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Like a snake, I shall shed old clothes

Nearly everyone I know in the state of Florida, including me, is from somewhere else. In that somewhere else we had lots of closets, basements, garages and attics. It never dawned on me what a daunting task it would be to store my huge wardrobe in a typical Florida home.

Although I knew I should put a blouse in the Goodwill box whenever I bought a new one, it had never mattered before if I didn't because we had plenty of room. Besides, it had never been my nature to part with anything easily.

However, we were headed for the sunny South and I'd never need that heavy winter coat or earmuffs again, so to Goodwill they went. I forced myself to add a few more items I could live without and figured I had done my best. In Florida, as I unpacked my wardrobe boxes, the rods and shelves were filling rapidly and there was still another box to unpack. Where would I hang my husband's things?

I asked my sister-in-law, who had lived in Florida so long she was almost a native, where she stored her out-of-season clothes. "I have six under-the-bed boxes and Don hangs his clothes in the spare bedroom closet." I rushed out to Kmart and soon I had a place for the warm slacks, dresses, suits and sweaters I might need if I had to go north in the winter. My closet looked neat and nicely organized. My problem was solved _ or so I thought.

The first winter visit north was such a shattering experience. The moment I left the warmth of the air terminal I knew it had been sheer stupidity to dare the cold just to visit friends. My new all-weather coat with zip-in lining and a sweater underneath felt as though I'd left the hanger inside. My arms would hardly bend. Yet it felt like 40 below zero as I waited for the airport limo.

After wearing a minimum of clothing in Florida, I could hardly bear being so bundled up. Still, all those layers felt more like a few sheets of Kleenex covering my shivering form.

As a new Floridian, I reveled in the ease of shorts, T-shirts and a relaxed, informal life. Some of my neighbors even lived in bathing suits, saying a wet suit kept them cool. They only wore regular clothing to avoid a chill in the freezer aisle at Winn-Dixie. Along about October, I noticed native Floridians wearing sweaters, slacks and warmer clothing when those "cold fronts" moved in. However, I, who had endured wintry blasts most of my life, was impervious to cooler temperatures _ or so I thought.

Then one morning after a year or two of easy living, I had to admit that raw, damp air made me shiver and shake. I pulled one of those boxes out from under the bed for a warm sweater and a pair of slacks that had always felt too heavy before and was glad I'd kept them. Then out came a skirt, a jacket and, as the days passed, the boxes grew empty.

I knew that in spite of that morning chill, I'd probably need shorts after lunch, so they couldn't be stashed away. Every day my neatly arranged closet became more tightly packed.

Then I began to wonder if my clothing, especially the waistband of my favorite skirt, had shrunk. My sister-in-law told me she'd heard there's something in Florida water that makes a person's waistline expand, or else it's those cafeterias that offer "all you care to eat." One day while dressing for a luncheon, it was just too cold to go with my usual bare legs. In my lingerie drawer a brand new package of pantyhose had been awaiting such an event. They made a funny scrunching sound as I pulled them over my somewhat-enlarged hips. How could I possibly know that was a warning the elastic had died? Although wearing my most elegant outfit, I felt far from that with my pantyhose drooping toward my knees. The very next day I noticed my favorite skirt was no longer a bit snug. It suffered the same strange malady and it too threatened to fall to the floor.

The other day when I pulled out an under-the-bed box that hadn't been disturbed recently, I noticed a shiny thing clinging to it. Thinking it was a shred of a grocery store plastic bag, I yanked it off. Imagine my horror to discover I was holding a cast-off snake skin in my hand! Shaking in my sneakers, I cleared out all the boxes to make sure the creature wasn't still lurking about, but he seemed to have moved on. It makes me shiver still, and not with cold, to wonder just how and when that snake slithered under my bed to wriggle out of his skin.

My sister-in-law agreed that a snake under her bed would unnerve her, too. We wondered why I couldn't learn to be more like that snake and just shed unneeded items from my wardrobe. I'm going to start right now, I told her. Maybe I finally have that problem solved _ or so I think!

Jeanne Sandberg Fuller is a freelance writer who lives in Seminole.

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