County stories rooted in new book

Published: Sunday, January 13, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 12, 2008 at 12:00 a.m.

In "Gone With the Wind," Gerald O'Hara tells his daughter, "Why, land is the only thing in the world worth workin' for, worth fightin' for, worth dyin' for, because it's the only thing that lasts."

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Sudye Cauthen's "Southern Comforts: Rooted in a Florida Place" tells about life in North Florida and Alachua County.

Special to The Sun


Book signing

What: Sudye Cauthen reads from and signs her book "Southern Comforts: Rooted in a Florida Place."

Where: Goering's Bookstore, 1717 NW 1st Avenue

When: 2 p.m. Sunday

Parking: Park in the St. Augustine Catholic Church lot and receive a chit. Goering's will take care of the parking cost.

For more information, see

Talk to Sudye Cauthen, and it's likely she'd add "worth writin' for" to O'Hara's expression.

Cauthen, a fifth-generation Alachua Countian who now lives on the Suwannee River near White Springs, began penning her experiences and the stories she heard from other Alachua County residents more than 20 years ago to create her newly released "Southern Comforts: Rooted in a Florida Place," from which she will read Sunday at 2 p.m. at Goering's Book Store, the first store in Florida to carry the book.

Cauthen also will visit various branches of the Alachua County Library District throughout the coming months. Her first appearance is scheduled for 2 p.m. Jan. 26 at the Headquarters Library.

"Southern Comforts" (University of Georgia Press, hard cover, $29.95) is indexed as cultural geography, history, nature writing, environmental writing and memoir, Cauthen said.

"Lord knows it's full of memories, but it's no 'tell all' memoir," she said. "It's memoir interlaced with solid facts and an impressionistic view of a Southern place."

Tom Rider, co-owner of Goering's, added that the book is also very visually pleasing and includes a number of photographs.

Writing a novel was an aspiration Cauthen had since she was 7, but it was her father's death in 1975 that pulled her interest back to Alachua County and made her consider transferring local memories from oral histories to the written word.

Cauthen recalls sitting in her father's lap with his feet resting on a banister surrounding their screen porch, looking west as the sun set behind their fields, while hummingbirds fluttered in the petunias. They would hear in the background the occasional bellow of a heifer calling her calf.

"He most loved telling about his childhood days when he and his five brothers roamed the farm at Monteocha (northeast of Gainesville) in a cart drawn by a goat, and all the trouble they managed to get into," Cauthen said. "Daddy would start laughing before he reached his punch lines. Sitting in his lap I first learned to love 'talk' and his was the first oral history I ever collected."

Cauthen collects her information through field work.

"Field work means getting out there where the people are, in their towns and landscapes, driving dirt roads and back streets, hearing the stories that connect people to place, and making a record, honoring those stories by saving them in words or photos, in books and on the Internet," she said.

She has spent time with, amongst others, black and white descendants of Florida pioneers. Throughout her research she found a universal concern for family, for belief systems, for a relation to the land.

"Documentary field work started taking a bigger and bigger hold on me. At first I was angry - I thought I should be writing novels - but in the last few years I've come to accept that I have two callings, and they actually work together."

Her field work has appeared in exhibits at the Florida Museum of Natural History and the Thomas Center, and led to her founding of the North Florida Center for Documentary Studies. The NFCDS aims to celebrate the culture and natural world of North Florida. She also blogs ( about her life on the Suwannee River.

And in her efforts to learn more about others, Cauthen experienced a great deal of self-reflection.

"When you grind cane you get a juice that can be cooked (or drunk) into cane syrup in a big vat, a 'syrup kettle.' When the liquid comes to a boil, there's a white froth you have to toss off in order to clear the juice. You have to 'skim' off the froth and that froth is called 'skimmings,' " Cauthen said.

" 'Southern Comforts' is full of skimmings because of my personal frustration and confusion about Alachua and my life there. I had to deal with all that to arrive at an understanding of the community," she continued. "It entailed cleaning out my own heart."

Cauthen hopes the book will kindle an appreciation for Florida's people, its culture and its terrain.

"I'm not trying to preach," she said. "I'm just lifting up a mirror so people can see what's beautiful in themselves and their way of life."

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