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    Entries in Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (4)

    Friday
    Mar092012

    My Trip to Gainesville, Part 3

     CROSS CREEK

    Cross Creek was home to Pulitzer Prize winning author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings for 25 years, from 1928 until her death in 1953. It’s an enchanting little hamlet you could easily picture in your head; a picturesque place with a babbling brook and quaint bridge that spans it. There’s none of the clutter you’d expect from a large town — no traffic lights, no horns blaring, and nothing to hear other than the faint sounds of birds cheerfully chirping in nearby trees. Yes, that would be a very good description. It’s a secluded community that epitomizes Old Florida. This year, though, there’s no babble in the brook that separates Orange Lake from Little Lochloosa Lake. A dry winter is to blame. Not long ago, down at th’ crick, you could catch a cooter wit a cane pole.

    Of her adopted town, Rawlings often wrote of the harmony between the wind and rain, the sun and seasons, the seeds and, above all else, time. Once you enter Cross Creek, you become a part of its mystique. There’s a feeling of calm that fills the heart and you’re beckoned back to an era of bygone years, listening to Bing Crosby on an RCA Gramophone instead of Kanye West on an iPod; when the country doctor still made house calls and he’d gladly take a freshly baked pecan pie as payment. Those were the days…

    Most of Rawlings’ work centered around rural central and north Florida, including Cross Creek, and in 1938, she found immense success with The Yearling, the story of a boy, his pet deer and his relationship with his father. Until it was published, most literary critics considered her to be a regional writer, but she disagreed. There’s more to writing than that. “Don’t make a novel about them unless they have a larger meaning than just quaintness.”

    Rawlings grew up in the Brookland section of Washington, DC, and attended the University of Wisconsin, but years of living in Cross Creek transformed her. She felt a profound connection to the area and the land. While the locals were wary at first, they soon warmed up and told stories of their own experiences, which she diligently wrote down in notebook after notebook, along with descriptions of plants and animals, recipes, and examples of southern dialects.

    The following 2 pictures are of Rawling’s house.

    While doing research for The Yearling, Rawlings went into nearby scrub forests and spent several weeks with a Florida Cracker, hunting, fishing, and going on a couple of bear hunts. She convinced him that she was interested in the old customs, which was the truth. Trust me, you will never win over a Cracker by lying, and you cannot be a cracker unless you was born in the state. Crackers either accept you or they don’t and there ain’t no in between.

    According to Elizabeth Silverthorne, who wrote Rawlings’ biography Sojourner at Cross Creek, Rawlings received the acceptance of her neighbors because she learned quickly about their system of morals and values. For instance, neighbors helped pick pecans from her trees in exchange for enough of the crop to last them through the winter. She became interweaved with local folks.

    In every small town, you’ll find neighbors who gaze out front windows through cracks in the curtains to see what others in the community are doing. Cross Creek was no different during Rawlings’ time. Interestingly, she based a lot of her fictional characters on people who lived in the town and surrounding areas, and because of it, resentments arose, despite the fact that she never once used anyone’s full name.

    Zelma Cason was, at one time, a very close friend of the author’s and her first in Cross Creek.  She was, that is, until she felt the sting of Rawlings’ pen in a portrayal of her in the book Cross Creek:

    “Zelma is an ageless spinster resembling an angry and efficient canary. She manages her orange grove and as much of the village a county as needs management or will submit to it. I cannot decide whether she should have been a man or a mother. She combines the more violent characteristics of both and those who ask for or accept her ministrations think nothing at being cursed loudly at the very instant of being tenderly fed, clothed, nursed, or guided through their troubles.”

    Cason took offense, so in 1943 she sued Rawlings for $100,000 for invasion of privacy. The trial became a spectacle as the struggle between the right of privacy and free speech ensued in open court, with Cason arguing that Rawlings did not have the right to publish a description of her without permission, and Rawlings countering with free speech. Interestingly, no Florida court had ever heard an invasion of privacy case prior to this one, and laws on libel were too ambiguous in those days. (Florida started its tradition of openness back in 1909 with the passage of Chapter 119 of the Florida Statutes or the Public Records Law.) 

    Cason’s attorney, Kate Walton, was one of the first females to represent a client during a time when women weren’t allowed to serve on juries in the state. Sigsby Scruggs was a well-known, crafty, cracker attorney hired by Rawlings, along with Jacksonville attorney Philip May. As much as we watched the Casey Anthony trial unfold during the course of three years, the world’s eyes were on the little Florida town of Cross Creek while WWII raged on. Rawlings’ husband at the time and until her death was Norton Baskin. “I haven’t seen people around here so stirred up about anything since that two-headed calf was born over to Island Grove,” he said. [1]

    From The St. Augustine Record, Monday, April 19, 2010:

    The trial, held in Gainesville, drew state reporters and noisy crowds. The original trial and the appeals that followed took several years.

    In the end it was a “bloody stalemate,” writes Townsend. [Billy Townsend’s great-aunt is the late Kate Walton.]

    The jury in Alachua County stood by Rawlings and “laughed Zelma and Aunt Katie and J.V. out of court. It took them 28 minutes to find for Marjorie.”

    But in 1947 the Florida Supreme Court overturned the verdict. It “both established the right of privacy exists in Florida and proved that Marjorie invaded Zelma’s privacy in ‘Cross Creek,’” he writes.

    But the court limited damages to $1 plus attorney fees. Zelma had been “wronged, but not harmed.”

    Cason couldn’t prove she’d suffered mental anguish or that Rawlings acted with malice. Rawlings failed to convince the judges that they were harming an author’s ability to write.

    “They both thought they had lost,” Townsend said.

    Before they died, Cason and Rawlings became friends of sorts once again.

    Cason claimed that the lawyers made her do it. Townsend thinks Cason came to Kate Walton to start the suit rather than lawyers approaching her. But, now, all the people who knew for sure are gone.

    As we looked over part of Rawlings’ property, Nika1 informed me that she was supposed to be buried in a different cemetery when she died, but in a twist of irony, there was a mix up and she ended up in the same cemetery as her one-time friend, Zelma, who had bought plots there earlier. When Cason died in 1963, she was buried 50 feet away from Rawlings. Quite literally, they followed each other to their graves. 

    It was now after 5:00 pm in Cross Creek, and as the lesson in history wound down and the sun edged closer to the horizon, Nika1 and I realized it was time to eat, and reservations had already been made at The Yearling Restaurant, a stone’s throw from Rawlings’ house. From the outside, the restaurant isn’t anything fancy to look at. As a matter of fact, there’s nothing at all pretentious about it. Looking at it from the front, it doesn’t look very big, either, but once you get inside, it’s almost cavernous. Our host led us to a good-sized back room where, later, two musicians sang and played their instruments. Our waitress for the evening was a delightful young lady named Leslie. You haven’t lived until you’ve eaten fried green tomatoes, and there are none finer than what we were served. For entrees, Nika1 ordered fried fish and I got fried gator tail. Yes, you heard that right. I had eaten it before, but none was as tender as this go around.

    When you’re inside the restaurant, it’s really a cozy, homey kind of place. It’s precisely what you’d expect in Cross Creek — comfort food, and I must say, the sour orange pie for dessert was fantastic!

    While we sat waiting for our food, we talked about the area; not just Cross Creek, but also about Alachua County, including where Nika1 resides. It’s amazing how many people know each other even when they live 20 miles apart. It’s a close-knit community, so when she told me the story about the history of the restaurant and one of the area’s most colorful gentlemen, I found myself captivated by what she was saying. One of her close neighbors was characterized in The Yearling. In the book, he was the crippled boy. In real life, his name is J.T. Glisson, but once you know him, his name is Jake. When the original owners opened the restaurant in 1952, they commissioned Jake to paint a picture of a yearling — one that could have been the one portrayed in the book. He did, and there it hung for 40 years. The original owners closed the restaurant in 1992 and it reopened in 2002 under new ownership. When it closed in 1992, Jake asked if he could get his painting back. The owner honored his request, and today, it proudly hangs in Nika1’s house.

    Jake is in his 80s now, but he’s not just a painter, he’s an author; a writer of books. I think there’s something in the air up there in Alachua County. I sense it’s where a lot of creative juices flow, and they once babbled through Cross Creek. The world is a wonderful place, and the legacy of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings lives on. Why? Because she didn’t just write The Yearling, she lived it…

    “Enchantment lies in different things for each of us. For me, it is in this: to step out of the bright sunlight into the shade of orange trees; to walk under the arched canopy of their jade like leaves; to see the long aisles of lichened trunks stretch ahead in a geometric rhythm; to feel the mystery of a seclusion that yet has shafts of light striking through it. This is the essence of an ancient and secret magic.”

    — Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

    (See: The Yearling, a 1946 movie starring Gergory Peck and Jane Wyman)

    Next: My Trip to Gainesville, Part 4 — Micanopy, the oldest inland town in Florida.

    Sunday
    Mar042012

    My Trip to Gainesville, Part 2

    This is a rather long article. I think the best way to handle it would be to continue publishing it in sections, so today will be Part 2, and it will cover my thoughts on the Old South and Old Florida, and the land where Nika1 lives. The next part, already written, will cover Cross Creek, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, and The Yearling Restaurant, where we ate dinner. The final part will be about another piece of Florida history, and the community, named for a Seminole Indian chief, that is believed to be the oldest inland town in the state.

    OLD SOUTH/OLD FLORIDA

    When I moved to Florida from New Jersey in 1981, I must admit that I brought some of my Yankee prejudices with me. To be honest, I never looked at southerners with disdain, nor did I see them as intellectually inferior because of their funny sounding dialects — funny to me, anyway — but let’s just say I was a little apprehensive because I was quite aware of their convoluted hatred for people of a different color, not to mention their resentment toward northerners. Of course, I didn’t expect everyone south of the Mason-Dixon Line to feel that way, and they don’t, but it wasn’t all that many years before I moved here that “coloreds” used different drinking fountains and bathrooms in many of those one-time Confederate states; Florida included. Even when I made my migration south, there were lingering reminders of inequality in places such as abandoned gas stations. Cobwebbed signs remained attached to bathroom doors as testaments to what they once proclaimed: WHITES ONLY. Like the old saying goes, we’ve come a long way, Baby, and so have I.

    During my 31 years of living in Florida, I have embraced the South, but it has absolutely nothing to do with its racist past. It’s because of its rich history, steeped in genteel southern mannerisms; of virtuous young men politely courting delightfully flirtatious belles of innocence — patiently waiting for their coming of age — as they are introduced into the upper echelons of society. It was a romantic time, and in this respect, the South continues to maintain a unique essence of bygone days, deeply etched into it’s very heart and soul. But it’s fading fast in many areas, like Orlando, where fragrant foliage is ever replaced by the harsh realities of freshly poured asphalt and concrete, and fauna is pushed to the outer edges of what was once theirs with each passing breath. (I strongly encourage you to read: Beth Kassab: The Senator victim of Florida’s long history of neglectOrlando Sentinel, Feb. 29, 2012)

    Fortunately, pockets of the Old South continue to thrive, and throughout, you’ll find many notable plantations with antebellum homes, some still privately maintained, and others turned into historical landmarks or bed & breakfast inns. There are many towns and cities that thrive on their heritage, like Savannah, Charleston and Natchez. You’ll also find vast tracts of land that are, to this day, owned by the same families the properties were deeded to many years ago. In Florida, a lot of that land still thrives with citrus groves as far as the eye can see, and beef cattle grazing on the open range. Yes, much of it has been sold off, sometimes because of hard freezes, and other times over greed; but Florida is a good-sized state and there’s still plenty of private, pristine land around whose owners are proud of their history. They are proud to carry and pass the torches to future generations, just like it’s always been.

    When I made my trek to the Gainesville area last month, I knew I was in for a special treat — one that epitomizes what I consider to be Old Florida. Of utmost importance, though, was that I would be spending time with Nika1, a lovely friend and host. Secondly, I would be visiting the town she lives in; truly a place I have a great appreciation for. I had been there once before. Also, she promised to take me to Cross Creek, and if you’re not familiar with it, it’s the little community where Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings lived for 25-years and wrote her Pulitzer prize-winning novel The Yearling. Her cracker-style home looks just like it did when she lived there in the 1930s. We were also going to have dinner at the adjacent restaurant, aptly named The Yearling Restaurant.

    THE HOMESTEAD

    I arrived at her homestead at 11:02 am, two minutes late. I hate that. We had a Gator basketball game to attend first, and that was most pressing, so off to O’Connell Center we went. I did a write-up on that leg of my trip in Part 1. When the game ended, we had plenty of time to spend before heading over to Cross Creek, so she took me to her old haunts, including the family farm. It goes without saying that she grew up in the house she still lives in, and it was built by her family in 1892. Trust me when I say there’s a lot of history in that home, and the interior is a testament to that.

    With a moo moo here and a moo moo there, Nika1 raises beef cattle. EIEIO. If you look at the banner atop this website, those are her cows, and there are lots more where they came from, plus plenty of acreage, which you cannot fully comprehend by the images below.

    I spent many years of my youth living on farms, and while some of you may find this somewhat odd, I truly enjoyed the smell of fresh grass and cow manure that wafted through the air that day. It brought back fond memories that dated back to my preteen and early teen years. It also reminded me not to step in it.

    As we were leaving, an SUV pulled alongside us and Nika1 exchanged a few friendly words with the occupants about Indian digs on her property, most likely Timucua. Two mounds, to be precise. One is a burial mound and the other is ceremonial, meaning it’s a trove of pottery and other treasures offered to their gods. Both are ancient. Anthropologists from the University of Florida are carefully collecting the relics. Nika1 has discovered many arrowheads on her property over the years; some in the field across the street from her front yard. The area is rich in native American history, and that is of special interest to me. In the near future, I will publish another article on an Indian mound much closer to home, in Sanford, FL. I still have to “dig” for more information. But first, I’ve got two more parts of this story to go.

    Next up: Cross Creek and how it impacted the area. Here is an excerpt from Part 3:

    Cross Creek is one of those places you could pretty much conjure up in your head. You’d expect there to be a creek and bridge, of course, and not much else, and you’d be pretty much right. It’s a very small community, somewhat secluded, and above all else, a place that epitomizes Old Florida. Of her town, Rawlings wrote about the harmony of the wind and rain, the sun and seasons, the seeds and, above all else, time. Once you enter Cross Creek, you become a part of the mystery, the passion, and the oneness; and for a brief moment of eternity, time stands still. If there were ever a place on earth that beckons a creative mind, this is it.

    Saturday
    Feb252012

    My Trip to Gainesville, Part 1

    This is a story about my trip to Gainesville on February 4. It’s going to have to be split into 2-parts because it is not just about the Gator basketball game I attended, it also encompasses the tragic crash 0n I-75 at the end of January. That’s in this part. The next one will be about Old Florida - Cross Creek and Micanopy. While this will touch briefly on Cross Creek, it won’t say anything about Micanopy, which is the oldest inland settlement in the state. This post will be heavy with photos. Most can be enlarged.

    HISTORY AND THE OLD SOUTH

    Ever since I was a young boy, I’ve had a keen interest in history. Growing up in New Jersey, it was impossible to miss because the area is rich with stories of days gone by. Much of the Revolutionary War was fought in my own back yard, for instance, and before that was the French & Indian War of the 1750s.

    While libraries are teeming with books on history, my affection for it lays somewhere else, deep within my mind. I seek the presence of history. I like to sense it all around me. Although not an obsession, I often wonder, as I walk about, who took the same steps one hundred years before me; a thousand and more years earlier, and I yearn to learn, because I can only guess as far back as our history books tell us. I know there’s more than that.

    Growing up, it was easy to explore our heritage. Where I lived was just northwest of Princeton, and that made it somewhat simple to visit historical sites and museums from Philadelphia to New York City and everywhere in between. Every so often, I’d hear news about the skeletal remains of a Redcoat and his musket being discovered in the rafters of an old house while it was being renovated. I lived in several homes that dated back to a generation or two before the Revolutionary War. The church where my late grandfather preached was established in 1733.

    Some of you may find me morbid for this, but I’ve always liked to walk through old cemeteries. I’d look at the names and dates on the tombstones and wonder who they were in life. What did they do? Were they friendly? Who did they leave behind? In my own hometown of Flemington, there is a small tract of land up the street from where I lived known as the Case Family Burial Ground. Several members of the Case family are resting there, along with a Delaware Indian chief named Tuccamirgan, who died in 1750. The grave was dug deep enough for him to be placed in a sitting position, facing east.

    While I am quite intrigued by my humble beginnings, I am just as fascinated with the American Civil War. Of course, being a Yankee and all, I never could get a firm grasp on the Confederacy until I moved to Florida. We were never taught to hate southerners, but we were aware that many southerners were raised to hate northerners — so we thought. It wasn’t all that many years ago when the ‘colored folk’ used separate water fountains and bathrooms in the south. When I moved to the Orlando area in ‘81, I didn’t know what to expect. To me, the Civil War ended over a century ago, so there was nothing more to it than history. Every so often, I’ll hear about how the war has never ended and that the south will one day rise again, but for what reason? To what end? Instead, I like to focus on the rich culture of the south, and that’s something I was never taught in school. It’s not anything that could be taught in school. You must live it in order to feel it.

    I’ve been in central Florida for 31 years now, longer than I lived up north and I’ve got to say, I like it here. No, that doesn’t mean I’d ever give up on my home town or state, and Orlando’s not known as a bastion of Old Florida, but there’s definitely something romantic about pockets of the south. I guess you could say the bug caught me during a screening of Gone With The Wind during my freshman year of high school in, of all places, New Jersey.

    There was a land of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields called the “Old South.” Here in this pretty world, Gallantry took its last bow. Here was the last ever to be seen of Knights and their Ladies Fair, of Master and of Slave. Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered, a Civilization gone with the wind…

    - From the opening of the film Gone with the Wind (1939)

    While I don’t sense anything genuinely historical about Orlando, I have found the ‘Deep South’ — through north Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi — to be both mythical and mystical. There’s no way to explain it in a sentence or two. It’s something that has to grow on you. The bug next caught me when I flew to New Orleans on a private jet back in the early 90s. I felt something tragic about the city but I could never pin it on anything. As festive as the place was, an innate sense of sadness always seemed to be right around the corner, on the other side of the wrought iron gate.

    I’ve since been back to New Orleans, but I’ve also traveled to and visited other towns from here to Houston. One of my favorite stops was Natchez, Mississippi, rife with tales of the Civil War. This story, however, is not about the war between the states, this is about one state, and it’s called Old Florida, home of majestic magnolias, stately live oaks and cypress trees jutting up from the water. However, there are two issues to cover first. 

    Many of you are familiar with Nika1. She is a frequent contributor on my blog and a good friend. About a month ago, she asked me if I’d be interested in going to a live Gator (University of Florida) basketball game with her. Yes! Of course I would! I’ve been to several football games, but never basketball, something I’ve always wanted to do. I first went to see Nika1 in late September of 2010, when she invited me up for a football game. While there, she took me around the neighborhood. That included the rural area where she lives, and where her family has lived for many generations. Once again, I sensed the old south, but in this case, it was Old Florida, and its roots were deep in history.

    Three weeks ago, on February 4, I drove up to the house she shares with Ali Rose, her beautiful Australian Shepherd. She had plans for me, too. After the basketball game, we were going to go to Cross Creek, made famous by The Yearling, the 1938 novel written by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. She won the Pulitzer Prize for it in 1939. Fascinating, I thought. Very much so.

    ANATOMY OF A TRAGEDY

    Almost a week before my drive, a terrible accident happened on I-75, in the middle of Paynes Prairie. 11 people died. To help you understand Paynes Prairie, it is generally a swampy area, but the weather has been exceedingly dry in Florida, and in this state, droughts breed brush fires, and lots of them. Many burn out of control.

    Burned Brush in Background

    On the way up to the game on US-441, Nika1 told me what happened. 441 is east of 75 and they run parallel to each other. The fire started east of 441. The first series of accidents began just before midnight, on January 28. Smoke and fog wafted west across the highways and the first 911 call came in at 11:53:14 from I-75 to report the heavy smoke and fog. Moments later, another 911 caller reported hearing accidents. Then, another one came in saying they saw the accidents. Moments later, all traffic was stopped.

    Those accidents were not fatal, but it prompted the Florida Highway Patrol to shut down the interstate by 12:45 am. At 3:21 am, the decision was made to reopen it, and the rest is history. By 4:00 am, you couldn’t see past your nose. Heading southbound, a semi had stopped in the right lane and a Dodge pickup truck plowed into it, followed by a Ford Expedition. The two Ford occupants were able to escape through the back just before it burst into flames.  The occupants in the pickup truck were on their way to a funeral, but sadly, all three family members perished.

    By now, frantic calls were coming into the Alachua County Communications Center. Of course, when troopers, sheriff’s deputies and emergency vehicles arrived, they couldn’t see, either.

    In the northbound lanes, two church vans were heading to Georgia. One van crashed into the rear corner of a semi stopped in the middle lane and it sliced through the van, killing five family members. One 15-year-old girl survived. The occupants of the other van survived. In front of the semi was a Toyota Matrix sandwiched between that one and one in front of it. The young couple in the Matrix died.

    Meanwhile, another semi had stopped in the middle southbound lane. It was hit by a Dodge pickup and the driver was able to escape with minor injuries. Then, a Pontiac Grand Prix smashed into the back of that pickup and the driver died.

    Had the drivers of those semis pulled off of the road instead of stopping in the lanes, would lives have been saved? You bet, but it will be a long time before the investigation into this tragedy is sorted out. That includes why FHP decided to reopen the interstate after it was closed.

    What surprised me was that the fire burned east of 441. Nika1 told me another person died on that highway, but it didn’t make headlines like the big one.

    The above photo represents what Paynes Prairie would look like during normal weather conditions.

    GO GATORS!

    As much of a horror as the accident was, there was a basketball game to attend, and the Gators intended to win it. This was, after all, why I took the trip to begin with, not including my visit with Nika1. The team was playing Vanderbilt. We had gotten there in plenty of time to nestle into our seats, where brand new t-shirts were nicely folded for spectators. Yes, FREE! Blue in color, the back had the Texaco logo and some type, and the front said “ROWDY yet refined REPTILE” with the Gator green and orange logo. It was a great game to watch and it was made better by the Gator’s victory. The final score was 73-65. The pictures can do the talking…

    The first photo is the University of Florida Century Tower in Gainesville. Begun in 1953, it is 157 feet (48 m) tall.

    Part 2 will come next week and it will take you through Old Florida and a Michael J. Fox movie. Mostly, it will be a selection of photographs I took.

    Saturday
    Oct022010

    Well worth losing sleep over

    FRIDAY

    Last Friday evening, it rained. Of course, living in Florida, it can storm at a moment’s notice, bringing with it the wrath of rumbling thunder and lightning. Anyone who reads my blog understands that I take an Internet time out from 7:00 pm to 7:30 pm Monday through Friday to watch Jeopardy. Last Friday was no different until, suddenly, in the middle of the Double Jeopardy round and without warning, an intensely brilliant white light burst through the living room window, accompanied by an immediate explosion of sound, louder than anything I’d heard before. CRACK! In that split second, it was gone, and so was our electricity. Within minutes, power returned, but no cable. After the box rebooted, the living room TV cranked back up, but my show was over. Darn, I missed Final Jeopardy.

    As sudden as the surge was, I quickly jumped to my feet to peer out the front window because I smelled electricity in the air. Sure enough, a wire was down in the front yard and it was hissing and spitting and reeling like a lithe snake in the dead of night, emitting an eerie orange glow that pierced the night air and glistened on the drops of rain that continued to fall. I walked to the phone to call 911, but there was no dial tone. We had switched to all cable only months earlier, so the phone and Internet were out-of-order. How funny, I thought, because the living room TV was working fine. I took out my cell phone and called to report the incident. Then, I called the cable company and the tech said the modem box that controls the phone and Internet was sending him no signal. Modem fried. The soonest anyone could come would be next Tuesday. To someone with a blog, that’s like… forever! Oh well, back to the matter at hand. I knew I would have the Internet the next day - for a few hours, at least.

    Within minutes, the fire company arrived. There was no way I was going to set foot out there and risk a deathly jolt from the wet ground that lay ahead. As the fire/emergency crew assessed the situation, the power went off and off it stayed. The hissing line was dead in the water. Situation under control.

    One of the things we know from living in the lightning capital of the world is to be ready, so a battery operated camping light alloted enough brightness for us to move around inside the house. Without power, the air conditioning wasn’t working, either, and it didn’t take long to warm up. After about 45 minutes, I decided to take a walk outside and scope the place out. I walked over to the power company truck and asked the driver when he expected it to come back on. Of course, he could only guess. He was awaiting another truck bringing someone to do the work. His job was to take a look and report. That’s after 27 years with the utility, he said. No more fixing lines. The younger ones do that now. One neighborhood child came by and asked the same question, but by that time we had already moved on to other topics. There was nothing any of us could do but wait. The driver and I talked for about an hour, until it was time for me to take my nightly insulin shot. He told me about some of his experiences with the company and how cutbacks have really streamlined things, but hadn’t made things better. It was more work, in other words, but with that came more hours and more pay. Not so bad, then. Not bad at all for a man in his fifties. I told him I write about the Anthony case. Interestingly, he was quite fascinated by it and he began asking questions like if she did it. He said his best friend’s son went to high school with her.

    Someone drove by and stopped to ask what happened. He said he was heading up to the bar on the corner, G’s Lounge. The utility guy said, good luck, the power’s out there, too. He said that under normal conditions, it takes three surges to the substation to shut power off. In this particular case, after the third time, power remained on and he had to manually turn it off. I guess it fused something together. This took out a good part of the neighborhood. I asked him how many volts were in that downed wire.

    “7200,” he responded.

    Wow, that’s a lot of juice. We turned back to the Anthony case. I said that had I been many years younger and met her in a bar, I’d find her quite attractive, which is what your friend’s son must have thought. Of course, this would mean PRIOR to any murder. He agreed, but then he told me he asked the son if he had ever hit on her. Did he ever do anything with her? No, the son said. “She was passed around too much in high school. Everyone had her.”

    That was an interesting observation and one that I wouldn’t ordinarily expect, but there are many surprises when it comes to this case. Of course, in a court of law, that would be hearsay and therefore, inadmissible, so take it the way you want, but it was a statement just the same.  Had it not been for the strike that burned a hole in the ground, I wouldn’t have known.

    After a good conversation about other things, it was time to go inside. I wished him well and said good night. I went into the house and tried to sleep, but only lightly dozed until, just after midnight, the power returned and the cool, dry blast of the air conditioner fanned across my hot skin. Relief! Good, because I had a football game to go to and I wanted to be as refreshed as possible. Despite the lack of sleep, I woke up feeling fine. There was a big day ahead!

    SATURDAY

    Weeks earlier, I had published a 2-part series that began with Gainesville serial killer Danny Rolling, When karma strikes twice, and finished with John Huggins, Slowly, the wiles of justice churn. In the Huggins case, Jeff Ashton was one of the prosecutors and Chief Judge Belvin Perry presided. Of course, people like to comment and that’s where a lot of thought goes on. It brings my blog to life! During those ensuing comments, a dear reader and contributor, Nika1, offered to take me to a football game, the one against Kentucky, to be precise, and I took her up on that offer. She lives in Gainesville and told me about the wall in memory of those slain by Rolling in 1990.

    In back-and-forth e-mails to-and-from my now defunct account, we set the trip up and finished it with a phone call. I didn’t want to drive my car that distance. She suggested taking the Red Coach. The Red Coach? I had never heard of it, but I took a good look. How could I not? It’s first-class all the way, with wide leather seats that fold down almost into a bed. There’s a movie, and wi-fi, to boot. The best part? It’s only $15 each way. Heck, it would probably cost me $20 in gas anyway. All I had to do was drive down to the airport and park. For free.

    While waiting to board, riders were dropped off from Miami. I spoke to one gentleman from Ocala who knows the Brantley family, football players all. John Brantley IV is the Gator quarterback. It was nice to learn a little more background before the game.

    Off we went! I brought my computer along to catch up on e-mails and comments, but alas, the wi-fi was not working. I tried to sleep a little, but Nancy Drew was blaring from the speaker above me. Our movie du jour.

    When the bus arrived in Gainesville, Nika1 was waiting. I knew, as soon as I saw her, that she was my blogging friend and not there for anyone else. I got out and we lightly embraced. Aaaah, such a warm and friendly greeting! We walked over to her vehicle and stowed my belongings. I must tell you that sitting on the front passenger seat were a Gator t-shirt and hat, both brand new. Without hesitation, I took my shirt off in the parking lot to the delight of no one, but I was in Gator country, by golly, and I’m a Gator.

    Off we went!

    People were everywhere, all dressed in orange and blue, the university’s colors. Young, old, and everything in between, wore nothing else. We parked and took a walk to one of the book stores. The aromas of tailgating barbecues wafted in the air. The book store was a sort of mall with two food courts. We were hungry and it was time to eat. The bus left at 12:30 and arrived just before 3:00. The game wasn’t set to begin until 7:00, so there was plenty of time to kill. I’ll tell you, by the time the day was over, we must have walked 10 miles, but it did me a lot of good. As we milled around the campus, which is vast, she pointed out things of importance.

    Tim Tebow is one classy act. That’s all I need to say about him. He’s above the rest, but he’d never admit it. Inside this building sits the NCAA Championship trophy. I saw it through a window. Game day, it’s locked up tight. Too many people.

    There were plenty of sites to see and Nika1 was thrilled to show me everything. I had been to a number of games in the past, but not for years, and it was only to go up, see the game, and return home. This was a much more personal look, and I was eager to see as much as I could.

    Soon, it would be time for the Gator Walk, where the football players, coaches and trainers walk down the street and into the massive stadium. It’s almost like a parade.

    Cheerleaders chanted, to the excitement of the awaiting crowd…

    One more…

    Oh, heck… just one more…

    It was at this time I turned to Nika1 and told her I will now admit I’m getting old. You see, each one of those girls looked, to me, to be no more than high school age. I couldn’t look at them as anything more than children. Time to move on…

    The Gator Walk was about to begin!

    We stood alongside a Gainesville police officer. He was one of the friendliest guys you’d ever want to meet. He said the motorcycle cop seen here, front and left, was hit by a car last year at a game and broke his left arm. I remember reading about it in the Sentinel or online. Nika1 had told me about how security was so beefed up for the game two weeks earlier against USF. The crazy preacher was going to burn Qurans and the stadium was an easy terrorist target. Fortunately, the threat abated and nothing happened, but 400 extra FBI and other federal/state officers were on hand. Good thing, too, because she said it was so brutally hot, people were dropping like flies. The extra security came to the rescue. She asked our friendly officer how he survived the heat. He said he prepares himself the night before by drinking lots of pickle juice. Pickle juice?!Yes, he learned it years ago as a boy growing up on a Gainesville area farm. Fascinating!

    Along came the entourage…

    Here they come! Nika1 told me head coach Urban Meyer makes his players wear a clean shirt and tie to the game. It instills discipline and shows respect.

    If you look to your right in the above picture, you’ll spot Urban, also sporting a tie.

    We still had over an hour to go before the doors opened, but we made the best of our time. There was plenty to do, believe me. A lot of vendors are set up all around the stadium. One is the insurance company, Nationwide, handing out small towels to dip in a trough filled with ice and water. You dab your hot face and neck to help stay cool. Fortunately, this was a night game and it wasn’t as hot as a day game.

    Finally, we were let in. When I arrived at the bus station and we drove away, I noticed her drawl, but wasn’t completely sure where she was from. Why, right here in Gainesville, born and raised. Aha! At the game, she said she has been a season ticket holder for 36 years. That’s a dedicated Gator! She knew the people who sat around us, obviously, and before the game began, her niece and nephew arrived with their young daughter. They were just as welcoming.

    Here’s the view from where we sat. Trust me, there’s no such thing as a bad seat and these were just perfect.

    The game was going to begin soon and I came to watch. There’s a lot of history in The Swamp.

    I took no pictures of the game. I wanted to see everything with my eyes, not through a camera lens.

    It was a thrilling game. The Gators scored first and went on to win 48-14. The announced crowd was over 90,000 people. I had a wonderful and memorable trip, but there was one sad note. When the third quarter ends, it’s tradition to stand and sing together, We are the Boys from Old Florida. It’s sort of like the seventh-inning stretch, only college football. Then, the final quarter began. Within a minute after the song ended and play began, someone collapsed about 4 or 5 rows above and to the left of us. All I could see was someone frantically performing CPR on a person laid out on the bench. I never did see the gentleman. Police officers situated in close proximity jumped into action. Within minutes, a uniformed paramedic arrived and he was taken out. Everyone kept turning to look at the game and what was going on with him. When one officer passed by me, I asked how things had gone. Not so well, he answered. I asked him how old the guy was. He said very old. The officer was probably in his late 30s. When it was quite obvious the Gators had a lock on the game, Nika1 said we should probably leave before the crowd. I agreed, but on the way out, I stopped and asked another officer. I was concerned about the poor man. This officer was about my age. How old was the guy, I asked him. Oh, in his late 50s, early 60s. I guess age is relative depending on who you ask. He said it didn’t look good. The man was not breathing and his heart had stopped.

    I want to take a moment to remember Jerry Lee McGriff, of Starke. A true-blue Gator fan, he died watching his beloved team. My sympathies go out to his family and friends. You can read more here.

    SOUTHERN HOSPITALITY

    When Nika1 and I were enjoying our pre-game lunch together - a lunch, I might add, she refused to let me buy - I mentioned that she must be a very trusting soul. Here I was, a virtual stranger, and she was ready and ever so willing to open her arms in friendship. She even offered me a place to sleep for a few hours until the bus returned at 3:30 am to take me home. She admitted that she is a very trusting person and always has been, but she also said she pretty much knew what sort of character I was from my writing. That’s a nice thing to know, that people trust me. I am harmless, after all, but it goes deeper than that. While Gainesville is a University city with a college, small-town feel, Nika1 exuded friendship and I was welcomed from the moment I stepped off that bus until I left to return to Orlando.

    She lives in a very rural town south of Gainesville, and not far from Cross Creek, home of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. No? The name doesn’t ring a bell? Yes, it does. She was an author who won a Pulitzer for writing a book, The Yearling. Perhaps, you’ve heard of it.

    There’s something inherently romantic about the deep south. That’s why my best friend Stewart and I like to take road trips. Over the many years of living in Florida, I’ve grown to love and admire the pockets of land still left that are truly remnants of Old Florida. Where Nika1 lives is just such a place. It’s something you can’t really explain. Although her house was built in the late 1800s, it’s more of a feeling and you know it when you’re there. It is a step back into a time when post cards and billboards didn’t exist. No roadside attractions. Citrus groves and cattle ranches abounded and you kicked your feet up on the front porch of your homestead at the end of a long day. Along with that is the southern hospitality we’ve all heard about. Nika1 is the embodiment of that, pure and simple. Not only did I have a bed to put my weary feet and head on, she had two books for me to take home, BEYOND THE BODY FARM and DEATH’S ACRE, both written by Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson. Tucked into one of those books were two tickets to the Gator’s homecoming game against Mississippi State, a game she can’t attend.

    When I awoke after a couple of hours sleep, freshly brewed coffee awaited me, along with two breakfast sausage crescents, a banana, an orange juice and a bottle of water for the ride back.

    While sitting at the bus stop in the dead of morning, we talked once more about the Rolling murders. She has a real sense of history. She said that the poor girl whose head was separated and posed on a bookshelf was an intern with the Gainesville police department. It was so sickening, seven officers left their jobs after they saw her. You may find it to be an odd thing to discuss, but at just after 3:00 am sitting in a parking lot, you keep your doors locked. So does the whole town because of people like him.

    Yup, life is a lot simpler in the land where Nika1 lives. It’s too bad, but even there, she’s got to lock her doors at night.

    I rolled into town about a quarter to six. I had practically missed a whole night of sleep, but it was well, well worth it. What better way to lose sleep than over a Gator game spent with a lovely person, surrounded by a cast of thousands? Nika1? I may have just met you, but I feel like we’ve known each other for years.

    Tonight, the Gators face #1 ranked Alabama. Good thing it’s a home game, but still, this one scares me. Thank you, Nika1, for everything. Something tells me I know exactly where you are right now, and your TV is already warmed up and ready to go.