Monday, August 22, 2011

Wandering (Unexpectedly) to Gainesville, Fla.

Now and then, life throws you a curve ball, upsetting your balance, knocking you off your path. I was hit with such a curve ball last Tuesday, a gut wrenching one. Thus, I find myself sitting in a hospital waiting room in Gainesville, Florida.

I love Gainesville. I first arrived here in the fall of 1976, a scared 18-year-old, five driving hours from home, three months out of high school, not knowing a soul, but eager to begin the next phase of my life - college at the University of Florida. I jumped into college life with gusto, attending sorority rush parties (and ultimately deciding I was not the sorority type), dorm mixers, free outdoor concerts on campus, and little sister rush at several fraternities, all in the week before classes started. Before long, I made new friends, became a Fiji Little Sister, learned how to study, acquired a taste for beer, and gained the requisite "Freshman 15" (pounds).

Gainesville became home. I remet and fell in love with my husband here (we had met briefly twice before through a mutual friend), became a devoted Gator football fan (for life), gained valuable life and work experience as a part-time housekeeper for one of the university dean's family and as a clerk in the university's eye clinic, and, still uncertain about my future goals, changed my degree plan at least four times.

Gainesville is beautiful. Unlike flat, sandy, South Florida where I grew up, Gainesville is lush and hilly and wooded. There are thousands of mature, moss-draped live oaks intermingled with the palms, cypress, palmetto and pine trees. The university buildings and many houses are covered with red brick, (compared to cinder blocks in South Florida), giving the city a northern-southern atmosphere rather than the tropical locale most people associate with Florida. Ocean breezes ruffle the trees; the Atlantic Ocean is an easy one and a half hour drive east on two lane roads, the Gulf of Mexico is less than a two hour drive to the west.

Most of the year Gainesville is a sleepy medium-size city with the friendly feel of a small town. People wave and greet you with a smile, stranger or friend. Drivers, restaurant waitstaff and retailers are courteous. Traffic and the roads are easy to navigate. Rush hour lasts maybe 15 minutes. In summer, the city and campus sort of hibernate, waiting patiently for fall when more than 50,000 students arrive to begin the semester, and nearly a hundred thousand rowdy, tailgating, adoring Gator fans take over on football weekends.

I left here in 1978 to get married and move away with my husband, but Gainesville and the Gators, and now my parents, who retired and moved here in 2001, lure us back several times a year. I often consider moving back here someday, maybe part-time, during football season. Someday...

I'm sitting here with my mother in a sunny (warm) corner of a second floor hospital waiting room. Outside, the sun is shining, fluffy white clouds are floating by, a flag unfurls then rests limply on its pole, cars and trucks pass by on the main highway through town. The world is moving on, but time has stopped for us while we wait to hear the results of my father's lung surgery. Cancer is the pre-surgical diagnosis. Surgery will determine what kind, what stage, the treatment options.

Gainesville is one of my favorite places in whole world. But today, I'd rather be anywhere else but here.