I am writing this post on the birthday of my late cousin, Venice. Venice was my dad’s first cousin. She lived her entire life of 88 years in Ivan, near Crawfordville, Florida. Ivan and Crawfordville are located in Wakulla County, near Tallahassee, Florida. My dad was born in Medart, also in Wakulla County, a few years after Venice. Although my dad moved to Fort Myers with his mother and siblings in the 1920s, he and Venice remained close until dad’s untimely passing in 1972. Asa was Venice’s husband. They married when Venice was 16 and Asa as 18 and they remained married until Asa passed away a few years before Venice, at the age of 86. Venice loved to travel. In addition to her frequent visits to Fort Myers to visit my family, including for many years after my dad’s death, she and her sisters, who were her traveling companions, went on many trips together and had lots of adventures. Asa, on the other hand, once told me he had traveled only as far north as Quincy, Florida; as far south as Alligator Point, Florida; as far east as Perry, Florida; and as far west as Sumatra, Florida. These places are a short distance from Ivan, but Asa saw no reason to venture much further until, shortly before his passing, he decided to visit Fort Myers with Venice. Venice and Asa worked hard in their careers with the State of Florida government. They worked hard tending their 30 acres of land in Ivan. But they always had time for me. When I announced I had been accepted to Ph.D. programs at 5 universities, including Florida State University in Tallahassee, Venice drove from her house to my mother’s house in Fort Myers (a long drive!) to invite me to live, rent free, in a vacant mobile home on Asa’s and her 30 acres in rural Wakulla County. She informed me that she and Asa wouldn’t accept any payment for my housing and that I could live on their property the entire time I was in graduate school. I was astounded, to say the least. I was always close to both Venice and Asa, but accepting free housing for 4 years was not something I had ever considered. Needless to say, having a free place to stay was an important factor in my decision to pursue my Ph.D. at F.S.U. (I decided to pay $75 a month to Venice’s granddaughter’s college fund; that made me feel better and was agreeable to Venice, but only after a lot of gentle persuasion on my part.) The years I lived on Venice and Asa’s property were fantastic! My major professor, other professors, and grad school colleagues often asked me why I lived so far from school, in the middle of nowhere, down a dirt road, in a place that, until the 1950s, had no telephone service. I always responded to their queries by saying, “Come see me and you will know.” My existence during the time I spent at Venice and Asa’s was marked with the best country cooking this hungry student could eat (I sure miss Venice’s fried chicken!), fun times together, the sound of hound dogs yelping in the distance, abundant wild life, beautiful scenery, and most of all, learning everything I could about my generous cousins’ happy lives. Thanks, in no small part, to Venice and Asa, I earned my Ph.D. in social psychology and I became a better person while I was at it!
I heard about Venice and Asa for quite a while prior to meeting them. But, Melissa took me to Crawfordville to meet them not too long after I met her. Talk about off the grid -they lived out in the country for sure! But, what a cool part of Florida and, as someone who enjoys walks in the woods, I thought it was great. As Melissa mentioned, the food was home cooking and plentiful. There was always something cooking and ready to eat. I’m glad I got to know them because they were such an important part of Melissa’s life, before, during and after graduate school. As a native Floridian, I always enjoy stories of old Florida and these were people who could have been in Marjorie Rawling’s books. Asa’s stories of hunting and fishing in that part of Florida were as entertaining as anything in those books. Melissa and I took walks after supper (dinner was served lunch time) on the dirt roads near their house; the pavement ended not far beyond the entrance to their property. The riches these folks enjoyed were not monetary. They had a quality of life that was both down home and well informed. Some stories of the old Florida were not that old in years, but seemed a lifetime away. Venice’s work in her second career at Wakulla Springs yielded stories of Ed Ball and his cronies. The local judge, later a supreme court justice, figured into some of the stories as well, and, while there was nothing nefarious, they were about how things happened in that time and place. These posts have given us the opportunity to celebrate some of these connections and we hope they provide some good news, thoughts or memories for the readers as well.