I spent most of my years growing up in Florida, near the Gulf of Mexico. We lived three different places around Choctawhatchee Bay: in a small city by the Gulf; in Air Force Base Housing; and, finally, in a fishing village off the north part of the bay. Or, at least, it had been a fishing village. By the time we moved in, it was mostly people working on the Air Force Base, or retired from there.
It is an interesting thing, growing up in a tourist destination area. People come from all over to see the water, see the beaches, and we drive by every day, going, “oh, hey look, a pretty sunset” or whatever. Because what is wondrous to new eyes is unremarkable to jaded ones.
There are some people, and they are few, who do not take for granted the wonders around them. Most of us, however, do. Whether it is scenery, or friends, or loving relationships, or children, often life becomes routine, and we are more likely to see the negative than the positive.
When I spent a summer in my mid-teens up in Michigan, other kids were fascinated with me being from Florida. Common assumptions they had about living there were:
- We were all near Disney World. It was a seven hour drive from where we lived.
- We all picked oranges in our backyards. Where we lived, there were only pine trees and white sand.
- We all rode pet dolphins. I told them this one was true. We frequently saw dolphins in the Gulf or the Bay, so that seemed close enough.
I, at that age, was fascinated with anybody I met who was from anywhere else. We worked as volunteers in a Vietnamese refugee camp, and helped sponsor a number of families. I grew up with a number of Vietnamese friends.
Other than fishing and living near water, you could not have found two more different childhoods. But you get kids together, and they start doing kid things together. Because that’s how we’re wired.
From families around us on the Air Force Base, when we lived there, was every type of accent imaginable. I grew up with (I later discovered) a talent for hearing right through accents: I almost never have any problem understanding what anyone is saying, no matter where they are from or how thick their accent. (It even works on small children, although my granddaughter has been testing this skill lately by randomly interjecting gibberish sentences into our talks just to see my reaction.)
The best thing about living “on base” (as we called it) was that the families were assigned to particular housing areas in such a way that every family around us had children about our age. So it was not unusual to go out to play of an afternoon and be with twenty to thirty other kids.
We would be out, running around yards, laughing, until the light was so dim, we could only hear each other.
Which is kind of like how I remember it now.
Tell me, friend, where are you from?
What makes you tick? What makes you, you?
How far away are you, right now,
From where you ran, and played, and grew,
And gradually turned into who
You are becoming, or became?
Are you still running, in your mind?
Or are you just a shade,
As a child, my social skills were atrocious. I did not realize this, of course, until I was many years into childhood: by that time, it was a rather difficult set of habits to correct.
I posted a story about it on Facebook a few years ago. Here it is in its original form:
It didn’t get any better as I moved into my teens. Fortunately, there was music.
I was thinking about music because of the following sentences, written above:
“There are some people, and they are few, who do not take for granted the wonders around them. Most of us, however, do.”
I started asking myself, is there something kids do not typically take for granted? And, looking around and at my own memories, I came up with: “Yes. Music.”
The emotional intensity that people bring to their love of music is hard to find matched by … well, anything else. Music moves us. Unites us. Speaks to us. Is there for us.
Kids do not take their music for granted. I know I didn’t. It often felt like all I really had.
At its best, music is alive, and being connected to it helps us feel alive.
So, one year, I won our District Piano Concerto competition, playing the Mozart C minor Piano Concerto. Don’t ask me how.
At any rate, it meant going to the State competition down near Miami.
I won’t keep the suspense going, I came in fifth. Out of nine.
However, I played as well as I could play. So I at least “wasn’t mad at it,” as they say. I recognized how much better the other players were.
The girl who won played the Grieg Piano Concerto. I remember during rests (when the “orchestra” [accompanying piano] was playing) she would wipe the keys off with a handkerchief. But she sure could play.
It was a very long drive back: my teacher, my mom, and two other students. At one point, we were driving near the coast, and only my teacher and I were awake. We could see the moonlight reflected off of Gulf of Mexico beside us as we drove.
“There’s a sight you can’t see too many places,” he commented.
“No. I guess not,” I said, going back to humming the main theme from the Grieg Concerto.