Sunday, November 07, 2004

What a Difference a Year Makes

Next week in Celebration, we celebrate the annual tradition known as Founders Day. As the name implies, this self-proclaimed holiday marks the anniversary of the founding of our town. Actually, "founding" is a relative term; I'm not sure whether it marks the day that Celebration was announced, that the lottery for the first homes was held, that ground was broken for the first buildings, or that the first residents moved in. I think it might commemorate the hoopla of the lottery, but don't quote me on that. Anyway, it's a good excuse to line Front Street with food booths, hold fishing tournaments, a carnival, and other fun small-town-style events, and cap things off with a big fireworks display over the lake.

Another neat thing about Founders Day is the "Town Photo." Basically, everyone in town is invited to Lakeside Park to crowd together for a picture that turns out something like a page from "Where's Waldo." I have no idea what percentage of Celebration residents actually show up, but last year the turnout looked pretty good to me. You can buy a print of the photograph afterwards, so I purchased the jumbo version and hung it on our foyer wall. Guests love to search for my husband and I among the sea of faces. Actually, we're pretty easy to find, since we're right at the end of a row, and we purposely wore brightly colored shirts.

This year, I'm especially excited because I feel like Celebration is truly my home town. Granted, I felt that way from the moment we first visited and knew that we had to buy a home here, but now we have twelve months of wonderful memories behind us. Last Founder's Day, we were still "newbies." We had closed on our home only two months earlier, and we were still in a transition stage. We didn't have much time to get to know the town because we were still too busy with all the little tasks that come with buying a new home. There was a constant parade of servicemen and deliveries that kept us tied to the house in those early weeks; it took a while before we could breathe a sigh of relief that all the major tasks were done and settle in to enjoy life in Celebration.

That first Founders Day was still a lot of fun. I'll never forget the thrill of finding our brick under the flagpole downtown. (For those who don't know what I'm referring to: A brick is placed beneath the flag for every person who purchased a brand-new home in Celebration during the previous year. The bricks are unveiled on Founders Day weekend, and there is a mad scramble as all the new residents try to find theirs.) After a long, fruitless search, I was almost convinced that it was all a practical joke; I thought that the people claiming to find their bricks were actually sadistic residents just yelling, "There it is!" to convince the rest of us that our bricks were there somewhere. But eventually I found our next door neighbors' brick, and then ours. Now, as hokey as it sounds, whenever we have out-of-town visitors and we're driving with them down Celebration Avenue, I always have to stop and drag them over to see the brick.

Also, ironically, on that first Founders Day, I won a round of golf at the Celebration golf course. Each person who participates in the town photo gets a raffle ticket, and the prizes are announced after the picture is taken. The irony lies in the fact that I have never golfed once in my life, unless you count the putt-putt courses with windmill obstacles. I ended up trading with someone for a Seito gift certificate; monetarily, it was worth a lot less, but my husband adores sushi, and I was glad that the golf was going to someone who would appreciate it.

But the big difference now is that back then, my husband and I didn't really know anyone in town, other than our immediate neighbors. We had a vague idea of the small-town politics and had seen many familiar names as we haunted the Front Porch intranet. But we couldn't put faces to those names, and although we loved Celebration, we hadn't crossed over yet into feeling the community spirit.

Now, twelve months later, we have a wealth of wonderful memories to draw on. In the past year, we've met so many people and had so many wonderful times. We've became members of the "Bunny Brigade" and stalked the Tampa Bay Bucaneers (I won't even try to explain that here, but you can read details by clicking here to read my blog entry. We've made lots of friends and even went on a Disney cruise with our neighbors...and during hurricane season, no less! And our house survived three hurricanes (even though hurricanes "never come this far inland"). We've discovered fellow Disney fanatics who don't think we should be committed for our devotion to "The Mouse." We've experienced the mad tourist influx during events like Fourth of July and learned all of the backroads and shortcuts that are necessary for survival when you live in the Kissimmee/Orlando area. Most of all, we've discovered that we are truly home.

The Founders Day photo on the wall is no longer just a sea of nameless faces. Now, we can put names to many of them, and we marvel at the fact that we were surrounded by so many friends we simply hadn't met yet. This year, we'll be there for the picture yet again (and with God's wicked sense of humor, I wouldn't be surprised if I win another round of golf). But this time, we won't just be in Celebration...we'll truly be a part of it.

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