Saturday, March 05, 2005

The Reluctant Chicagoan

Just five weeks ago, Celebration, Florida, became my primary permanent home. Prior to that, I spent four decades living in the Chicago area. I was born and bred on the south side of the city, in a neighborhood called Roseland just over the border from the suburbs. Over the course of forty years, I rarely lived more than 10 miles from the original cookie cutter Chicago bungalow where I spent my infancy and early childhood years. Eventually, we moved a couple of miles away, to my grandparents' house. It was over the suburban border but still only two blocks from the city limits. Then, when I got my own apartment, I moved a couple more miles south, in the neighboring suburb where my brother's family had settled and where I had attended high school. All in all, it was a geographically sheltered existence.

In the Chicago area, your identity is directionally defined. Other than a brief stint at my husband's townhouse in the western suburbs, I have always been a proud South Sider (although, dare I admit it, I prefer the Cubs over the Sox; on the South Side, that is an offense punishable by public stoning). Think of the Super Fans on "Saturday Night Live" yammering on about "Da Bulls" and "Da Bears" and you'll have a good idea of my background.

Even my jobs were within a rather small hunk of worldly real estate. I resisted the temptation to get a job "downtown" in the Chicago Loop. Sure, that's where the big bucks could be found, but for me it wasn't worth a 60 to 90 minute train ride each way. Thus, my first three jobs were all within a mile of my apartment. My next job was a whopping ten miles from my apartment, but eventually my husband and I bought a condo within walking distance of it.

Having lived in such a small parcel of the world for 40 years, I expected to be a little homesick once I moved south to the Sunshine State. True, Florida had been like a second home to me for a long time anyway. With all our visits to Disney World and myriad Disney cruises, my husband and I felt just as at home here as we did back in Illinois. And goodness knows, we are both intrepid travelers. Even though we both hail from the Chicago area, we share a wanderlust that has taken us from the water parks of Wisconsin Dells to the roller coasters of Sandusky, Ohio, to the mountains of Estes Park, Colorado, and the glaciers of Alaska, with lots of destinations in between.

But no matter how long or how far we roamed, we always returned to our little corner of Chicago. We bantered the idea of moving to Florida within ten years or so, but it always seemed like a far off dream, one of those elusive "Someday..." daydreams. Then, all of a sudden, Jupiter somehow aligned with Mars and we found and fell in love with Celebration. The ten-year plan suddenly became "right now," and the lifelong Illinoisians were suddenly Floridians.

Now, early tomorrow morning, I will be making my first trip back to Chicago since the Kitty Karavan marked our official, permanent move in January. I thought that I would be looking forward to it, but now it's just the opposite. You'd think that, at worst, I'd be neutral, but unfortunately, as the time draws nearer, I find myself dreading it! I've never felt even the slightest pang of homesickness here in Celebration, but I know that I'm going to be pining Florida the entire time that I'm in Illinois.

I don't have to stay too long; just Monday morning through Friday evening. My husband has to go downtown every day while we're there, but I can still do my work from home. I also need to do some more packing and to bring some order to the messy condo. I left it in a frightful state on that night five weeks ago as my husband and I hustled out the door to embark on 24 hours of Road Trip Hell. My mind was focused more on how we were going to fit all of the animals into the Aztek and how we'd get the cats into their cage without any feline escapees than on tidying up the mess that we'd left while packing. Now, it's time to pay the piper. I know that I'll be lonely for the cats, but by the time I'm done vaccuming, I'll probably be able to construct a new feline from the mass of hair that is surely lurking in the carpets there.

There is one good thing about returning to Chicago. My horses still live there, and even though I can't do much with them in the winter, I still miss them. Actually, I don't do much with Cochise anymore, even when I'm there. He's nearly 30 years old, which is like being an octagerian in human years. He looks and acts great for his age, regularly pummeling my younger horse, Figment, when Figgie gets too cocky. But at this point, I figure that he's earned his retirement. I pet him, groom him, and slip him a few carrots, but he doesn't have to do any actual work.

Of course, I worked Cochise long and hard when both he and I were much younger. I used to attend local horse shows, and because hunter/jumper was more popular than Western in our neck of the woods, I taught poor Cochise to jump. Proving that Appaloosas are a versatile breed, he became quite a good little jumper and an enjoyable English Pleasure horse. He won plenty of Western Pleasure ribbons, too, and when I wasn't busy at shows, he was a joy to ride on the forest preserve trails.

Cochise is one of those rare horses that has a comfortable trot. Many equines give you the impression that you're sitting on top of a jack hammer, but 'Chise could do a jog trot that was as smooth as silk. Thus, when riding on the trails, I rarely even bothered to saddle him. I would strap on a bareback pad, and off we'd go.

In those days, both he and I had a streak of foolhardiness. I used to take him swimming in the quarry, which he loved, and I'd jump him over picnic tables just for fun. And of course, I never wore a riding helmet during any of my crazy stunts. I look back now and shudder, amazed that I'm still alive and still have use of all my limbs.

Even though he is an Appaloosa, a breed that is noted for loud, spotted coats, Cochise is a "low key" Appy. His coat pattern is known as snowflake, meaning that it is mostly solid bay (brown), with just a few white flecks on the rump. Granted, those flecks have multiplied quite a bit now that he's an old timer, but for years he was an incognito Appy.

Conversely, my younger horse, Figment, has a coat that's loud and proud. He is chestnut (orangish brown), with a white rump and huge chestnut spots. Cochise's ancestry can be traced all the way back to the Nez Perce Indians, originators of the Appaloosa breed. On his pedigree, his great-great-grandma is listed simply as "Indian mare." But poor Figgie is something of a mutt; although by sight you could tell that his mother was obviously an Appy, his father was an Appendix Quarter Horse. That means Quarter Horse crossed with Thoroughbred (i.e. the race horse breed). Figment got the build of a miniature Thoroughbred, and also something of the speed and temperment. He is a very spirited young horse and does crazy things like running full-tilt at the fence, barely stopping at the last minute, and galloping through the snow in the winter before literally flinging himself down on the ground from a dead run to roll.

Figment is a smart horse, too, and he has a knack for doing tricks. He can chase and dribble a ball soccer-style, pick up a bucket, kick it over, and put his legs up on a stool on command. He would be great in the animal show at Universal Studio. I am not a big fan of animals in the circus, as their living conditions in tiny cages makes me cringe. But Figgie would be the perfect "entertainment animal." He revels in attention, and he'll do virtually anything as long as a treat is involved. I work him at liberty, meaning that he is loose in a huge corral and can run off at any time. But as long as I am willing to "play" with him and to hand out plenty of goodies, he is quite content.

Some day I'll bring Figment to Florida, but at this point I think Cochise is too old and crochety to adapt to new surrounds. The horses live at my friend's house, where they get excellent care. Even when I'm not around to work with them, they are let out to run in an acre corral almost every day. With such a good home, there is no rush to uproot them and relocate them 1200 miles.

When we get back to Chicago on Monday, it will most likely be too cold and/or muddy to do much with the horses. I'll just stop out to distribute carrots and a good grooming. It will be nice to see some animals, since the condo is going to be more like a tomb without the cats and bird to create the usual ruckus.

While I'm in town, I'll stop over to see my co-workers, too. I think of them as former co-workers, but that's not entirely accurate. I still work for the same company, so technically not much has changed. But in reality, it's very different when you're working from home, several states removed from the office. With the telephone and email, I still have regular contact, but it will be good to see everyone in person again.

We'll also link up with my brother and sister-in-law for dinner. I don't really miss them when we're in Florida, as cell phones with free nationwide long distance make regular contact a breeze. My brother is a truck driver, and anyone who is related to someone in that profession knows that over-the-road drivers get bored. And when they get bored, they get out their cell phone and start dialing. Once my sister-in-law gets sick of him, or gets a case of cauliflower ear, my husband and I are next on his speed dial list. We may not see him as frequently in body, but he's still there in voice.

For our other friends in Illinois, we are becoming quite good at coordinating get-togethers with our upcoming weeks in Chicago. We also have tickets for several plays ("Lion King" and "Wicked" among them), so we'll be returning to our old stomping grounds for those. I don't feel like we've left Chicago permanently; rather, it's like a dual residency of convenience. Celebration, Florida, is my primary home, but I'll always still have some vestigate of roots in the Chicago area.

On the weeks when we have get-togethers with Illinois friends or other outings planned, I don't think it will be as difficult to leave Celebration as it is this time around. On this visit, we're not doing anything special other than seeing my brother, so I'll have lots more free time to pine for the Sunshine State. They say that home is where your heart is, and no matter where I was born, my heart belongs in Florida.

My email address is celebration@mailblocks.com

My Celebration website is www.celebrationinfo.com

1 comment:

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