Scotty Reiss: Farewell to Gainesville
Published: Wednesday, June 13, 2012 at 3:34 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, June 13, 2012 at 3:34 p.m.
Last week my Grandmother, Billie Jones, died. Her passing is a great loss to her family, but I'm writing to share our other loss: an end Gainesville as our home away from home.
Gainesville has been the backdrop of decades of family gatherings, the place where many memories have taken shape, and when a photographer or dentist suggests ‘Think of a happy place,' I see Spanish moss hanging from live oaks.
I first started to realize that the days in my "happy place" were numbered when, about 15 years ago, my paternal grandmother, Charlotte Williams passed away. She and my grandfather moved to Gainesville in the 1950's with the start of the Aeronautical Engineering program at the University. Coming from Michigan, she was a reluctant transplant, but Gainesville's charm, progressive sense and good people quickly won her over.
I came to see much of the world through the lens of life in Gainesville. From the building of the town bike lanes (a good way to reduce pollution and traffic and address parking issues) to the rising popularity of local and organic foods (Ivey's and Ward's were long time favorites of both my grandmothers), to the critical role of community in our lives (through the resurgence and preservation of downtown and the insightful rise of Haile Plantation), Gainesville has so often been the example of progressive change.
And while my grandmother Charlotte loved to share her delight in discovering Gainesville, my grandmother Billie taught me to cherish the “real Florida.” She was a life-long resident, a fourth-generation Floridian. She taught me to love Gator football and to play golf; my first lessons were at her insistence. She took me to Payne's Prairie and described how she'd watched over the years as it changed from a lake to a prairie (the houses along the southern ridge were originally built to overlook the water). She took me to see the sunsets at Cedar Key and antique hunting in Micanopy; she took me to Silver Springs, to Marjorie Kinnan Rawling's homestead, and to hear the symphony at the University.
Grandma Billie taught me the magic of staghorn and maidenhair ferns, how to change the color of a hydrangea, how to tease roses and gerber daisies out of Gainesville's dusty, mica-flecked soil, and the importance of eating oranges from Florida, Florida strawberries in February and hearts of palm - because it's important to support the state's economy.
I cherish sharing these things with my children, and I smile when I see Florida strawberries in the grocery store or a Gator sticker on a car window (there are quite a few here in Connecticut). I hope to get back to Gainesville soon, and maybe I will find new reasons to spend time there and soak up more of your magical little town.
Cos Cob, CT