Suwannee. My folks had known for years that somewhere in the piney north Florida woods lay their retirement. My dad had loved his hobby farm in Louisiana. He was no longer interested in animal husbandry, but he wanted the vegetable garden, orchard, and 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 bug-free; like Seattle if it were a bit warmer here. But she wanted to be near family, which meant Florida; better north Florida than south. They found a choice spot on the Suwannee River with lots of riverfront. Here it is on the map:
Extend 185th Rd south to the river, and Running Springs Dr west to the river and you have the northeast boundaries of Suwannee Riverhaven with the river as the rest. The name Riverhaven occurred to me soon after I first walked that lovely tract of riparian forest. Rather than asking them what they thought of the name, I went to a guy who made wood signs and had him make one that read Suwannee Riverhaven. Everyone loved the name. Dad put it up where you'd park if you came to visit. I visited every chance I got. Twice a month for years.
Their driveway was that left turn you see on the map, going southwest from Running Springs Dr, angling toward the river. Legally, their driveway started back at the intersection marked Orange Grove Sink Spring; 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 house trailer they lived in while they built the house. The AC worked cuz it 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 about to get married, they made do with a girlfriend. That's unfair; they were really quite gracious, welcoming her as a family member. I'm sure she loved that, and I did too at the time.
Pruning. My dad taught me the art of pruning at Riverhaven. We used grape vines. He was interested in the vinicultural uses of scuppernongs, the native grape of the south. 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 contemplated that. That would not be resolved until my wisdom introduced me to 5-space decades later. Pruning grape vines forced me 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. Play the song.
For years I kept my dad's gold block and tackle told time upside down. But who needs a pocket watch if you're carrying a phone? I don't understand either, Mark. How did I? My new philosophy: only keep stuff as long as I have 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 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 the Cassadys. We were all making damn sure of it. It was deeply affirming of everything John and Fay had taught 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 many places I had 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 all of us ministerial candidates went to sample Pentecostalism one Sunday, all the way to my forty acre tree farm.
The southwest corner of my inheritance is 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 my field looks oddly white and striped. But switch to Street View and here's what the corner of my field looks like:
I sold the land soon after I harvested my trees. The guy who bought it planned to do the same thing I had. Plant trees as his son's inheritance. Looks like they're doing fine. That's a relief. I was afraid he wouldn't do well with that plan. A crop of pines is 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 look of those trees he followed that recommendation.
Pecans. The deciduous tree you see to the left 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. I used to spend a lot of time using a nutcracker for pecans 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. I can't remember what we called it. I learned penuche decades later. That was as close as we got to pralines, which we pronounced 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 except it would need more pecans. You can't have too many pecans in penuche or fudge or chocolate chip cookies. Cookies with no nuts? Why bother? Except snickerdoodles.
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 questioned 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 right name, is now a museum piece.