentiments.
I suppose I should be glad she and other diehard New Englanders have no desire to relocate to Florida. If fewer people move here, resources like water, undeveloped land and wildlife and plant populations will suffer less stress.
Still, I can’t help but take any attack on my adopted state personally. I want people to like Florida the way I do — to see her natural beauty, her innumerable seasons, the diversity of her flora and fauna, her embracing weather and quaint communities through eyes unclouded by preconceived notions and prejudices.
No one likes being dissed, not even a state.