I've been over visiting on Aunty Belle's Front Porch learning about the heritage and culture of authentic Florida "Crackers."
That enlightenment over on the Porch got me to thinking about my growing up sweetheart.
He was a fourth , maybe fifth, generation Floridian. His Daddy, and two generations of grand daddies back were all barristers. They were well suited to "reading for the law" in that family. His daddy was fond of saying their Scotts heritage made them naturally lean toward "arguing a thing to a standstill." When I first started wearing my beau's big old chunky ring on a chain around my neck, his Daddy was well positioned with a downtown firm and was an adjunct professor of Law at the University.
Sadly, his Daddy had an overwelming problem with alcohol and depression which eventually cost him his career, and certainly much of his self respect. His father's decline landed them in the family homestead with his paternal grandmother none to happy about having a family of 8 move into her peaceful place. Eventually his professionally disgraced father did find a job doing title searches and his Mama got employed as the switchboard operator at the hospital. Slim, slim earnings for that large a family. Too slim to move out of Granny's house. His grandmother went to her grave believing, and stating often, the decline of her briliant son's life was due to his ,
"unfortunate choice of wife". I doubt that. But those two women forced to live together, did not result in a pleasant environment for growing up.
My Sweetheart was the eldest son in that family. He actually was the 4th generation to hold the family name, as in " Name N. Name, IV". He was big brother to 4 siblings and barely 10 months younger than his older sister. He was pressed, by his dad and his paternal grandparents, from a very young age, to understand what obligations to family, siblings, heritage that birth order required of him. Once they moved to his grandmothers, that ideology was reinforced daily.
In keeping with these teachings, my sweetheart started assuming some of the financial responsibilities for his family around age 14. He did the usual teenage jobs. He washed and prepped cars at the local Ford dealership , hosed out the kennels at the vets , he even did office to office courier work by bicycle. He was unfailingly careful about his manners, his presentation of self. His gaze was eye to eye, his handshake firm. He declined to accept his father's difficulties as his own. I never saw him hang his head in public over any embarassment or despair he might be feeling about his family. In private, he despaired often.
Eventually his dad left the title office and...just stayed home.
The family economics worsened.
I didn't hang out at his house, he came to mine.
On occasion though I would stop in at his house. His dad was always dressed in business clothes: starched perfectly ironed shirts, creased slacks, polished shoes . He was always reading something and was always...courtly?... in his demeanor toward me. Their house had a "Winter Porch" on the front; it was tiny, maybe seven feet deep and a dozen feet long and it was his Dad's domain. The room was stacked with every kind of book, magazine, periodical. He read stacks of newspapers every day. He positioned his favorite reading chair so he could look out at a little lake whenever he looked up from his reading. I never once drove there without his Dad being at the door to hold it open and tell me how fine a thing it was to see me again. He often queried what author I was currently favoring and I don't remember ever mentioning an author with whom he was unfamiliar. He loved literature, loved " the turn of a fine phrase", loved to engage in very comprehensive conversations about specific sections of specific books. I never, not in 5 years, ever saw his Dad look or smell or speak or act like a man who is down, out, or gripped by alcoholism.
Observing his Dad taught me my first lessons about potential gone awry.
By the time my Sweetheart was old enough to drive, he was out hunting . He absolutely knew the best locations to fish, to hunt, to pick wild berries. He fed his family on his skills. What they did not eat or put up he traded for vegetables, fruits, eggs. He, like the Crackers of Aunty's description, new every tree, bush, bird and creature in miles and miles of open Florida lands. He never poached or tresspassed. He had enormous love, and gratitude, for land, woods, streams, any part of the natural Florida landscape. He , and the lands, fed his family and kept them from the welfare category. More importantly they fed his spirits.
There was no money for "dating", but he generously shared with me his dearest loves. He knew which wild tree had the sweetest oranges, grapefruits, tangerines. He knew how to crack open a cocoanut and quench a big thrist. He knew where the wild blackberry brambles ripened first. On many a sunny afternoon he would take me to a place to show me some beautiful section of woods with a quiet little stream with his dinner in there , "waiting to come home to the skillet".
He taught me how to "see" where to dig for bait, he taught me to shoot a rifle and he tried hard to teach me how to use a sling shot. I think his assessment was against putting a bow and arrow in my posession. Mostly, as I recall, I was very good at taking the hide off my left forearm. He could hunt with a bow and arrow, a home made sling shot, a rifle and once, I swear, I saw him catch a wild turkey using nothing more than speed and cunning. I declined to ever go with him on the occasions he set out to go frog gigging.
Still, I learned much and respected more.
I didn't know, until Aunty's blog, that this my first real love, was a fine Cracker cultured man.
I am honored to have shared in this man's past. I elected to forgo a future with him.
I went out of state to college. The night before departing he asked if I would consider being his best girl forever. I turned him down. I loved him dearly for so many reasons.
I absolutely respected his sense of honor and integrity toward his family obligations but I had seen enough to know that I did not want to spend my life in that boat with him. I felt bad for a long time about that decision, but consoled myself with the thought the land would nurture him.
My fine young Cracker worked hard, paid and studied his way to a business degree and remained true to his nature. He developed a very successful enterprise as a wilderness guide. He'll take folks to hunt anything, with bowie knife, sling shot, bow, gun, whatever. If you want to learn how to track, or fish or hunt or survive on your own wits..... he's your man. As to his family obligations, he still looks after his siblings, especially the ones who followed in their dad's footsteps. He keeps the taxes paid on the family place and sends money to some of the others, but he learned to do it from a distance.