Friday, August 18
For Mom the move from Texas to Florida was a military operation, like the many moves she had made as a child. We had our orders. We had our supplies. We had a timetable. If it had been necessary to do so, we would have driven the eight hundred miles from our old house to our new house straight through, without stopping at all. We would have refueled the Volvo while hurtling along at seventy-five miles per hour next to a moving convoy-refueling truck.
Fortunately this wasn’t necessary. Mom had calculated that we could leave at 6:00 A.M. central daylight time, stop three times at twenty minutes per stop, and still arrive at our destination at 9:00 P.M. eastern daylight time.
I guess that’s challenging if you’re the driver. It’s pretty boring if you’re just sitting there, so I slept on and off until, in the early evening, we turned off Interstate 10 somewhere in western Florida.
This scenery was not what I had expected at all, and I stared out the window, fascinated by it. We passed mile after mile of green fields overflowing with tomatoes and onions and watermelons. I suddenly had this crazy feeling like I wanted to bolt from the car and run through the fields until I couldn’t run anymore. I said to Mom, “This is Florida? This is what it looks like?”
Mom laughed. “Yeah. What did you think it looked like?”
“I don’t know. A beach with a fifty-story condo on it.”
“Well, it looks like that, too. Florida’s a huge place. We’ll be living in an area that’s more like this one. There are still a lot of farms around.”
“What do they grow? I bet they grow tangerines.”
“No. Not too many. Not anymore. This is too far north for citrus trees. Every few years they get a deep freeze that wipes them all out. Most of the citrus growers here have sold off their land to developers.”
“Yeah? And what do the developers do with it?”
“Well . . . they develop it. They plan communities with nice houses, and schools, and industrial parks. They create jobs— construction jobs, teaching jobs, civil engineering jobs— like your father’s.”
But once we got farther south and crossed into Tangerine County, we did start to see groves of citrus trees, and they were an amazing sight. They were perfect. Thousands upon thousands of trees in the red glow of sundown, perfectly shaped and perfectly aligned, vertically and horizontally, like squares in a million-square grid.
Mom pointed. “Look. Here comes the first industrial park.”
I looked up ahead and saw the highway curve off, left and right, into spiral exit ramps, like rams’ horns. Low white buildings with black windows stretched out in both directions. They were all identical.
Mom said, “There’s our exit. Right up there.”
I looked ahead another quarter mile and saw another pair of spiral ramps, but I couldn’t see much else. A fine brown dust was now blowing across the highway, drifting like snow against the shoulders and swirling up into the air.
We turned off Route 27, spiraled around the rams’ horns, and headed east. Suddenly the fine brown dirt became mixed with thick black smoke.
Mom said, “Good heavens! Look at that.”
I looked to where she was pointing, up to the left, out in a field, and my heart sank. The black smoke was pouring from a huge bonfire of trees. Citrus trees.
I said, “Why are they doing that? Why are they just burning them up?”
“To clear the land.”
“Well, why don’t they build houses out of them? Or homeless shelters? Or something?”
Mom shook her head. “I don’t think they can build with them. I don’t think those trees have any use other than for fruit.” She smiled. “You never hear people bragging that their dining-room set is solid grapefruit, do you?”
I didn’t smile back.
Mom pointed to the right and said, “There’s another one.”
Sure enough. Same size; same flames licking up the sides; same smoke billowing out. It was like a Texas football bonfire, but nobody was dancing around it, and nobody was celebrating anything.
Then, in an instant, in the blink of an eye, we crossed over from this wasteland into a place carpeted with green grass, with trees along both sides of the road and flower beds running down the middle of a median strip. We could see the roofs of big, expensive houses peeking up over the landscaping.
Mom said, “This is where the developments begin. This one is called the Manors of Coventry. Aren’t they beautiful? Ours is a little farther in.”
We went past the Villas at Versailles, which, if anything, looked even more expensive. Then we saw a high gray wall and a series of wrought-iron letters that spelled out LAKE WINDSOR DOWNS. We passed iron gates and a pond of some kind. Then we made a couple of turns and pulled into a wide driveway.
Mom announced, “This is it. This is our house.”
It was big— two stories high— and very white, with aqua trim, like a Miami Dolphins football helmet. A new wooden fence ran around both sides to the back, where it met up with that high gray wall. The wall, apparently, surrounded the entire development.
The garage door opened up with a smooth mechanical hum. Dad was standing in there with his arms open. He called out, “Perfect timing, you two. The pizzas got here five minutes ago.”
Mom and I climbed out of the car, stiff and hungry. Dad came outside, clicking the garage door closed. He put an arm around each of us and guided us toward the front, saying, “Let’s do this the right way. Huh? Let’s go in the visitors’ door.”
Dad led us through the front door into a tiled foyer two stories high. We turned to the left and passed through an enormous great room with furniture and boxes piled all around it. We ended up in an area off the kitchen that had a small, round table and four chairs. Erik was sitting in one of the chairs. He waved casually to Mom. He ignored me.
Mom waved back at him, but she was looking at the boxes stacked in the kitchen. She said to Dad, “These boxes are marked DINING ROOM.”
Dad said, “Uh-huh.”
“Uh-huh. Well, I marked DINING ROOM on them so the movers would put them in the dining room.”
“OK. Erik’ll put them over there.” He looked at me and added, “Erik and Paul.”
Mom asked, “Did the movers break anything?”
“No. They didn’t break a thing. They were real pros. Nic...