Or There's Such a Thing as Too Far Away
Or A Visit to Spider, Snake & Rodentville, Not Far south of the Okeefenokee*
When I was growing up, Stephen Foster was a beloved composer of American music. We sang his songs all the time. I knew most of them by heart. But he wrote about a South that no longer exists - and rightly so - and we turned our backs on his music, along with the culture that spawned them. The only time we hear a Stephen Foster song now is just before the running of the Kentucky Derby when the singing of “My Old Kentucky Home” still brings tears to the eye.
*If you don't recognize the word, the Okeefenokee is a very large swamp in southern Georgia.
A couple of weeks ago I was strongly reminded of Foster’s “Suwanee River,” which begins: “Way down upon the Suwanee River, far, far away . . .” Because that is where I surely was - after a nightmare trip to get there.
Here’s how it happened.
Our extended family has acquired a hideaway “down upon the Suwanee River.” And, yes, it is definitely “far, far away” from Orlando. Very far away - 3½ hours if nothing goes wrong. (You’ll notice the italics on “if”! And, no, I had no hand in picking it out.) Since my daughter and son-in-law run a real estate investment business and do frequent rehabs, they were not put off by a manufactured home that required them to “start from scratch.” At the time I visited, half the new flooring was in, a couple of bedroom rugs, living room furniture, two dining tables + chairs, and an odd assortment of beds. We were bringing with us a truckload of appliances and “fixings,” including range, refrigerator, dishwasher, and TV.
In addition to the renovations already under way, they had been forced to hire a contractor to thin out the trees and brush around the house as the very large spiders in that area spin webs from tree to tree, making it necessary to “broom” one’s way to the river. Not to mention the rattlesnakes. (I think the grandchildren have been traumatized for life.) The camouflage-colored praying mantises, however, are kind of cute. But the house was now supposed to be ready for "camping out" company and I was invited to see it for the first time.
Friday night. We set out late, several hours past the time we were supposed to leave, but we still should have arrived before midnight. (Fortunately the grandgirls, ages 6-9, are nightowls). My daughter Susie, son-in-law Mike, the girls & I were all in an SUV, playing “chase” car to the truck, which was being driven by Mike’s cousin and a friend. We were connected by walkie-talkies, and the men were thoroughly enjoying doing Smokey and the Bandit jokes as we hit the Florida Turnpike.
My daughter, who was driving, did not like poking along behind the truck. She finally got fed up and passed them. We were about a half mile ahead when the walkie-talkie squawked: “The truck’s on fire. Come back, come back!”
And there we were backing up on the Florida Turnpike! (On the grass, of course.) But backing up, nonetheless, toward a truck that was stopped dead on the grass verge with no lights while three lanes of traffic whizzed by at 70+ mph. When we finally got there, smoke was pouring from the front of the truck. “Turn around,” came the order, “so we can see.” So Susie somehow manages to turn the SUV around without straying into the traffic lanes and we focus the headlights on the truck. (We can now see the billows of smoke even more clearly.) Mike, meanwhile, has jumped out and the men have all disappeared somewhere inside the truck.
New orders: we have to drive to the back of the truck and turn on our blinkers so drivers can see the broken-down truck. This is easier said than done as the truck is so far off the road, all the grass left is at a 40° angle down to the brush below. Very carefully we ease the SUV around the truck on the soft, rain-soaked grass and are making progress when we run into a giant spider in a web that must have been three or four feet across. The little girls’ screeches add to our already jangled nerves.
We finally make it, but the SUV’s rear end is now facing the truck, so once again Susie has to turn around, pointing our headlights at the truck and starting our red emergency blinkers. Mike’s cousin finds a large industrial flashlight in the rear of the truck and stands there swinging it and waving traffic around us. Fortunately, luck was with us, but it was a very bad half hour or so. The problem turned out to be a fire in the electrical system, not in the engine. A fire extinguisher put it out, and Mike managed to fix the problem. The joy when we saw the truck’s lights come back on!
After that, of course, we had to find a place to pull off, eat, and unwind a bit. But there was a lot more Florida Turnpike left, plus I-75, plus back roads that led to dirt roads that led to more dirt roads. We arrived at 2:30 a.m. and after all that, the truck had to be backed down a long, curving, tree-lined driveway so all the appliances could be unloaded in the morning. At 3:15 a.m., when I was just beginning to get settled in my room (more on that in the next installment), I hear one of the little girls running by, calling, “Mommy, Mommy, there’s a stranger at the door!”
Would you believe a Deputy Sheriff? At 3:15 a.m. in the middle of nowhere?
More on “Way down upon the Suwanee River” in my next blog.
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Addendum to "What Grace Reads":
I failed to list one of my favorites in the "Unclassifiable" category - Lindsay Buroker's marvelous series, The Emperor's Edge. It's action/adventure in a star system far, far away, which is hanging somewhere between the steam age, the agrarian age, and the dawn of modern weapons. (Sci Fi Steampunk with a dash of Magic?) Buroker took an Imperial assassin from an early book and parlayed him into the coolest, coldest, most impossible hero, who is mellowed only a degree or so each book by the humanitarian impulses of his new boss, the female leader of "The Emperor's Edge." The series is strictly for those who like a good story. If you want hot sex, look elsewhere.
Thanks for stopping by.
Coming soon: How to Develop Your Characters