The Mass Exodus from Gainesville
Published: Friday, January 5, 2007 at 7:49 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 5, 2007 at 7:49 a.m.
A compilation of Winter break adventures, realizations and experiences
Winter vacation gave me a chance to see an old friend. I went to Fort Lauderdale to visit one of my oldest and best friends, Dana. Over the past year, I had lost touch with many friends due to natural causes like distance and life changes, but none of these things ever seemed to affect my friendship with Dana. As the new year dawns, I hope to make many new friends, but I always want to stay close to her because she has always remained true when none of my other friends could be found. Perhaps the best way to ring in the New Year is with an old friend.
For as long as I can remember, my older sister and I have had an annual tradition of sleeping at my grandmother's house on Christmas Eve. Though my life and that of my sister's has drastically changed and we have both moved to different places, we can always find ourselves at the same place every Christmas Eve, when we feel like children again. This year, my sister, 22, and I, 18, acted like five-year-olds as we put cookies out for Santa and waited anxiously for Christmas morning to arrive. There is just something about the spirit of Christmas that will always make us feel like children, no matter what age we are every other day of the year.
As I drove by familiar places, reading the names of street signs, it finally hit me that I was home. For the past six hours, riding along with a friend back to Atlanta and listening to the melodious sounds of Earth Wind and Fire, James Brown, and Jay-Z, I could feel the anticipation rising. It was the same feeling you might get when you feel nervous, but instead of butterflies, there was a nasty swarm of African bumblebees warring in my stomach. Earlier that morning, I had finished my last exam, but it was not until I hit the driveway of my house that I finally felt as if my trials were over. I opened the door, stepped in, and looked over all the clutter surrounding me. Piles of papers on the floor, stacked boxes in the corner, and dirty dishes in the kitchen sink welcomed me, and I smiled, pleased with what I saw. Nothing had changed at all.
Unfortunately, I was only home a few days before I had to leave again. I was headed to New York with my mother to watch my brother’s basketball game at Madison Square Garden. There is nothing like Christmastime in New York. There’s skating at the Rockefeller Center, shopping at Macy’s, and other fanciful events you might see on a post card just screaming, “You know you wish you were here instead of the little pit of hell where you usually spend Christmas”. The trip started out almost as perfect as one of those cute images. My mother, in her infinite wisdom, decided to upgrade our seats to business class because she realized her poor knees would not be able to handle the cramped conditions that would have been our fate in coach. I settled into my seat, thinking I would take a nice, long nap. Wrong. It turns out that if you are of legal drinking age and riding business class you are suppose to order several drinks to take advantage of the open bar, even if it is 7:30 in the morning. The people sitting behind us apparently knew this rule very well because they quickly ordered several rounds of Bloody Marys. The stewardess returned with their drinks, not forgetting to give my mother a snooty look because she did not take advantage of the drinks rule, and proceeded to give the rowdy bunch, who become even rowdier when drunk, their elixirs. Meanwhile, I just sighed and sank back into my seat cushion. Moments like that help to remind me why I don’t drink.
There’s nothing like men in tights pirouetting around a stage to tell you it’s Christmas. Ever since September, my dad had thought he was the king of ticketmaster.com when he nabbed fourth row Nutcracker tickets. When December 23rd came, I walked confidently into the theater with a clickity clack of my heels to discover that we were actually in the first row! The ballet was extraordinary…I could practically see drops of sweat on each of the dancers’ brows and the mole on the conductor’s cheek. Vivid, I know. Being the classical music fan that I am, I practically drooled when I realized I could almost high five the first violinist. Of course, I’d have to lean over the railing to do that and I’m sure the ushers would have thrown me out for disorderly conduct.
Every Christmas, my Grandpa and I end up passing a six-year-old can of sardines back and forth to each other as a present. Of course, it’s always sneakily wrapped in a large box or hidden in layer after layer of flashy tissue paper. Every time it’s passed from one person to the other, we write the date of the incident on a printer label on the back of the can. Even though sardines have a healthy shelf life, I’m sure the sardines we use have long since turned radioactive and have begun creating their own alien environment.
Getting off a plane and you’re surrounded by hundreds of people greeting, meeting, hugging, kissing, and reminiscing. This was a site of love, friendship, family, memories, beginnings, endings. Airports are a place where people are going and coming from places all over the world. You get off the plane and you are in a new place after flying nine hours, two hours, or 24 hours. People are returning home, leaving home, going on work trips, saying hello and goodbyes to loved ones, all in the small space of the terminal. After a nine hour flight and a two hour delay in Orlando, seeing my mother’s face as I arrived into the terminal was the pivotal start to the holiday. It signalled the end of work for three weeks, and finally, some time to relax, be at home, see friends and family, and get away from the hectic life at the university. It was the start of winter break. And then I go outside, freeze my ass off, and realize, that perhaps Florida is a nice place to live, at least for now.
Christmas pudding and Panettone
These two foods are the epitome of evil around the holiday time. Everywhere you go, Christmas is thrown in your face from the irritating songs on the radio to the stunning lights by Harrods and all up in London’s West End. Yet, one thing that you cannot escape is the delicious delicacy of the sweets and food that come with the holiday. Yes, it is a time of family and fun, but also food. Although not someone who celebrates Christmas, it’s been tradition to go to my mum’s friends’ houses for Christmas and New Year’s lunches and to be stuffed to the rim with cakes, turkey and everything else that can possibly be made. The aromas of the brandy butter and mulled wine throughout their houses and throughout London markets are inescapable. The sweet tastes of the Christmas pudding as you take the first warm bite after the hot savoury meal linger in your mouth as you continue to sip away on mulled wine and nice hot drinks to warm up in the cold winter. Nothing can beat that….
My First Christmas
I sat on Santa’s lap a few times, listened to “Jingle Bell Rock,” exchanged small stockings filled with candy, and even drove around neighborhoods looking at Christmas lights, but it wasn’t Christmas. This Winter break, I was off to Maryland to join my boyfriend’s family in a traditional Christmas, complete with Baby Jesus’ birthday cake. Maybe I forgot to mention this, I am Jewish. I walked into the Catholic Church, wearing a red skirt for the holiday spirit, glanced at the Nativity scene, and walked timidly to a bench. I became self conscious, feeling as though everyone sensed my present state of uncertainty and anxiety. Then the service began and children paraded down the aisle, dressed as angels, farm animals, peasants and royalty. They were going to help lead the service by acting out the story of Mary’s journey to Bethlehem and the birth of Jesus. I discovered a Christmas more than a tree, presents adorning the stump, and colorful lights. I had only known the commercialization of Christmas emphasized in the movies and at the malls, yet that was only an ornament on the whole tree of the real biblical story of Christmas.
When I am in Gainesville, my Gainesville apartment is my home. For the past three weeks I have been living in my home in South Florida. I stay in a room that is frozen in time. There are no pictures on the walls past my senior year of high school, and my fond collection of stuffed animals sit beneath my windowsill collecting dust. That’s how I expected everything to be when I got home. Apparently, life goes on even when I am not there. Upon my arrival, my family greeted me with enthusiasm and we had a family dinner as we always had. Then, the morning rolled around and my sister went to school, my dad went to work, and my mom ran errands. Hello, I’m home! The excitement of my arrival had passed like a new game that was brought home last week, played six times, and placed on the shelf with all the other games. Hello, I’m home…
Me Versus The Iguana
I had just returned from a less than fruitful shopping jaunt. With twelve people still left on my Christmas list, the stress of finding the perfect gift was beginning to rear its ugly head. Looking for solace, I plumped down on the couch and looked out at my beautiful swimming pool. Much to my dismay, a rise in blood pressure and temporary paralysis were the only outcomes that would be achieved by this exercise.
I quickly observed something moving in the pool, something large. I managed to reach for my glasses, convinced that the unwelcome visitor was a mammoth-sized frog, or a baby Loch ness Monster, or perhaps an ancient coelacanth miraculously resurrected. My wonderful cousin Kelley assured me that the creature that had so nonchalantly invaded my swimming pool was none of the aforementioned anomalies, but rather, an uncharacteristically large iguana.
Recollecting ourselves after the initial shock, Kelley and I decided to call Animal Care and Control. Unfortunately, our emergency was not made a priority, as they kept us on hold for ten minutes, listening to twelve verses of an elevator-music version of “Deck the Halls.” Apparently someone else’s pet emergency was more important than ours. Disgusted and utterly disenchanted by an organization we had once put faith in, we hung up and called Wild Cargo, a local pet store that specializes in reptile management. Somewhat turned off by their suggestion to “jump in the pool and grab that sucker,” we found ourselves back at Square 1.
Until that is, Grampy came onto the scene. He had stopped by to see the iguana, after hearing about it from my aunt, who Kelley had called for advice at the outset of this dilemma. Saving the day with his natural poise and a few wild heroics, Grampy took a mop, hoisted the demonic creature onto it, and hurled it into the nearby grass.
I have not seen hide nor hair of the now-legendary iguana since Grampy’s successful intervention. I fervently pray each night that he is not out there, somewhere along the perimeter of my backyard, reproducing and plotting a fuller scale invasion.
A Real-Life Santa on Clarke Road
It’s true what they say about real-life Santas; they do exist. They’re people who give freely of themselves, with no want of reward or recognition. Four days after Christmas, I found myself in the company of such a person, and realized that for some, the spirit of Christmas is not reserved for December 25th alone. It’s a spirit that guides their life and daily actions.
I had stopped by my neighbor’s house to borrow a particular item my family was in need of. Though the house is typically picture-perfect and impeccably kept, I couldn’t help but notice an utter and unusual disarray of things. I easily excused the mess as nothing more than a Christmas hangover.
Perhaps my neighbor, Mrs. Anderson, observed my surprise at the state of things. She looked at me, and said, “I apologize for the mess. The kids and I, and a few of the neighbors, are working on a project.” Since journalistic curiosity is a deeply ingrained feature of my personality, I had to ask, “Project? What’s that?”
Mrs. Anderson then explained that a fatherless child down the street and his mom had not had a traditional Christmas, having not the means to afford a tree, lights, or presents. Mrs. Anderson’s grandson, Aubrey, had been playing with the child and had been particularly dismayed when the child told him that Santa didn’t bring him anything.
Having heard of the boy’s situation, Mrs. Anderson sprang into action, Real-Life Santa-style. She got some neighbors together, and asked them to gather toys and other household items. Turning her house into Santa’s Workshop, Mrs. Anderson wrapped all the gifts as they flowed in.
Looking at the pile of wrapped gifts, I was touched by the outpouring of generosity among my neighbors, and certainly by the kindness and glad-heartedness of Mrs. Anderson. Rattling off a series of questions, I then asked, “When are you going to deliver all these gifts?” In response, Mrs. Anderson handed me a letter-sized piece of paper, signed S. Claus. The letter informed the family that there had been a mistake and that their presents had been delivered to the wrong household, but had been retrieved.
As I read through the letter, Mrs. Anderson said, “You see, late tonight, we’re going to sneak over to their house and leave the presents with this note on their doorstep. Hopefully, Christmas can be saved for them!”
I left Mrs. Anderson’s house that day, recharged with the Christmas spirit and prouder than ever to live in such a community where neighbors still look out for each other.
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