Locus. Locality. Location. Location, location, location. Local. We all know what the word “local” means when we look it up in a dictionary: Adjective. Referring to something nearby. But what does “local” mean to each and every one of us? I cannot speak for the other billions of human beings on this planet, but I can speak for myself.
I prefer not to share my exact location online, but any of you who follow my dear friend The Lady Bryan on here know that she used to live in Florida for several years, and the town that I live in neighbors both of the towns that she used to live in. I live within driving distance of both Daytona Beach and Orlando and we can get to either location in an hour or less.
My town is a bit peculiar for what one would expect of a Southern town. For one, it’s not a small town. At least, not by stereotypical standards. Our population is in the five figures, home to at least 10,000 people. I’ve lived in this town for nearly 30 years (my family moved here when I was about 5 months old, well before my brother was born), and in those 30 years, I’ve seen my town evolve from a somewhat sleepy little place to a hustling, bustling, busy suburb. I remember when the stretch of road that connects my town to the two nestled next to it had more trees than restaurants lining it. My town’s side of that road is filled today with all sorts of chain eateries, gas stations, doctor’s offices, stores and boutiques, and a hospital where a vast stretch of Florida scrub once was. I remember when the area where the local high school now stands was once a dense collection of sand, pine trees, and “secret” forts that the neighborhood kids would build. My neighborhood itself has changed very little. My neighborhood has always been a very hilly place, ranch-style houses lining the terrain around every peak and every dip. Walking around this neighborhood certainly will give one’s legs a workout, better than any inclining treadmill could give you.
I’ve always been a bit wary of many of my neighbors, possibly a consequence of my own overly cautious personality, but the ones I’ve managed to get to know are some of the nicest people you’ll meet. A sweet Latino family lives just around the corner from us, our backyards adjacent to each other. The guy just across the street from us is a single father doing his very best to raise his youngest child right, and he knows he has challenges ahead of him because his little girl has just become a teenager. He divorced his little girl’s mother years ago, and sadly his little girl’s mother has since passed away. His little girl, or as my mother likes to call her, “Little Bit”, is an incredibly outgoing, vivacious young lady of thirteen who loves to dance, tumble, and strike up a conversation with anyone and everyone, even if the “anyone” isn’t really feeling up to it. Next door to the single father and his Little Bit, is a couple we’ve known for years. We’ve watched their three boys grow up over the years. I remember when the middle son, who was just a little over a year older than me, decided to marry his girlfriend before they even finished high school. They had three children together, but their ending was not a happy one. His wife, who I later learned had been afflicted with all sorts of health issues, died at the young age of 24, leaving my childhood friend a widower with three young kids before he turned 25. He and his children moved in with his parents and his younger brother until he could get back on his feet and find a place of their own, which he eventually did. The kids still come to visit their grandparents pretty often. Across the street in the other direction is a retired couple with a lot of dogs. The wife likes to garden and maintains a lovely looking set of plants in their front yard. The husband usually can be seen tinkering with things, common with the men in my neck of the woods. Before them, a gay couple lived there; we would sometimes see them at bingo, and they even gave me some crocheting supplies after seeing me crochet at a bingo night. And before them, a couple with three kids around my age lived there. I was friends with the oldest daughter, who was a grade behind me in school. I remember being sad when she told me her family was moving to North Carolina when I was, I think, in third grade. I sometimes wonder how that family is doing now. Unfortunately I don’t have Facebook (and I have no cell phone to start one). Our neighborhood is relatively quiet. Of course, you also notice some of the more colorful characters: the rednecks living on one street near us, a Mexican-American family living around the corner on another, both of which announce their presence with the numerous cars that dot the front yards (I think I may have seen five different cars parked in the rednecks’ front yard at some point). There’s another redneck man who can be seen walking his little Dachshund mix some mornings, which drives my own dog nuts even though he can’t come through her window. Sometimes when we go walking, we can see him and his wife sitting in some armchairs set up in their garage with pedestal fans running, just watching the passers-by. We even talk to him on occasion.
Local, for me, has so much more going for it than the places. Any location can make it a place, but it doesn’t come alive until you get to know the characters that inhabit it. And the memories you make as you inhabit it give that location meaning. Local, for me, is an experience. And the great thing is that no two people, even within the same family, will have the exact same experience. Local is life, imagery, color. That’s the difference between just a place and a home.