Learning to Love Slowcala

My wife, Amy, and I love to walk Rigby Floyd, our Golden Doodle named for a Beatles song and a Muppet. One morning, we bumped into friends who live on the other side of the neighborhood.

We do not know them very well, but they are exceptionally nice people. Here is a transcript of our conversation (the names have been translated into pig Latin to protect the innocent and misquoted). 

Neighbor wife: I think you know our friends IchaelMay and UanneLay. They are in our Bible study.

My wife: We love them! Our daughter knew their kids.

Neighbor husband: You may know EvinKay, then.

Me: Absolutely. My father used to work with his father.

And so it went. Did you know that neighbor is selling their house? Yep, we know them, too. Went to school with her brother. Have you seen that neighbor’s baby walk? 

As our cluster started to walk again, we moved over for an approaching SUV. 

The car slowed. Windows slid down and, poof, two more friends we have in common stopped to chat. Two dogs and four people orbited the SUV with separate conversations.

Amy, Rigby and I walked home on the same streets our daughters owned on Halloween. These were the streets our beloved late Corgi knew so well. Every corner, every smell, every stick. 

These are the streets where neighbors gathered in the post-Irma calm, savoring the eerie silence and realizing it should not take a hurricane for us to gather.

When Amy and I got home, we grabbed water and sunscreen and went kayaking at Silver Springs State Park. Five minutes after launch, two manatees swam by our kayak.

Amy and I paddled over the headspring and laughed about how the I Spy statues at the base of the spring used to freak out our youngest daughter. How many generations of Ocalans have drifted over those statues?

As we paddled down river, more memories surfaced. My family has been here since 1978. Amy was born here. Her father was the agricultural agent. Her mom taught legions of kids who now call Ocala home as adults. 

“Hey!” a nearby kayaker bellowed. “Two manatees straight ahead.”

We stopped, fell silent and just watched. One surfaced, his whiskered snoot a few yards away. Breathtaking. Only in Florida.

This is Ocala. Friends are everywhere—and not just friends, but friends from kindergarten or earlier. 

Ocala was the town I desperately wanted to escape as a teen. “See ya, Slowcala!” Then I fell in love with my high school crush; we moved back as certified adults and raised a family in a neighborhood where I used to ride my bike.

I now walk these streets with gray in my beard. I step into our yard and think of water balloons, giddy girls on swings, bike rides and birthday parties filled with the children of parents we knew as children.

Our daughters vow to seek bigger cities and brighter lights. But we suspect they will walk their dogs on these streets one day and realize that Slowcala is their home, too. OS

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