A High Degree Of Craziness

Raquel Chilson

I love the change of seasons. On the first day of fall in Orlando, I delighted in the cool, crisp air, the colorful foliage, the first sighting of leather jackets, sweaters and knee-high boots after a long, hot summer.

OK, so I was looking at mannequins and window displays at the air-conditioned Florida Mall. Outside it was 90 degrees, steamy and green. If you’re a Northern transplant and nostalgic for a four-season climate, you take your seasonal change in Orlando wherever you can find it—even faux fall at the mall.

Native Floridians turn purple as bougainvilleas in December if you suggest their state does not experience four distinct and separate seasons. This chorus of outrage included my wife, Candy—born near Sebring and raised on Amelia Island—until we moved to my native Indiana and she was buried under the blizzard of ’78, giving her a fresh perspective on what Floridians laughably call “winter.”

Here’s the reality, native friends: It’s not a four-season climate if you can wear sandals and shorts year-round. There’s no winter if outdoor public pools are open in February (for swimming, not ice skating). Yes, we have a few days in late December and early January in Orlando when it gets “cold”—meaning a high of 50—and we have to cover the plants at night.

But the average high temperature here in January is 71—shorts weather in Indianapolis, where the average high at that time is 34. Breaking news, locals: That’s why Hoosiers and Iowans and Minnesotans come here in January—to wear shorts and bathing suits.

Orlando has two distinct and separate seasons: Mowing and not-mowing. Mowing season—cutting the grass once or twice a week, plus edging—is April through October. Not-mowing season—mowing once every 4-6 weeks—is November through March. This leaves time for smelling the roses and tending the vegetable garden.

A few days after the official start of fall this year we visited a nursery in search of pretty flowers for the front yard and red lettuce for the garden in back. I mentioned the arrival of fall, and the cashier—a teenage girl—wrinkled her nose.

“It felt like this was the first day of fall because it was so cool,” she said. “I’m a summer girl. I hate fall and winter. There’s nothing to do but sit inside, drink eggnog and get fat.”
The “so cool” temperature at that moment was 82. There’s a word for that most other places: summer. Yet she spoke as if all roads in the county had been closed by 10-foot snowdrifts.
But you really can’t blame natives for being in climate denial. Just like TV schedules are based on Eastern Time, our entire retail and entertainment culture is rooted in four seasons. This is why Florida viewers have to sit through months of commercials for snow tires, cold remedies, Snuggies and, of course, Florida getaways.

I’m sympathetic to natives because I’ve been confused since arriving in 1973. I moved from Indiana in March, with dirty snow piled high on the side of the road, to Boca Raton, where sunshine and balmy breezes put me in a stupor. After a year or two, I noticed I could no longer remember when anything in my life had happened. Was it six weeks ago? Five months? A year? No clue.
After a while I figured it out: When you grow up in a four-season climate, your memories are organized by season. I broke my leg last winter. It was spring when we visited Aunt Matilda. And so on. Without seasons, I had no reference points, the days and months ran together, and I began to drift.

I’m OK with it now. I’ve bought into climate denial and the whole charade of four seasons in Orlando. So has my son,  Chris, whose front door in South Orlando is decorated with a lovely fall wreath, a gift from his girlfriend Jen in Melbourne. It was 92 degrees the day he put it up.

The Florida Mall on the first day of fall was surreal: shoppers in shorts and flip-flops strolling by mannequins in cardigan sweaters, heavy coats with fur-lined hoods, quilted vests with names like North Face and Polartec. Really? Does it ever get cold enough in Orlando for this?

Actually, yes. I was reminded when we saw a wonderful play at Mad Cow Theatre. Unfortunately, the Mad Cow was like a meat locker, like every theater and movie house in town, where it’s always winter. I huddled close to Candy for warmth and wished I had picked up a fleece-lined jacket at the mall. 

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