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New places await, but memories go with us

Published August 22, 2004

There is no easy way to say goodbye other than to say it. After six very satisfying years with the Times - the past two writing this column - I am moving on to a new job with the Indianapolis Star.

In Florida and in the news business, the faces come and go. My stay here has been shorter than some, longer than others. But for me and my family, it has been a time of great importance.

My almost 5-year-old daughter was born here in Hernando County. Her 7-year-old sister can't remember life anywhere else. For them, this is the only home they've ever known. And it will forever be their reference point for early childhood.

This is also the place where my wife, Tammy, and I took a risk and left everyone we knew in the world for the promise of a new life. A lot of you have done the same thing and know what that's like.

We were blessed - and I really mean that - to find people here willing to take a risk on us. The Times, though not perfect, is one of the finest newspapers in the country. If you have read many other papers, you know what I'm talking about. Better yet, the folks here have treated me well.

We were blessed - and I mean that, too - to find a church family at Christian Church in the Wildwood that took us in and provided us a lifeline when we were all alone. At times, they cared for our children, brought us meals when we needed them and taught us much about life. Family like that can't be left easily. Fortunately, we believe there will be an ultimate family reunion one day in heaven.

Hernando County is a place where almost everyone is from somewhere else, mostly New York. Some are content to keep to themselves, and community is sometimes ill defined. But community can be found if you look for it.

Tammy and I grew up in the South. From a young age we were taught that New Yorkers were loud, harsh, obnoxious, vulgar, insensitive, impolite, mean-spirited, coarse, corrupt complainers who are prone to violence and always related to someone named Guido who "knows people."

I am happy to report that we found several transplanted New Yorkers who were enormously kind, abundantly generous and a joy to be around. As it turns out, some of the last people we will say goodbye to before the moving van rolls out are New Yorkers. Go figure that.

Almost universally, the first thing people say when I tell them I'm moving to Indianapolis is: Are you a big stupid moron? Don't you know it gets darn cold up there? They talk of snow as if it were poison.

But my new bosses in Indianapolis, in selling me on the job, have assured me that this is not really the case, that the Indiana winters are quite balmy, much like Florida. I look forward to your e-mail in January.

Of course, Indiana is the Hoosier State. And one of my first goals is to find out what a Hoosier is and where you can buy them. I've promised to mail some Hoosiers back to the friends I've left behind here.

Over the years here, I have written extensively about your schools, the trials of the Weeki Wachee mermaids and the lives of local Muslims.

I have written about Elvis impersonators, a crematorium for pets, a man who drives a boat car and - strangest of all - the Spring Hill Fire Rescue Commission. My greatest achievement? Helping bring you a Chick-fil-A.

As I leave Hernando County, I worry about what I will find when I come back to visit. You have been discovered. People want to live here. Otherwise, they wouldn't be plowing down every last vacant lot in Spring Hill, and developers wouldn't be looking at our county's open pastures with a lean and hungry eye.

I fear when I return you will have become what every true Hernando Countian dreads - a part of the vast sprawl of traffic and sameness that exists between here and St. Petersburg. Worse yet, you may be Pasco County.

If that happens, I will cling to memories of the best parts of Hernando County: the Pine Island sunsets, the coolness of a swim in the Weeki Wachee River, the orange blossoms that perfume Spring Lake.

And of friends left behind.

[Last modified August 22, 2004, 01:25:20]

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