So I told my friend in Macon I was going to write for a Southern authors’ blog, and she replied, “Fort Myers, Florida is not the South, Ad – you’re an impostor.”
In defense of myself, I need to say right here and now that I used to live in Macon, which, the last time I checked, was still Southern enough that people there were serving sweet tea and cheese straws and going to Sunday school. Indeed, I know enough about the South to have written my second novel, “Southern Living,” which the Atlanta newspaper called “horrifyingly accurate.”
But back to this Florida-ain’t-the-real-South bit: I beg to differ. Yes, we have our Yankees, plenty of them, but there are some pockets of the Sunshine State that still retain a Southern charm. Looky here:
*Fort Myers, which is so far south we are equidistant between Tampa and Havana, Cuba, is the county seat of Lee County. Yes, as in Robert E. There’s a bust of the bearded fellow downtown, in the middle of a prominent median, his back deliberately turned to the North. Also, our historic courthouse has an immense portrait of the General behind the judge’s bench.
*One of the favorite lunch spots in town is The Farmers’ Market. I can overindulge in collards, stewed okra, smothered steak and friiiiiiiied chicken!
*The bar/restaurant where all the legal deals are sealed in town is called The Veranda, housed in an old historic home, downtown, with a courtyard … okay, so it’s a TROPICAL courtyard with birds-of-paradise flowers and palms and orchids, but I believe it’s got some cherub statues … and they do serve sugar in the tea …and the elderly woman at the piano bar IS named Miss Lila.
*We don’t have cotillion, but we do have the Court of Edisonia. I write about this quirky tradition in my novel, “All This Belongs to Me.” (‘Got me in a lot of trouble, too, I have to say.) Quick history lesson: Thomas Edison used to spend his winters here at his home on the Caloosahatchee River. Shortly after his death, the fine old families of The City of Palms got together and dreamed up the Kingdom of Edisonia. Really, truly, these families dress up every year in royal garb, kind of like something out of Narnia, and they have a ball where they solemnly crown a King and Queen of Edisonia, chosen from a roster of young people whose parents or grandparents are movers and shakers in town. (Read: car dealers, former mayors, funeral parlor owners, appliance dealers, director of the mosquito-control district)
Fort Myers: Not Southern? Hey … Flannery O’Connor would have salivated at such a thing.
*Oak trees dripping with Spanish moss? Got it.
*Boys whose first names are their momma’s maiden names? Got it.
*This time of year, people talk about the heat “cuttin’ off.”
*And we do love our pickup trucks (I drive a white F150), and plenty of them sport the Stars and Bars in some form or another. (Not mine.)
*We have Waffle House.
*We don’t have peaches, but we do have mangoes … with a mango queen crowned each year.
*No kudzu, but we do have melaleuca, a thirsty, prodigious, papery tree brought in a century ago from Australia to help dry out the Everglades (Yes. For real. They actually did this.) This species procreates even more frantically than kudzu; when you try to cut one down it immediately senses death and releases millions of tiny seeds into the air.
Then again, we’re not all that Southern. We don’t name every single bridge and stretch of freeway after someone like Reginald T. Price. We don’t “mash” our elevator buttons. You never hear “fixin’ to,” unless you drive thirty or so miles inland, toward the cattle ranches and orange groves. And with our large Caribbean-Hispanic population, black beans and rice are far more common than grits.
Oh, and I have to admit: our kids aren’t as well-mannered as the ones you’d encounter north of Jacksonville and Tallahassee. I haven’t heard a “yes, sir” or “no, sir” for quite some time. And I miss that.
But Fort Myers … not Southern? Come say it to my face! Now, don't be ugly with me.
Bye, y’all. Until next time.
Ad Hudler’s comic novels (“Househusband,” “Southern Living,” and “All This Belongs to Me,” have been published in five languages and featured on CNN, NPR and The New York Times. He is a stay-at-home dad, landscaper, and novelist who lives with his wife and daughter in their 1954 ranch-style home in the historic district of Fort Myers, just a few blocks from where Thomas Edison used to fish from his pier. He can be reached through his website, AdHudler.com.
And … he always feels strange writing about himself in third-person, as he is doing right now.