“There are places I'll remember

All my life though some have changed

Some forever not for better

Some have gone and some remain

All these places had their moments

With lovers and friends I still can recall

Some are dead and some are living

In my life I've loved them all.”

— The Beatles

The famous Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, Thomas Wolfe, once wrote: “You can’t go home again.” Well, you can, but it’s not the same. I have lived long enough to witness some folks who moved away from north central Florida for two or three decades without visiting the area very much in that period, and, suddenly, they decide they are “going home” to spend their golden years. Sometimes they are satisfied and sometimes because of a nostalgic ideal they have embedded in their minds, they “wind up” not satisfied, because they are looking for the past, and the past is gone. I think the lyrics of a country song sung by Florida’s own John Anderson, famous for “Seminole Wind” and “Just a Swinging,” and many other hits expressed it best in the following song:

“Johnny took a trip to his Florida hometown

To the land of his dreams and just to have a look around

At first he thought that he was on the wrong road

'Cause he didn't see any orange groves

Now, trailer parks and condos grew on the land that he once knew

He saw the city limits sign and guessed he'd crossed the city line

There were strangers everywhere he went, with loud sport shirts and strange accents

They took the north and they moved it south, he said, ‘Shut my redneck mouth!’”

I work part-time in the public library in Jasper, Florida, I am presently the chairperson of the Hamilton County School Board. I live in Hamilton County, a county that has experienced very slow growth compared to the rest of the state and, yet, this is what I see:

I see, now, a large number of Hispanic students not only enrolled but graduating from Hamilton County High School, many with honors. During my childhood and into my adulthood, until I was about 35, the world, here, was pretty much racially black or white, there wasn’t much “in between.”

I see individuals of the Muslim faith purchasing a great deal of real estate in Jasper, Florida, and purchasing businesses. I think of a great quote by the late Mrs. Betty Tannenbaum, who owned the “Lovely Shop” in Lake City. She once said “It’s one thing to love your neighbor, but do you RESPECT your neighbor.” There’s a lot to that statement. As the late Virgie Cone who was raised in Jasper, Florida, went to have an illustrious and respected career as an educator in Duval County, eventually becoming the first female to become principal of a high school in Jacksonville, and not just any high school, Robert E. Lee High School. After retirement, she didn’t stop, she wrote a column for the newspaper, became active in elder affairs, and, as a native of Hamilton County, I was so proud when I attended the inauguration of the late Governor Lawton Chiles, and she spoke at the inauguration about her role in elder affairs and she, too, was a native of Hamilton County. In her weekly column that appeared in the “Jasper News,” she would end each column with the following “Think about It.”

So, “Think about It,” Mrs. Tannenbaum’s quote, “It’s one thing to love your neighbor, BUT, do you respect your neighbor?”

Now, Lake City to a larger extent and Live Oak to some extent is where I have seen so much change in the past 20 years. I never dreamed 44 years ago when I attended Boys State sponsored by the Lake City VFW that when we returned and were treated to a dinner at the “Red Barn Restaurant,” and the late Mr. A.K. Black, well renowned jurist and once State Attorney from Columbia County stated that night: Columbia County has reached a population of 22,500. There was an audible gasp from the audience. Now, Columbia County is one of the top 200 fastest growing communities of its size in the nation, and it won’t be long before it will reach 100,000 people. Suwannee County, is also growing. Lake City is really doing a lot to refurbish its downtown. Live Oak has more work to do on that, although the Millennium Park, which, in my humble opinion, is beautiful but underutilized and many of the buildings downtown look great, and I love the courthouse. I hope Live Oak will endeavor to keep the old post office building and do something with it. Just a few more businesses, and Live Oak will be there. Jasper has a “ways to go”, but it’s not impossible. Branford is a community that has come “great guns” in growth with folks moving into that area.

I wish someone would discover White Springs who had a big ego and a bigger pocketbook. Someone who could easily purchase the Telford and Adams Brothers Store and turn them into something great and, I am not active anymore if the Stephen Foster Citizens Support Organization, but, if I were, and I appreciate all the fundraising efforts for the Stephen Foster Carillon Bells, the largest set of tubular bells in the world, and if the Florida Legislature had their heart in the right place, the local legislative contingent would work for some funding to restore at least part of the system. With contributions from the public, the first set is up and working, BUT, I would be writing a letter to Carnegie-Mellon Foundation in Pittsburgh, to the Buncher Foundation in Pittsburgh, who just gave 5 million dollars to the music department of Carnegie-Mellon University. I would be writing them and saying “Stephen Foster was a native of the Pittsburgh area, this is who we are, and this is what we are trying to do, and this is how much money we need. There are two answers you may receive: “Yes” or “No”, but it may be worth a try. It’s just a suggestion. If Jasper put a monument to the late Lillian Smith, it could spin into an annual Lilian Smith Day with walking tours to the Methodist Church, to Evergreen Cemetery, past the site of her home, place her books on sale. It could be a boon for Jasper and attract positive attention which may cause others to look at the area more positively, and in writing this, I love Jasper, I love White Springs, love Live Oak, Lake City, Branford, Mayo, love, love, love ‘our home”, but I see what I see, and this is just my opinion.

We all, I guess, do the best we can with what we have where we are. I love our area, and I love north Central Florida. I wish it only good things, and there are many good things, wonderful things in our area. Mainly, the hearts and the beauty of our people. We haven’t lost that. Change, it happens “to us” or “with us” and small communities do not have the luxury of those in power being “hawks and buzzards” at one another. There are few enough people with a genuine interest in the communities. Get out and enjoy the beauty of our area, a pumpkin festival next weekend at Big Shoals State Park, Hulaween at Spirit of the Suwannee, pray there are no more fatal accidents out there, and on Halloween Day, Rural Folklife Days at Stephen Foster.

From the Eight Mile Still on the Woodpecker Route north of White Springs, wishing you all a day filled with joy, peace, and, above all, lots of love and laughter.

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