Stability & Change: Jacksonville
Jacksonville has always felt like a second home to me. My father grew up here, and it's where his side of the family still resides. I've visited at least once a year, most often during the summer, for as long as my memory ventures. When I was younger, family and heritage were the primary sources of my fondness for the place—I was young, and frankly, could have been placed anywhere and enjoyed it. Come my middle school years, I still loved Jacksonville for these familial associations, for the weather and for the beach, of course, but I, in typical pre-teenage fashion, also wondered why we didn't go somewhere "cool" in Florida (as this was the time when Facebook proliferated with photos of vacations in Seaside and Florida's West coast). Come high school, this brief skepticism subsided, and I reentered my honeymoon phase (where I remain to this day). Jacksonville was (and sometimes still is) an escape in the most stable sense of the word. No matter what happened on the outside, whenever I returned, things felt safe, centered.
I've spent rather formative summers here, each successive one a benchmark for my growth: personal but also physical as it's on these beaches I went from crawling toddler to biking and brooding teen. Florida in the summer is hot and humid to the point of exhausting. Life moves in slow motion, like wading through a viscous fluid—95% humidity will do that. The journey of the day is a string of movements from air-conditioned place to air-conditioned place. In my younger years, one of those places was Lily's, the coffee shop where my cousin, Cara, also once worked. While she bussed tables and took orders, I'd sit in a large, leather couch in the front window and snack on a bagel or an egregiously chocolatey mocha. On her breaks, she would come over to sit with me, and we would talk about what we would do to improve the place. We scrunched our noses at the inescapable miasma of burnt beans and the less-than-chic furniture (which in hindsight was more charming and unpretentious than homely). Lily's eventually closed (a greedy landlord to blame), and now a new place stands steed, Southern Grounds. It checks all of the boxes for "millennial hip"—avocado toast, white subway tile, uncomfortable yet photogenic metal chairs—but compared to Lily's, it's strangely sterile and echoey inside. Now my cousin and I sit in the front window and laugh about how we should have been more grateful for what we had when we had it. But so goes life.
This reading period I decided to fly down to Florida as it was (and is) likely the only time I will be making it down here for the summer. Oddly, come reading period, I thought that I would have needed the break more, but I was surprisingly sad to be leaving campus. This was the pollyannaish, romantic Katherine imagining that I would instead use this week at school to hang out with friends and explore Cambridge when in reality, most of everyone would be studying, and meanwhile, I would be racking up a hefty bill at Crema Cafe (which I really need no further assistance doing). However, when I departed from the quasi-winter, quasi-spring, quasi-summer Boston weather (couldn't make up its mind) to Florida's truly sublime May weather, most of these doubts dissipated, and like all the years prior, I quickly fell into my Florida routine: runs along the beach, sitting outside of restaurants and cafes, eating large ice cream cones from Whit's. I'd wake up, my cousin might go to work or class, and I'd walk along the beach gauging which houses had changed, who remodeled what and when.
It's on these walks that I’ve realized how much Jacksonville—despite its being synonymous for stability for me—and the beaches have evolved. It's funny because some things, some places stay the same. And some don't, but even with all of those changes—in you, in the place—it still feels the same, and perhaps this speaks to those oft-trite sayings that home is where the heart is, and some things—the intangibles—just don't change because you and they evolve together.