Suwannee. My folks had known for years that their retirement estate lay somewhere in the piney north Florida woods. My dad had loved his hobby farm in Louisiana. He was no longer interested in animal husbandry, but he wanted a big vegetable garden, room to plant fruit trees (and grape vines, as it turned out), and plenty of forest land to improve via selective and creative planting, thinning, and cultivation. Mom hated heat and bugs. Nairobi had been just her kind of place, neither cold nor hot and pretty much bug-free. Like Seattle if it were a bit warmer here. But she wanted to live near family, which meant hot buggy Florida, sigh. Still, better north Florida than south. They found a choice spot on the legendary Suwannee River with lots of riverfront. Here it is on the map:
The intersection of 185th Road and Running Springs Drive is the northeast corner of what used to be Suwannee Riverhaven. Extend 185th due south to the river and Running Springs due west and you have the outline, with the river making up the rest. Our riverfront featured tangled vegetation overhanging an abrupt, steep, sandy bank; no beaches. The name Riverhaven occurred to me when I first walked that lovely tract of riparian forest, before they'd even built their house; I was clearly under the influence of The Lord of the Rings, which I'd recently read. Rather than asking them what they thought of the name, I went to a guy who routed wood signs and had him carve one that read Suwannee Riverhaven. Luckily for me, everyone loved the name. Dad hung the sign up where you'd park if you came to visit. I visited every chance I got. Twice a month for years in the mid-1970s. I wasn't being the dutiful son; I honestly loved visiting my folks. I'd head out after work Friday, making it in time for supper, then head back Sunday midday.
Their driveway was that left turn you see on the map going southwest from Running Springs Dr doglegging toward the river. Legally, their driveway started back at the intersection marked Peacock Recreational. They bought an easement to there and had a road built paralleling the existing road because the ownership of the existing road was unclear.
Flood. The land along the river would flood when it got rainy in the Okefenokee Swamp, the Suwannee River's headwaters. But it never flooded up to the house. Dad chose a spot above the 500-year flood. I visited Gail and Billy there during the only 100-year flood I ever saw at Riverhaven. Most of the drive was underwater. We had to canoe in. It was a lark.
Zoom in and you can see the buildings at the end of the drive: the house, flat and shed grouped together, and down next to the river, the river house. The river house became illegal when they started enforcing the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, but it got grandfathered in. Zoom all the way in and switch to Satellite View to see how things look now.
She loved the place. The flat, as they called it, is a trailer they moved on site and lived in while they built the house. The AC worked because the flat was in the shade. That's where I slept when I came to visit. I slept there with Sally during the years we were together. Since I wasn't married they made do with a girlfriend. That's unfair; they were quite gracious, welcoming her as a family member. I'm sure she loved that. I did too at the time. With no intention of making it official.
Pruning. My dad taught me the art of pruning at Riverhaven. He used grape vines. He wanted to make wine from improved varieties of scuppernongs, the native grape of the south. He and Mom had become drinkers in Kenya. They were religiously devoted to their sundowners, highballs they made with Sprite and Jim Beam. I encouraged my dad's interest in winemaking by giving him a wine press for Christmas. It was as big a hit as the Salton peanut grinder, maybe bigger. He became an expert scuppernong winemaker during his retirement. Vines were trellised along two large gauge steel wires stretched between posts. He pruned his vines severely, leaving very little old wood. As we worked on the vines, he instilled in me a sculptural sense of pruning in four dimensions rather than just three: I had to envision how the vines would grow during the next season and prune for an ideal based on that rather than a static shape. An abyss opened in front of me as I pondered that. That abyss would not be resolved until Leela introduced me to 5-space decades later. Pruning grape vines made me struggle to see through time.
End. In the late 1980s Mom's health was failing. She'd had a struggle with cancer dating back to the mid-1960s in Asheville. At this point the Fishfarm was just a place to live. There was no income. Gail and Billy moved to Riverhaven to help out. Gail became Mom's principal caretaker. Mom died in 1988. Soon after that Dad began showing signs of dementia. Gail became his principal caretaker. Dad died in 1990. Before he died it was decided mutually by Dad and us kids that Gail would inherit Riverhaven, a home to honor her work there. She and Billy sold the place in the mid-1990s and moved to be near me. They bought some acreage in Shelton and moved a house trailer there. Riverhaven was to have been the Cassady family seat, home to John and Fay's ashes and a place we could all go if there was nowhere else. I'm glad they sold it.
What they taught us. I didn't attend either of my parents' funerals. I don't go to funerals. But after Dad died I had to go to settle up family business with my siblings. The big inheritance questions had been decided. What remained was my parents' lifetime accumulation of objects. Gail collected everything and put it all out on display. Every surface in the house, plus card tables and anything else she could find for display, was covered with the objects of a 60 plus year marriage. For years I hung on to my dad's pocket watch. But who needs a watch if you have a phone? Now I only keep stuff as long as I have to, i.e. as long as Leela says to. The four of us walked around and viewed these remains reverently. There were hallowed objects from all of our childhoods on display. We were painfully polite and respectful with each other. The idea was to start picking objects we wanted, checking to make sure that was OK so there would be no hard feelings. So say Peggy Jo picks something up and says I like this. If any one of us said something positive about it, like Oh yes that's nice, Peggy would say Oh then you should have it. Here, you take it. We treated each other with almost comical delicacy and politesse. We'd all heard tales of warring siblings descending on the spoils of parental death tearing everything and each other apart like a pack of rabid hyenas to claim their due. That was not going to happen with us. They taught us to be classier than that.
Running. In the late 1970s I'd resumed running. I started running in Kenya in the 1960s. Riverhaven was the best place to run. I'd get up even earlier than I did back before Sally so I could run before I had coffee with Dad. That put me out on the trails and firebreaks before dawn. I was delighted with how much ground I could cover in a half hour run. Running took me places I'd never seen before in nearby areas north of Riverhaven. When I came to visit after moving to Boulder I could run even further. I ran out to the highway, along county roads, past the Pine Grove Church where we ministerial candidates went to sample Pentecostalism one Sunday. I ran all the way to the forty acre tree farm I would inherit.
The southwest corner of my inheritance was at the corner of 176th Street and 165th Road, about a mile and three quarters east and a little north of the Pine Grove Church. If you zoom in on that corner and switch to Satellite View on the map above my field looks oddly white and striped. Switch to Street View and here's what that corner of my pine plantation looks like:
I sold the land soon after I harvested my trees. The guy who bought it planned to do the same thing my dad had. Plant trees as his son's inheritance. Looks like they were doing fine as of January 2008, the date of that image capture. That's a relief. I was afraid he wouldn't do well with that plan. A crop of pines can be hard on the soil. A few years of manure crops is recommended to build it back up. I was afraid he'd replant pines right away. From the age of those trees it looks like he did his homework and followed that guidance.
Pecans. The deciduous tree you see to the left in Street View is a pecan. I always thought I should have some pecans from my tree but I was never there at the right time of year. As a boy I spent many hours cracking pecans with a nutcracker that looked a lot like this one. That's on Etsy. The seller wants $285 for it. Hey, I was using an antique. But then again I am one. Cracking and cleaning pecans wasn't a paid gig like planting pines. It was a You want pecan pie? Get busy gig. Let me tell you I wanted Mom's pecan pie. And ice box cookies and spicy candied pecans and especially penuche. We just called it brown sugar fudge. I learned the word penuche decades later. A pie pan of penuche is kinda like a giant praline, and we pronounced that PRAY-leen. As in get down on your knees and pray Mom makes some. Despite being born in Louisiana and living in the south all those years I can't remember ever hearing anyone say PRAH-leen. This recipe looks good if only it had more pecans. You can't have too many pecans in penuche or fudge or chocolate chip cookies. Cookies with no nuts? That's a sad prospect.
Peanuts. My dad bought seed peanuts in twenty-five pound sacks. He didn't plant them. He roasted them in the oven spread out in a single layer on cookies sheets and ate them out of hand. He loved peanuts. I asked why seed peanuts? He explained that a reputable feed company would select the best peanuts for seeds, d'oh, because that's what you do. Those reputable feed companies didn't treat seed peanuts in the mid 1970s. Not so sure about that now. I saw that he also made peanut butter sandwiches using store bought peanut butter so the next Christmas I gave him a Salton peanut grinder. He was delighted and never went back to store bought peanut butter. Finding the right gift is so satisfying. The Salton Peanut Butter Machine™, to call it by its rightful name, is now a museum piece.