“Who is this guy?”

People ask questions like this when someone new shows up in White Springs. They asked a lot of questions when I began showing up here in the late 80’s, and, not so surprisingly, there are still some questions being asked about me. Finally, I have decided to come clean and answer the question about me, “Who is this guy?”

Sadly, first and foremost I must reveal something about me that is known by some, but not all of you. The truth is… I am not a White Springs native son! I have fantasized about being originally from White Springs but, sadly, I am not. I am a… (Gasp)…“newcomer”!

As an attentive newcomer, I have always been acutely aware that there are many multi-generational families here. Some of them have warmly welcomed me. Most of them have eventually accepted me in one way or another, and I am truly grateful for that. Most all of these wonderful White Springs families are proud of their history and heritage, as they should be. But I have encountered the occasional multi-generational family member who has reminded me, a little too pointedly, that they were born here, as was their Daddy and their Daddy’s Daddy, and their Daddy’s Daddy’s Daddy, and their Mama and their Uncles and Aunts and Cousins too, and …. well, you get the picture.

The exchange usually goes something like this.

“Well when did you get here Walter?”

“I moved here in 1990.”

“Uh huh. Well I was born here and both sides of my family have been here since Florida belonged to Spain or England or France or one of those foreign countries. Yep, we came here centuries ago, long before you would know about.” (Long, level, intimidating stare, waiting for a reaction.)

“Wow! Well, I wasn’t born here, but I got here just as fast as I could!” (Cheerful countenance to hide my irritation.)

But I think that a little bit of that “Who does this newcomer think he is” attitude is understandable. Most “newcomers” I’ve met are actually OK, a good addition to the social fabric of White Springs. But there have been some very condescending, obnoxious and irritating newcomers show up here that have paved the way for a hearty native skepticism towards other new arrivals.

So, in answer to the question about me, “Who is this guy,” let me try to clear up some of the great unknown. First of all, I’m an Army brat, so I’m not really “from” anywhere in particular, but I was born in Georgia and I have passed through an awful lot of places on my journey that eventually led me to my adopted hometown of White Springs. The temporary nature of people and places that I experienced as an Army brat left me longing for more permanence, and envious of people who had lifelong friends and acquaintances.

Prior to White Springs, it would be fair to say that my family life was a mess. One person that was an unwavering positive and joyful influence in my life was my paternal Grandmother “Maumee,” a wonderful, larger than life, true southern woman of education, effervescence and joy, who lived in a grand Victorian home in Montezuma, Georgia. This was the one constant and recurrent place in my army brat life that incubated and nourished my love for small towns. When I eventually ended up in Jacksonville there were several bright beacons that attracted me to White Springs.

Bluegrass festivals and the Florida Folk Festival caught my attention. My sister and brother-in-law moved here to run the Suwannee Bicycle Tours and I came often to visit and ride. I came here for the christening of my nephew and then my niece, and at the christening parties I met the most wonderful woman. She was the Stephen Foster State Park Artist in Residence, and Florida Folklorist, Merri Belland, whom I would eventually marry. My sister used to say, “Walter, I can’t believe you’re dating MERRI BELLAND!” She knew I was out of my depth, and she helped all she could.

I came to White Springs again and again to court my wife to be. One of the first people that I met on one of my early visits to White Springs was “Aunt Nancy” Morgan, who reminded me so strongly of my grandmother that I began to hang out some at the Suwannee River Craft Guild where Aunt Nancy volunteered. Aunt Nancy took a liking to me, probably because of Merri vouching for me. So my sister was here, my niece and nephew were born here, the near reincarnation of my dear departed grandmother was here, and my true love and wife to be was here! The universe was calling and I was bound to end up in White Springs!

So I say to my multigenerational fellow citizens, I envy that you have deep roots, I truly do. But, while you were born here, I was called here. Truth be told, neither of us really ever had much choice but to live in White Springs and love it!

On to some local happenings. Suwannee Hardware and Feed in White Springs is now open in the Old Adams Country Store building and they will be having an official ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday, Feb. 28, at 11 a.m. There will be a grand celebration of this great new business in this grand old building. Barbeque and refreshments will be available and a local textile artist will be giving a spinning demonstration. Who knows what else? Show up and find out!

This will be followed later in the day by music at the 6 p.m. Friday night concerts/jam sessions at the old nature and heritage tourism center across from The Suwannee Hardware/Old Adams Country Store.

Prior to that, this weekend there is a “SAVE OUR BELLS” benefit concert at the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park on the banks of the Suwannee River, Sunday, Feb. 23, starting at 4 p.m. This extraordinary concert is featuring Florida Folk legacy performers, Jeanie Fitchen, Joe Mark and Mark Smith. Tickets for the concert can be purchased from the CSO and will be $20. Limited seating is available so get your tickets early. Please call the park for more details at 386-397-2733. For more information and donations for the restoration of the carillon bell tower, contact the CSO at 386-397-2733. SAVE THE DATE! Sunday, Feb. 23, starting at 4 p.m. in the Auditorium at Stephen Foster State Park.

Why not take a short drive and visit the display from the Patricia Hines Mitchell family collection this month at the Live Oak Library. Some of the items belonged to her great, great, great grandfather, Christmas Hemming. He lived most of his life as a slave in Florida, then after the Civil War he came to Live Oak and purchased 640 acres for $1,100. Mitchell and her family still own and live on 160 acres of the land Hemming purchased all those years ago. All the items are on display now until the end of February. (Information taken from a Suwannee Democrat article published May 1, 2017).

Now that we’ve answered the question “Who is this guy,” it’s plain to see that I love living here and writing about life in White Springs and the surrounding region, but I sure could use your help! Let me hear from you. I am thankful that we can depend on each other, and I hope that we can continue to feel proud of who we are and where we’re headed, and that we all appreciate how White Springs and its surrounding region is a very special place, to be honored and protected. As always, I look forward to seeing you out and about, enjoying your community and your life in White Springs.

Walter McKenzie



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