Neighbors were few and far between at Ziba Khaya and that was perfectly OK by us. We relished the peace and quiet of living the rural life and, with often hectic days and weeks spent running Slideworks and the time spent commuting back and forth to Ocala, well, it was just nice to sit sometimes and read or hang out in the back yard, or perform the myriad of chores and projects it took to keep the homestead running.
We did enjoy getting to know our closest neighbors, which numbered exactly three households. Diane and Andy and their girls lived next door to Andy’s parents, both homesteads situated just to the north and across Yellow Bluff Road from the lake house. South of us, about a 10 minute walk down the road, was Captain Jack’s compact place, where Lucky the dog and Tu and Lu, his Tulouse Geese, made their home.
There was also Carl, the ex-Vietnam chopper pilot-turned-lobbyist-cum-bass-guide, who kept a weekend retreat down the road a bit from Jack.
When we first moved into the lake house, K introduced us to the neighbors, kind and generous folks that we would, time and again, call upon for guidance and help. Our first few months were simply full of learning the ins and outs of living in the cabin: Jack knew a lot about the well, the pump, the quirks of the house, where in the barn one could find coal for the wood stove, and where the hole was in the fence that the dogs and deer used to access the property– the list went on and on!
Andy and Diane and their pre-teen girls were a lot of fun to hang out with- we spent more than a few freezing nights under a full moon, hanging out under the oak trees in front of their house until the wee hours, warming ourselves in front of a blazing fire in the outdoor bar-b-que area Andy built.
Over the years what started as Andy’s outdoor patio grew into “the Cracker Shack”, a rambling outdoor entertainment complex that could rival many an “old style” Florida restaurant cobbled together with native pecky cypress and pine under a tin roof.
Central to the affair was Andy’s massive brick cooking fireplace, augmented by a commercial kitchen area for food prep. The place appeared to have organically grown from this hub; the tin roof supported by massive posts festooned with all manner of Florida bric-a-brac like deer antlers draped with old caps and straw hats, rusted car tags, and wooden duck decoys. Under the roof hung fishing poles, crab pots, nets and floats, mounted bass and salt water fish trophies, deer and ‘coon heads, boar tusks and a range of old wooden farming and fishing implements. Wooden picnic tables, a few couches and an assortment of plastic and lawn chairs and I think even the bench seat torn out of a min-van provided ample sitting areas. The whole thing was electrified, with lights and ceiling fans, audio system speakers, TV sets and neon beer signs sprinkled throughout.
Then there was the retired and grumpy Georgia farmer Mr. Rush and his wife, who lived down the road a bit from Jack’s place, but on the lake side of the road. I never did spend much time with Mr. Rush, but Anni made friends with him after some event that I don’t recall. Pretty soon he somehow had inveigled her into stashing a bottle of whisky in the woods across from his house so that he could slip out and grab a nip or two under the nose of his apparently severely disapproving wife. This went on for maybe a couple of months, much to Jack’s high amusement, until Mrs. Rush got wind of the goings-on or maybe Mr. Rush passed on, whichever came first.
Of interest to our urban friends was the accepted way to quickly call on your neighbors in an emergency: three quick rounds from a firearm, was sure to get the attention of anyone within earshot, without having to scramble for a phone or look for a telephone number. Not that we ever had to pull that trigger, but it was good to know a reliable way to get somebody’s attention in an area where there was a significant distance between homesteads.
Jack was retired, Andy was a traveling construction manager gone for weeks at a time, Diane raised the girls and ran the homestead, Andy’s parents both worked at a hospital some 50 minutes drive down highway 19 through the forest and Carl infrequently visited his cabin during the year. Even with divergent interests and different schedules, it was amazing how often we’d get together with Jack, or Jack and Carl, or Diane and Andy and Jack, or some mix of all the above, with our friends or family sometimes mixed in. It wasn’t long before we were made to feel very much a part of this little back-woods community, and some of the more poignant and frightening events that happened in our lives at Ziba Khaya invariably involved our friends and neighbors.
Many of the tales in this blog were told and retold over a blazing fire pit in our back yard, or under a full moon while sitting on a bench at the end of the dock, or around a fire in Jack’s back yard while his hunting pals camped out, or around Andy and Diane’s precursor to their Cracker Shack. Writing about them is my way of sharing, and the memories evoked send me back to that time, those places, and among those people once again. It is true, you can never “go home”, but you can relive and revisit and in some small way, pay homage to the people and places that have woven sections of the tapestry of your life.