I was born in Sanford, on the St. Johns River, just north of Orlando. It was a typically small southern town in the 1950s and 60s. I was raised in the un-air conditioned home my parents bought soon after they married. My dad worked for the same company all the years my two brothers and I were growing up. Though not an affluent family, we had everything we needed.
I walked or rode my bike to each school I attended until high school. The river was close by, so I always had some type of boat and even built my own in our garage at the age of twelve. I had the freedom to be on my own “up the river,” often overnight, and was allowed to make and learn from my mistakes.
Long before 10-speed bikes became popular, a friend owned (what was for me) an expensive coaster bike. I convinced him to sell it to me and I rode it all over town—without a helmet! My mother had an idea of where I was generally but would’ve been hard-pressed to actually find me until dinner time. And if I did anything wrong in town, it would be immediately reported to my parents, not to the police. Times certainly have changed.
Sundays were spent at church, followed by “Sunday supper,” complete with white tablecloth and an afternoon visit to relatives. When I was old enough to get my driver’s license, Sanford began to seem small to me. So I was ready for a new environment and novel experiences when I went off to college at Florida State University.
My parents eventually left the area, and I’d had little contact with “home” over the past twenty years. Then a funny thing happened. My wife’s two brothers moved to Sanford; a few years later her mother followed to escape the cold Pennsylvania winters. Ironically, they all live within blocks of my old neighborhood in an area now known as “the historic district.” In my childhood summers, I used to mow half those lawns.
The entire town has developed a new and improved lease on life. Now I love to visit, taking the one-mile walk down the brick street shaded by century-old oaks to the downtown farmer’s market, pick up soul food from “Angels Restaurant” on Sanford Avenue, or jog along the lakefront where my parents used to take their Sunday drive each week. Funny how life seems to come full circle.