Southern By Choice

     I had always fancied myself a Southerner, that there had been some mistake in my heritage and that by rights I should have been born in Pensacola where I was conceived instead of a Rhode Island Naval Base.  We moved to Pittsburgh and as a youngster I would return from summer camp in North Carolina sporting a full-fledged drawl for about a week before it was usurped by my ancestral midwest dialect.  But the South always beckoned with the lure of palms and slow easy pace.
     My first true attempt at becoming a Southerner took me to Miami, which doesn't really qualify.  It was Daytona that caught my eye everytime I passed that big old track, those wide-spread oaks, that southern hospitality.  After 6 years of passing it, I finally stopped, and nowhere has ever felt more like home.
     I had followed a boy here.  He's now a man and my husband of several very sweet decades.  He was from the West Coast - California, not Clearwater.  But a hard-working boy who knew orchards and orange groves, cattle and callouses.
     We talked about moving back out west as we settled into a small southern town west of Daytona.  We discovered golf and community life.  We thought less and less about moving away as we found a beautiful Florida fernery, untended, vine-ridden, calling our names.  It had been in the Clifton family before us, famous in these parts for cut foliage and sod before the Cliftons branched out into golf course design.
     And so we are Southerners.  Property Owners.  Fretting on how best to tend our small piece of paradise - an acre of fern, a few Cabbage Palms, tangerines and live oaks, cherry laurels and some camphor trees from out of town - invading species they are sometimes called, hard to get rid of - just like us - settling in, Southern by choice.