Monday, February 3, 2014
But I know that often the reason in one's mind is not the actual reason, and it takes time, sometimes years, to discover that. At the moment I'm basking in temperatures of 60° rather than those in the 30s. Tomorrow it will be 70° here and the high in New Paltz is predicted to be about 20. It's easy to say that I simply had to get out of the brutal winter we were enduring in the Northeast. The terrible freeze hit this part of the country too last week, taking with it many beautiful blossoms and driving the locals to distraction--but was nothing like the single-digits for weeks on end that gave me impetus simply to get the hell out.
I'm still ambivalent about my hometown, a scenic enclave with artistic pretensions, on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay. That being said, it's my default go-to when I have to leave the cold. The ambivalence prevails because the town I grew up in is not in evidence any more. It was a funky, somewhat bohemian getaway for many in those days, not entirely unlike New Paltz today. There was an air of intellectual counterculture and conflict in a plain, parched utopia. Today that has been papered over and in its place is an upscale tourist and retirement destination, where the city changes floral designs on every street corner on a regular basis and new cafés and boutiques spring up like jonquils after the first frost. Everybody smiles way too much, in an almost-Stepford-wife kind of way, and tells you how blessed they are to live in such a beautiful place. Every day they post pictures of the sunset on Facebook, as if there are no sunsets anywhere else. There is a great deal of rhapsodizing about ordinary things.
It brings out the curmudgeon in me. I should be so happy myself, I suppose. Maybe I don't want to be, I don't know. I like it here, but what I like is what I know to be under the surface--the reminders to me of people who lived here in years past, of situations long resolved but once crucial. I am one of the few who knows that there was once a large old live oak tree in the middle of Oak Street--literally in the middle of the street--and a vote was held whether to remove it. Cornie and Margaret Gaston, a normally contented couple of old-time Fairhope citizens, were divided on the subject. She wanted to keep the oak and he agreed with the side who found it a traffic hazard. Margaret and the oak lost, and Fairhope lost a possible tourist attraction for the future. That comes to me whenever I drive or walk down Oak Street.
Stories like that haunt me as I walk through Fairhope. I guess I'll never be rid of them, no matter how many sushi restaurants, Italian restaurants, or other fantasy establishments appear. If I come here once a year I see a town transformed, bit by bit, into something totally different from the place I know so well. I am resigned to it, and I do my best to like it as well as I possibly can. I have relatives and friends I love who live here, and they do their best not to tell me how blessed they feel just to be here for the sunsets. Some of them sigh and agree with me. I keep hoping to meet kindred spirits, and before I leave at the end of the month, to return to what will surely be a chilly and dank March, I hope the weather and the welcome here will have thawed me out.