You Can Smoke in the Mall in Florence

I started college almost 18 years ago!!!! Just typing that is painful!!!! I went to a good sized school over an hour away from “dimple of the universe.” Far enough away, but close enough if I needed get home I could. My roommate was a close friend who had been in my life since second grade. Oh my, we were so excited AND our older boyfriends had started classes there too. 18, away from home, started pledging a sorority…life was amazing!!! (Sorry for the over use of exclamation points, but I just got really happy thinking about that time of my life.)
We moved into a dorm on campus. We were so proud of our little spot. Down the hall were several sets of amazing young ladies with very similar stories. The main few we spent the most time with, were from another “dimple of the universe.” Also, by the grace of similar advisement, we had very similar class schedules. There were six of us, three rooms that were all out of class by three. Just in time to grab a snack before our favorite show came on. JERRY SPRINGER! Complete trash tv!
Every now and then, when Springer was a rerun, we would try to have adventures. Near our college town, was a large city. None of us grew up with major retail in our towns. We were thrilled to be close to our favorite stores-GAP, The Limited, Express!
On a great afternoon of shopping and girl time, we stopped at the mall’s food court to grab a bite. Now, along with our new found independence, we also had decided to start smoking. No lectures please, pretty sure none of us do now. One of the girls from the other town, pulls out her pack of cigarettes along with a lighter. She begins to light one up…”wait, wait, what are your doing? You can’t smoke in the mall!” I was in shock! “Well”, she said with a very thick small town southern girl accent, “You can smoke in da mall in Florence!” First I was in shock! We all were! After we finished rolling from laughter, I started to think, where is Florence? I had never heard of this place. I found out a few minutes later, it was in north Alabama. I had probably driven through it on my way to the beach. I have met a few people who have mentioned Florence before. University of North Alabama is there and…that’s about it. I had no attachment to this city, no family and no friends directly related to it. Aside from knowing “you can smoke in the mall in Florence”, never gave it a second thought except for a good college story.
Fast forward 18 years!
Tinder works with a few different specifications. Preferences are age, male/female and distance. That’s it. To be practical, I was interested in men less than 40 miles from me. South Nashville and a few counties surrounding. The only thing I wished Tinder would require is “what city do you live in.” It would have been clarifying. Once on Tinder and after a few really great match opportunities I was overwhelmed with Florence guys! I checked and rechecked my location. I emailed the “Help Me Tinder People”-no luck. There was a period of about 6 months that I believed God was trying to show me the dating promise land…Florence, Alabama.
The matches coming from Florence were some of the best I had seen. I still didn’t understand why if my distance was set on 40 miles, how I was connecting with matches from Florence way over 40 miles…but I began not to care.
“Rebel” was what I had been looking for! A bit older than me, but our girls were the exact same ages. Because of the distance and absurdly crazy schedules we had multiple dates over the phone. Seriously, we would plan days out, set a time and decide that we would be in a similar location at our separate houses. Kitchen, porch, bedroom, etc. The main reason we had to resort to phone dating was, he spent half his time in Florence and the other in Tupelo, Mississippi. Originally, from Florence, but that is also the town his family lived in. But, he had clients in North Alabama as well. When he was in Florence he lived in his family’s river house. Our dates in person were like being in a dream. Anytime we actually got to see each other was such a wonderful experience. One reason, it was baseball season. He was a longtime Braves fan and I follow the Cardinals. But that didn’t matter. We watched and talked baseball. For that matter we talked about everything.
Florence wasn’t too far, but Tupelo was. When “Rebel” started talking about me coming to Tupelo…I knew. Then he started spending more and more time in Tupelo for work and less time in Florence. We were on one of our last official phone dates when he began talking about what it would take for me to move to Tupelo! “Me, move to Tupelo?” Umm, over my children’s father’s dead body! More and more, our dates were canceled because he couldn’t get to Florence and more importantly couldn’t get to me. I was really disappointed when we decided to stop seeing each other. I still hear from “Rebel”. He still says, “Hey the next time I’m in Florence…” I do know anytime I am in need of a mid-day laugh, he will answer and we can pick up right where we left off. *(After I wrote this paragraph, I called him. Gosh I do adore that guy!)
“Farmer” wasn’t from Florence….well sorta! He lived 45 minutes from me. Talk about a good time. I never knew what we were getting into! It was smack in the middle of summer and we needed to be on a boat! (And it was so hot, he couldn’t golf!) Golf!!! How many times were our plans put on hold so he could golf! Anyway, back to the boat. We were talking one night after dinner and he said,
“Let’s go to the river, my Mom has a boat!”
“That sounds perfect, where on the River?”
“Just outside of Florence, where I grew up!”
Wait, I thought you were from…? Nope, he lived there a long time but really grew up in Florence! We headed down to the river and all the memories of “Rebel” started coming back. I had a good time with “Farmer”, but I kept wondering about “Rebel”. Along with golf, horses and the river, “Farmer” also really preferred blondes.
Now…let me tell you about the best time I had in Florence!
My best friend “Deb” couldn’t believe I was going to drive to Florence all by myself and meet a guy I had never met. On top of that, she couldn’t believe I had planned to stay down there. “I’m going with you; you are not going by yourself! Tell ‘Squirrel’ to get me a date!”
“Squirrel” was the cutest thing I had seen on Tinder in a while. He was a frat boy-still at the age of 36 . And, one of my favorites. Oh, and he had those “Bama” boy bangs. Born and raised in southern Alabama, he went to college at University of Northern Alabama and never left. Now, let me explain, I am not a University of Alabama fan, but I could listen to him say “Roll Tide” all day long. He also called me darlin’ which just melted my heart! He was a talker and good at it.
“Deb” and I headed to Florence and had been out of town for about 30 minutes. “Deb” turns to me and says, “I can tell you now, I brought my gun!”
As we headed down the highway, of course I had my rollers in my hair we talked about all the things I really liked about “Squirrel”. In 3 weeks, he had become my go to “what are you doing” random text person. We stopped at a Dollar General near his place so I could take my rollers down and touch up my make-up. The plan was to meet, have a cocktail and head out to dinner.
We pull up, my heart is in my throat! It’s like the car is in slow motion. We park, and I can’t get out fast enough. I turn to get my purse and I hear, “Hey darlin!” There he is! I did this unfortunate but uncontrollable clapping, hopping thing! (shaking my head to this day!) You could tell we were both really happy to see each other! “Squirrel” came through and had an equally cute date for “Deb”. Drinks, chatting and we were off!
I guess “Squirrel” and I saw each other off and on that entire summer into the fall. He came to ‘dimple of the universe’ and my friends, along with “Deb” really liked him. We went to dinners, events, just hung out, day drank, Handy Fest, etc. He even met my parents! Yeah, I know! And my girls, AND my ex-husband! Everybody liked him! He was the big winner all the way around. This was really going well! And then I had to think about it. Why, oh why did I have to think about it?
Then I did something I hated doing, even worse than thinking-I stood him up!
Tailgating in the South is a fine art. “Squirrel” was responsible for his fraternity’s alumni tailgating at UNA. He asked me to go with him to Homecoming! Equivalent to being asked to a formal. I already had the perfect tailgating outfit ready! And then, I didn’t go! “Squirrel” was mad, like really mad. I felt terrible. I tried to explain and even did the ill-advised “it’s not you-it’s me” that never makes anyone feel better. I wondered if he would ever speak to me again.
I was so sad, upset, and angry at myself! “Deb” basically forced me to a fish fry-UT football party that Saturday. Most of the day I thought about “Squirrel”. But fate is funny…I met “Cleats” at that party.
This is why “Squirrel” rocks. He has become one of my dearest friends. I probably don’t miss a day or two without talking to him. Bless his heart, he even came to my birthday party months later and stayed the next day while I recovered. I even consulted him prior to writing this blog. He has been there post break up many a time for me and I have been there when things don’t go well for him either. He is a joy to my life and I hope we remain dear friends for years to come.
All of these events and my connections to gentlemen of Florence and other “dimples of the universe” or big cities have made me the person I am today. These events have formed chain reactions in my brain that cause me to make decisions-good, bad or I may not even know yet. But the simple truth is without them all- the joy, the sadness, the hurt, the love; I couldn’t possibly be who I am today.
“Squirrel” and I still don’t see each other often, but I know if I needed to get away…Florence, here I come! Hey that’s not a bad idea! Wonder when “Deb” (minus the gun) and I can head that way?” Hmmmm! Maybe we can go to the mall? “Squirrel” just confirmed, you can’t smoke in the mall in Florence anymore.

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