Winter Springs, Florida. Typing it out now is strange, in a way, because writing about a place that is a part of you makes you look at it in a whole new way.
Tell someone new that I’m from “Winter Springs, Florida” and the automatic joke is, “But there are no winters in Florida!”
Well, not really. But also, sort of. There aren’t winters like someone from Maine or Michigan or North Dakota might be used to, but we have our own version of winter, where it hits 60 degrees and we bundle up in our warmest parkas and consider calling off work because it’s just too cold to go outside.
I was born and raised in Winter Springs, which is unusual in and of itself. Florida tends to be filled with people from other places, and Winter Springs is no different.
If you’ve never heard of Winter Springs, one of the easiest ways to describe it would be something like, “Trip Advisor’s #1 thing to do in Winter Springs is actually in a neighboring town.” Think of what you imagine when someone says “suburbs.”
That is Winter Springs, inside and out.
You don’t go to Winter Springs to have an exotic adventure. You go there because you were born there, to raise a family, to be a part of a family, to go to school, to live the moments of life in between all of the “stuff.”
Winter Springs is the quiet moments sitting on the couch as the sun streams in through the windows, it’s the afternoons spent walking home from school and waving to the crossing guards, it’s the weekends spent at soccer games and baseball practices and watching a gaggle of 7 year old kids run up and down a field in a herd, even though the ball went the other way.
And if you had asked me, 5 or 10 years ago, to imagine myself writing a love letter to Winter Springs, I would have laughed in your face and then gone back to complaining that there was nothing – and I mean nothing – to do.
I dreamed of (what I thought were) bigger, more exciting places, where I could do more and I could be more and the highlight of my Saturday wasn’t going to Publix in the Town Center.
Except now I’ve been to (what I thought were) bigger, more exciting places, and I’ve realized that in many ways, Winter Springs is much better.
Maybe it’s the rose colored glasses that you gradually put on with time, but I’ve learned that this little oasis in Central Florida is much more than I ever gave it credit for.
It could be the way the sun shines constantly, basking Trotwood Park in a healthy glow of UV rays and stunning sunsets that set the backdrop for soccer and baseball practices during the school year.
It could be the way three of the major schools are basically on the same street. And as you graduated from elementary to middle to high school, you took a symbolic step just a few yards down the row – just a bit further away from where you had been, but not so far that you couldn’t stop by and see your old teachers when you were feeling slightly nostalgic.
It could be the bright, thick green grass so characteristic of Florida that looks so inviting and then itches you in all the wrong places if you dare to lay down in it.
It could be that Winter Springs, Florida is a place that every teenager wants to get out of.
There’s something about growing up in a small town that fuels this inner Broadway Musical just waiting to burst out about how you’re on your way, you’re off to see the world. People from big cities can’t do that quite the same as we could.
It could be the birthday parties at Central Winds park.
It could be Friday night football games at the high school (Winter Springs High School, of course, because what else would you name it?) and how even before you got old enough to go to high school, you still felt the excitement in town right before kick off.
In 2011, Winter Springs was voted the 97th best place to live by Money Magazine, which my friends and I all took great pleasure in making fun of. This badge of honor only proved to us how boring our town really was.
And in some ways, I have to keep in mind that the Winter Springs, Florida that I and my friends knew isn’t the same Winter Springs that some of them now navigate as adults, some with children of their own. Maybe this is the way this is supposed to work when it comes to your hometown.
The real magic of Winter Springs for someone who grew up there, I’m learning now, comes when you’re older, when you’ve grown and gone, whether that be down the road to college, across the country for a new job, or around the world for a new life.
When things are hard, it sparkles in my memory as a safe place where the only thing you had to worry about was whether they had Coke-flavored slurpees at the 7-11 near the country club.
It creeps up on me when I’m standing on a busy crosswalk in London, wondering where all of the people came from and remembering a place where I had lots of room to roam and play and jump and run.
When I go back to Winter Springs, I’m greeted with the familiar – someone’s put bubbles in the fountains on Tuskawilla Road again, there are the Christmas decorations going up early again, the local high schoolers have found a job at Chick fil A again. A restaurant has closed in the Town Center again. A restaurant has opened in the Town Center again.
Everything is “again,” because Winter Springs moves along at a comfortingly predictable pace, again and again and again and again.
And while my teenage self would have hated me for saying this, this predictability is what I love the most.
Because I know that no matter how much I change, Winter Springs never will, and while I used to think that was my hometown’s biggest flaw, it has turned out to be the greatest gift of all.