Livvy and Kim
My family (and Tom's too, come to think of it) is big on themes. Kim's theme is Christmas - all Christmas, all the time. If Kim could live in Christmasland, she'd be happy all year. The lights, food, movies, music - she loves it all. Ali's theme is probably the beach: sand, surfboards, old woodies, mermaids, etc. Tom's mom's theme is grapes, as a nod to her heritage as a Welch. Tom's sister loves penguins. And yet amongst all these themes, I am themeless. Once we got engaged and people wanted to get us house-things, they kept asking "what is your theme?" I didn't know what to say! "Well, I like the color blue..." was about the best I could come up with - not very helpful!
Katie and Ali
Yet last night, talking with Kim, she asked me not about what my house was but what I wanted it to be. I said I really want to plant orange trees in the back, because if we can grow things here, we ought to. So I suggested calling it The Grove, but she suggested we try it in French. So we found, L'Orangerie: the orange grove. Yet L'Orangerie is also the name of the museum in Paris that houses Monet's Waterlillies as well conservatory buildings that were commonly used from the 17th to 19th centuries in northern Europe to winter citrus trees. Citrus trees are a curious emblem of Florida that, combined with a French name, evoke for me all the joy of my summertime spent touring around some of the greatest holy sites in the world.
The Basilica of St. Therese when I visited on pilgrimmage in 2007
Ally, Jen, and I on a Eucharistic procession in Paray-Le-Monial, France where St. Margaret Mary Alacoque received the vision of the Sacred Heart.
So as we chatted about it more, Kim and I thought that the marriage of French wording and a Florida staple expressed the atmosphere of our new little home perfectly. A mixture of old world Europe with the French and the old Florida feel with the citrus. Many people might not know what I'm talking about when I say "old Florida," but as a native cracker, let me promise you - we are more than Universal Studios and retirement homes.
Citrus label, circa 1938
Although Florida has always been popular for her tourism, Florida has a rich and beautiful history that is intimately agrarian. Our wonderful weather gives us a prolonged growing season while the rest of the country hibernates, yet our soil is nothing but sand - meaning that farmers have always had to work very, very hard to make a living. Central and north Florida were actually ideal places to raise cattle and horses for years, which is why we are called Florida crackers - because of the crack of the whips we used to drive the cattle. My father was born in the Panhandle of Florida on Eglin Airforce Base, my Papa lives on the Suwanee River and I was born in Orlando. This state is in my blood from coast to coast, and the idea of decorating our house so that it reflects this rich heritage is exciting.
Even more exciting is the idea of growing things. I have a great desire to turn my home and land into an Eden-esque garden: growing children mingled with growing fruit trees, vegetables, and herbs. A rhythm of life that is not indifferent nor ignorant to the rhythm of nature and her seasons (scant though they are in Florida) - a life where I know a good deal about the earth that I walk on, and find my own ways to cultivate it. I have often thought, as I worked in the ground, that the agrarian analogies used to frequently in the Bible were incredibly apropos: the work done in man's soul is so very similar to the cultivation of a garden. The work is often slow and painstaking, with sudden bursts of growth followed by possible long periods of dormancy; sometimes, the blights we guard against come despite our precautions. The fruit that plants bear can surprise - some raggedy shrubs burst forth into glorious bloom of unparalleled sweetness, while beautiful bushy plants give out measly, sour fruit or none at all.
Most of all, dearest Reader, my greatest hope is for the blossom of our love to flower out in great abundancy. Like the Blessed Virgin, I ponder all of God's promises in my heart, and hope for the fulfillment of my not-so-secret longing.
Photo courtesy of Heidi Mitchell Photography