For me, Cork was an area I wanted to escape . I grew up just outside of the small town of Plant City, Florida in a rural area where strawberry fields were still to be found. The relationship between an agricultural area with vestiges of its Confederate past and a bookish and self-aware Northern-born lad was not a happy one. About the best that can be said for my experiences in that town is that it did not kill my love for strawberries. In fact, the occasional chance to pick strawberries for free was almost the best thing I can remember from my childhood years spent in a place that did not appear to have any interest in tolerating or accepting me.
Nevertheless, not everyone, apparently, viewed Cork Elementary School as a place to escape from, however. Surviving alumni from my old elementary school who attended during the days before my mother’s family moved there, when the school had an unusual schedule, are making plans to meet and reminisce about the good old days. During that time Cork Elementary School and other schools in the area had vacations between December and April (rather than summer vacations), which allowed students to be off school during the all-important strawberry harvest to help their neighbors and families. As the child of a farming family myself (even if I’ve never wanted to be a farmer myself), I can relate to this on some level.
After the school schedule of Plant City’s schools changed and students no longer worked the fields of their families and neighbors, it appears as if the strawberry farmers decided to import a population that would be able to work on the fields, and so the phenomenon of migrant farmers was well-entrenched by the time that I grew up in the same area. Needless to say, being a bit of an outcast myself, I befriended some of the local population of Mexican farm workers, since I’ve never been too snobby or fussy about friends of any background as long as they were nice and friendly, something which has always been more difficult to find than it really ought to be in my life. In fact, my friendship with those people is probably what gave me my initial interest in learning Spanish as a youngster.
I am happy for the people who will be attending their reunion in a couple of weeks that they look back fondly on their childhood spent in the same countryside where I too spent my childhood. As they share the same stories over and over again to an appreciative audience and pass around the photos of their halcyon days of youth, for me the place holds memories of loneliness, isolation, bullying, and a difficult family situation in not-so-genteel poverty. It is strange how the same place can be viewed so differently by different people. For my late grandfather , Plant City was where he settled after a nomadic childhood and young adulthood, setting his roots down and finding it to be home. For me, it was an intolerable place in which I was an unwelcome and unwanted stranger and a guest that I wished to escape as soon as possible. Life is ironic that way.