Tag Archives: Florida

Separate summers

Datura outside our bedroom window yesterday. There’s also aloe vera.

MY FATHER DIED a quarter century ago when he was just three years older than I am right now.

He was a sad man, but he loved summer. He worked evenings, which gave him days free to labor in the yard where we lived in Northern Florida in a ranch house.

He loved the Atlantic beach, sand and saltwater, and he loved tending the yard. Neither interfered with his drinking, however. Heat stirs well with highballs.

I don’t drink — well, not anymore — and maybe that’s why I don’t like gardening, and I don’t live near the beach though we can get there in three hours down the autopista.

And I loathe heat, the lack of which makes my mountaintop home wonderful in summertime. But things really grow here, much better than they did in my father’s yard.

Gotta be the latitude.

Every winter I blaze through the yard like a machete-wielding madman even though I actually use a small saw and branch trimmer. The golden datura is slashed back to basics, leaving the trunk and some nubs. It’s soft wood.

It booms back in June once it feels a touch of rain.

My father had a pink-flowered mimosa of similar size in our Florida yard. It was the only thing of any height. The rest were pansies, petunias, such stuff, all planted in rows.

Here I have a Willy-Nilly Zone where things grow, hemmed in by rock and concrete, in any direction they desire.

And for things of size, there’s monster bougainvillea, the towering nopal, a gigantic fan palm.

I was pressed, as a boy, into yard-mowing duties, and I received a small sum. I forget how much. And I once cut the Hacienda lawn too, years ago, but not anymore.

That’s why the Goddess invented pesos for me to pay Abel the Deadpan Yardman.

About a decade back, after I moved to Mexico, I drove a rented car slowly by the Florida house. The mimosa was gone. Everything was bleak. The grass was spotty due to cars being parked on it, just like a rack of rednecks would do.

There were no flowers at all. Nothing.

In the 1950s, the area was the middle class moving up. Now it’s the working class barely holding on.

Summers separated by half a century of time.

Change of scenery

I SPENT MOST of my life before age 55 in hot zones. Southwest Georgia, northeast Florida, south Louisiana and east Texas.

I know sweat, and I don’t like it one bit.

So when I leaped off the treadmill, I opted for a big — very big — change of scenery not only in moving to Mexico but in settling atop an ever-cool mountain.

We  live 7,200 feet above the faraway sea — the Pacific Ocean — and we enjoy cool weather year-round. It can get a bit stuffy in the afternoons and early evenings of springtime, but it’s a small price to pay for the other 98 percent of the year.

Sometimes we like to visit a beach, and almost invariably we go to Zihuatanejo, which is about three hours from the Hacienda down a smooth autopista* past mango and avocado trees and high mountain lakes.

That’s our favorite beach, La Ropa, in the video.

If the urge to visit a throbbing megalopolis strikes, it’s about four hours, also on a smooth autopista, to Mexico City, or three hours in the other direction to Guadalajara.

If I don’t want to fight the traffic or teeming mobs of Mexico City, but I do want a wider variety of restaurants than we have here on the mountaintop, it’s less than a three-hour drive northeast to San Miguel de Allende.

Also on, of course, a smooth autopista.

In San Miguel, we now overnight at the Hotel Quinta Loreto right downtown, wonderfully located, not elegant but quite comfy, and a big room costs about $38 these days.**

The fabulous Café MuRo is less than a block away.

Sure, you have to elbow aside hordes of Gringos in San Miguel, both those who live there so they don’t have to learn Spanish and tourists who flock there for the same reason.

But that’s a minor distraction.

Then we return to the cool mountain air.

Changes of scenery are available in every direction.

It’s dang sweet.

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* An autopista is a fast-traveling toll highway. The tolls, which can be a bit high, keep the riffraff away.

** Including tax!

Birthday boys

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TODAY IS MY father’s birthday. Flag Day in the United States. That’s how I remember it.

I think about my father a lot even though I did not like him. In spite of that, we were very similar. About the only difference between us was that I like to travel. He loathed it.

Other than that, we were clones. That’s him in the photo, which was taken in an Atlanta farmers’ market in the late 1980s.

I never called him Dad or Father or anything like that. I called him Charles because that was his name. I don’t know why I did that. I never called my mother Mom or anything of that sort either. I called her Dee, a nickname.

My sister did call him Daddy.

Charles was a newspaper editor, as was I. He retired from full-time newspapering when he was just 49, having fallen into some money when his mother-in-law died.

He became a haiku poet, and became quite famous in the small world of haiku poetry. He died in 1991 of a heart attack at 75, just three years older than I will soon be.

He would have been 101 years old today.

He had his good points. He was a lifelong liberal of the classical variety, as am I.* One wonders what he would have thought of Donald Trump. Today is Trump’s birthday too. He’s 70.

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Florida beach, 1960. Charles on left, me in the middle.

(The bottom photo was sent to me about three years ago by the fellow on the right, John Zimmerman, a good boyhood friend who went on to fly tankers over Vietnam and later became an airline captain. He’s retired now.)

* Classic liberals are very different from today’s “progressive liberal”  collectivists of the Democrat Party.

Fading to black

skilletTHE TWELVE-YEAR-OLD boy walked into the kitchen on a warm summer day. It was time for breakfast — eggs and grits and ham steaks or bacon. A coffee percolator on the counter plucked away, but he didn’t drink coffee, not way back then.

The only way to get into the kitchen unless you entered through the long screened porch from the back yard was from the dining room, so he entered from the dining room.

The first thing one encountered was the old refrigerator immediately to the left. Just beyond that was a heavy, antique table covered with oilcloth. That table abutted a casement window that opened to the yard where things also were eaten at times, dinners and watermelon and apple pie.

New ImageHe was sitting at that very table one evening with his grandmother when he heard the harp music coming through the window.

He was a bit older than 12 when that spooky thing happened, and the source of the harp solo was never explained to anyone’s satisfaction.

To the right was a fireplace which was always lit on winter mornings, but this being summer, school vacation, up from Florida, there was no fire. And just beyond the table was a wall-to-wall counter, left to right, and cabinets above.

Lemonade, and tea too, would be made on the left side of that counter. Glancing toward the right, you’d see a sink and beyond that the stove where cornbread, which was wonderful with red-eye gravy, was cooked in a cast-iron skillet.

An eternal fixture on the left side of that counter was a heavy, gray ceramic jar open at the top. That jar was always full of salt that you pinched and sprinkled with your fingers.

Above the sink was another window, one that looked out not at the yard but toward a pasture for Hereford cows and the one, happy bull. That was when the boy was 12. Later, that pasture was turned into a grove of pine trees, when the government started paying farmers to take it easy.

Back to the kitchen. The wooden walls were shiplapped, as were the walls in the entire house, and there was a nice-sized pantry just to the right before you walked out the door to the screened porch. The kitchen floors were linoleum.

After breakfast on a summer morning, there were a number of  options for a 12-year-old boy. Here’s a good one:

He left the dirty dishes for Willie the maid, and walked out the kitchen door, continued about five feet to the screened porch door, and stepped down to concrete steps. There were plenty of cats, sometimes up to 25.

Granny liked cats.

revolverAbout five years later, the boy turned a .32-caliber, chrome-plated, Smith & Wesson revolver on one of those cats, a mangy, sickly one who was suffering. Gunning down a cat is not a pleasant experience, even if it’s best for the cat in the long haul.

But that came later. Today is a sunny summer morning, and the boy walked straight ahead, passing the small building on the left that had been his sister’s playhouse and then a larger building, also on the left, where his father had written short stories after World War Two. Then there was a gate.

Stepping down about foot on the other side of the gate, there were dirt ruts of a road heading left. It was a good route to walk because it was not public. It was private, though people from far and wide would come, knock on the door, ask permission, and then drive down that road to fish in the pond,

On this summer day, the boy aimed for that pond. The dirt road separated the pasture on the left — the same one visible through the window above the sink in the kitchen — from a grove of pecan trees on the right. The farm made money from cotton, corn, peanuts, beef and pecans.

The walk to the pond was not long, maybe a quarter mile, and the pond was somewhat sunken. You had to walk down an incline to the pond’s shore. The word pond is misleading.

It was a large lake though it was called a pond, and it was surrounded by towering cypress trees, many of which grew in the water itself, providing shade. Here is the experience of the pond: silence, at times broken by bird songs.

boatAn old rowboat rested on the water’s edge.

A man with silver hair and wrinkles, though far fewer wrinkles than many his age, awoke, and there was a beautiful Mexican at his side. He popped a Hershey’s Kiss in his mouth, bit down, smiled, and was soon asleep again.

Dust to dust

I’M A FILE man, a decades-long habit. I had a jammed file cabinet in Houston, and I have another one in Mexico.

I was going through the Miscellaneous file recently and came upon my mother’s death certificate and the certificate of cremation from Atlanta Crematory Inc. My sister mailed these to me in 2009, which is when my mother died.

You learn things by reading a death certificate and a certificate of cremation. I notice that my mother died on Jan. 8, and she was also cremated on Jan. 8. No time was lost.

There was no wake.

The certificate of cremation doesn’t have lots of details, but the death certificate is more informative. Mother died in Emory University Hospital at age 90. She had been hospitalized about a week, and had been taken there by my sister.

deathI only have one sibling, and she is a very conflictive person, which is one reason I was not present. I prefer distance between my sister and myself.

The death certificate says my mother’s “usual occupation” was teacher, and that’s quite right. Eighth Grade was her preferred class because she said they were old enough to wipe themselves but too young to have become smartasses.

Her parents — my grandparents, of course — are named. Her father’s full name was Walter Jackson Powell, which I knew. Her mother’s full name was Osie Evelyn Moree, which was interesting. I never knew her middle name.

Osie is a very old-fashioned name, but Evelyn isn’t so much. Nonetheless, you don’t see many babies nowadays named Evelyn. I like Evelyn. It’s all about Eve.

(Going back further, her father was Dard Moree, a very wealthy farmer who would have been born about the time the Yankee General Sherman was laying waste to Georgia. Dard’s success played a role in my being able to retire at 55, bless him.)

She was my favorite grandparent by far. My maternal grandfather died when I was 12, and my father’s folks lived farther north, way up in Atlanta, and we lived in Florida. Mother’s people lived in south Georgia.

It was an easier drive in the Plymouth, plus my father didn’t like his parents. My mother, an only child, loved hers.

Moving down the certificate, I see that even though the Atlanta Crematory Inc. cremated Mother, it was Wages & Sons Funeral Home in Stone Mountain, Georgia, that handled the arrangements. Mother had a contract with them.

Wages & Sons Funeral Home. Ironic, no? Wages & Sons also handled my father’s funeral back in 1991. I attended that one. I did not attend my mother’s funeral because there wasn’t one. I’m not sure exactly why. My sister ran that show.

The certificate goes on to point out that Mother was not embalmed, which I guess is normal if a cremation is in the cards. And then we get to the cause of death.

Since she was 90, the cause is pretty straightforward. She died of old age, but hospitals and City Halls want details, and here they are. Three conditions did her in.

Starting one week before she drew her final breath was “pseudomonas healthcare acquired pneumonia,” which sounds like she got pneumonia from being in the hospital. And then two days before her death, there was acute renal failure and hyperkalemia. I had to Google that last one.

The “cause of death,” it says, was congestive heart failure. And there was no autopsy. Good. Any halfwit who’d finished Junior High knows why she died. She was 90.

Down at the bottom of the certificate are the names of the attending physician, Sonjay Raja Lakar, and the “certifier,” Dr. Ronak Patel, demonstrating that multiculturalism is alive and well at Emory University Hospital.

Did you know the overwhelming majority of American motels are operated by East Indians? I read that somewhere.

It’s interesting to get into the files now and then.

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(Note: For a more heartfelt yarn about my mother’s death, one written just after the event, read Dancing the Hassapiko.)

Downtown at dusk

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I’VE SPENT 34 years of my life in tourist towns. The first was New Orleans — 18 years — and now here on my colonial Mexican mountaintop — 16 years.

My heart goes out to people who pass their lives in Topeka or Barefoot Bottom, Georgia. Yes, there is such a place.

There are different styles of tourist towns. Some may not look like much themselves, but their location makes them tourist attractions. Beach locales are one example.

If you count beach locations as tourist towns, and I am, then we have to add my childhood decade in Florida to the aforementioned 34 years, making a total of 44 years.

But let’s stick to tourist towns that are tourist draws simply because they’re beautiful. And where I am right now certainly qualifies. Look at those photos.

Late yesterday afternoon, I was sitting on one of the cement benches that surround our plaza, just watching folks, enjoying the view, the cool breeze, stuff like that.

I had my camera in my man bag with my Kindle, so I whipped the camera out and took these photos.

I’m a sharing kind of guy. I hope you don’t live in Topeka or Barefoot Bottom, Georgia, either.

That would be so sad.

The winter scalp

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See spouse standing at rear for perspective.

IT’S A YEARLY ritual, the scalping. Sometimes it’s more drastic than other times. I do it personally, the cutting, not the hauling away. I hire help for that.

The gardening situation here on the mountaintop, more than 7,000 feet above the faraway seas, is problematical. Things grow wildly during most of the year.

Then winter comes, sometimes calmly, sometimes not. Last winter was calm. This one is not.

When winter is calm, a minority of them, plants have a two-year span of glee. This is particularly so for the bananas, which are totally out of place here. Till the first freeze last week, they had soared up to 10 or 12 feet with wide trunks to match.

The freeze burned them to a crisp, well, actually, to a brown sag. Luckily, banana trees, no matter their height, are easy to cut. I use a small pruning saw. Though easy to saw, they can weigh a lot, and they come thundering down.

I dodge like Cassius Clay, like a geriatric butterfly.

Years ago, I drove to the tropical town of Uruapan and bought two cute little banana “trees” in cans. I planted one next to the house, and the other by the Alamo Wall. A friend who had lived in Florida said, “bad idea.” Stupidly, I ignored him.

It was like a ghetto household in Detroit. Babies appeared faster than I can count. I transplanted one out next to the street wall, giving me three banana gangs. In time I hired workmen to put cement restraints around the bases.

Now I have lost all patience. As every year after a freeze, I have cut them down, leaving stumps that rejuvenate themselves. But workmen come next week to cover two of the three mobs with cement and stone. I’ve had enough!

Another troublesome plant that also does not belong here, but is beautiful most of the year nonetheless, is the golden datura, which is also easy to cut.

It wilts quickly in a freeze, and I whack it back to its base. Like bananas, it rejuvenates in springtime.

The photo at top should be panoramic to show the pile’s true dimensions. It’s the biggest ever. Tomorrow two guys come with a pickup to haul it away, somewhere.

Never a sailor man

shipI’VE NEVER BEEN on a sailboat.

Oh, I’ve stood on one tied to a dock in the same way I’ve been on a cruise ship tied to a dock in San Juan. But out on the open waters, sails deployed and speeding along?

I’ve never done that.

Strange, since I’ve been on planes — myself at the stick — motorcycles, hot-air balloons, gliders, cars, trucks, trains, buses, you name it, but never on a sailboat in spite of being raised in Florida.

SterlingThough I’ve never been on a sailboat, I have a favorite sailor: Sterling Hayden.

Hayden was a reluctant movie star, often broke, and a full-blown eccentric. He made movies entirely to finance his sailing. He became a movie star because he was a very good actor, a born ham, and because he was so freaking handsome.

HaydenNot only was Hayden an actor, he was a very good writer. He wrote an autobiography named Wanderer and a novel named Voyage. Both are excellent.

But more than anything, he was a sailor who wandered the world. I admire that.

And I’ve never even been out on a sailboat. What’s wrong with me?

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(Hayden’s eccentricity increased with age. Here’s an interesting video. Notice the car he arrives in. He died in 1986 at age 70.)

Winter cut & sweep

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I’VE ALWAYS loved stone, and now I live with it. Loved mountains too, and now I live among them. Don’t forget cool weather, and here I am in eternal cool. It’s a perfect world.*

Normally, the yard doesn’t need a cut in January. Usually, we stop in November, or rather Abel the Deadpan Yardman loses his summer gig in November. I quit mowing years ago.

But we’ve had the occasional unseasonable rain of late, and the lawn gobbled it up, deciding it was summer, and grew a bit, mostly around edges. The lawnmower wouldn’t crank, so I turned to the weed eater.

(Aside:  I saw someone with a grass blower the other day, and it was strange. Though Mexicans are always noisily blowing everything above the Rio Bravo — or did when I  lived there — a blower here is rarely seen.)

Out to the yard I went. The sidewalk is stone, and so is the Alamo Wall. The mountains soared in the near distance, and the sun was shining sweetly through the 70-degree air. I sighed. It was Heaven, honey.

But there was work to do, so I started the edging. The weed eater is electric, so no physical effort is required. Since most of the high grass was around edges, it didn’t take long. Down the sidewalk, around the property wall, under the bougainvilleas and fan palm and other stuff. Then a good sweep with an old broom.

The first winter cut and, with good fortune, the last.

A month ago, I posted First fire, last rose in which I imagined the sole rose out in yard was the last of the season. Boy, was I mistaken. After a couple of near freezes in December, the climate has returned to November’s style, and it’s wonderful. We have a number of new roses and golden datura.

And more fires have been ignited, the last being on Thursday, dead leaves from the loquat and pear trees. Fires provide the aroma of Autumn, and that’s real nice.

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Once a year I climb the circular stairs to the roof to sweep. But that only puts me atop the second story, which covers most of the house. The kitchen area is just one story, so that requires hauling a ladder to the service patio out back to ascend to that part, which is the part that most needs a sweep.

roofThis is the kitchen roof, swept pretty clean, that you see in the foreground. The tile roof farther on, left side, is the roof of the Garden Patio. Roofs of red clay tile don’t get swept. After some decades, it’s a good idea to remove them for a good shake and brushing, however. God knows what you might find. Bats probably.

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* Most of my life was spent in South Georgia, North Florida, South Louisiana and East Texas, places notable for lack of stones and mountains and an excess of sweltering heat. I’ve done a 180. Praise be, brother!