Friday, December 14, 2018

A Florida Family of Yesteryear’s Epic Tale

BOOK REMARKS



The trials and tribulations the MacIvey clan face over 114 years is incredible. There are hurricanes (including the devastating 1928 Okeechobee Hurricane) and encounters with everything from wild boar to outlaws.


“All I’m trying to tell you is to be strong. Don’t ever let nothing get you down. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to love, or to grieve when the thing you love is gone. Just don’t let it throw you, no matter how much it hurts.”

“A Land Remembered,” by Patrick D. Smith, has languished on my bookshelf for a couple of years. Every once in a while my eyes would rest on it and I’d think, “I’ve got to read that,” only to move onto something shinier. But then I read and reviewed Groff’s “Florida,” and that collection of short stories somehow brought Smith’s epic tale of the Florida of yesteryear roaring to the front of the pack on my reading list. And while I may be sorry I waited so long, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. “A Land Remembered” provided the perfect counterpoint to the moody world of “Florida.”

“A Land Remembered” follows the journey of the MacIvey family who came to Florida in the mid 1800s from Georgia. Patriarch Tobias MacIvey is one of the original Florida “crackers,” a term used to describe the cracking of the cattle rustlers whips as they drove the wild cattle from the swamps to the coast. Tobias and his wife Emma live a typical frontier lifestyle, scrabbling for food and shelter while trying to find ways to make money. What makes this frontier story so interesting is that the landscape is Florida and not the Wild West. Tobias is a shrewd man, always finding the right ways to provide for his family while keeping them safe from the abundance of predators, some of which are the human kind. Tobias is also a kindly man. He befriends Seminole Indians, welcomes a freed slave into his family and provides job security to two down-and-out Civil War veterans. The Seminoles teach him to let the cattle graze instead of penning them up, so he brands them to show ownership. This is how Tobias gets wealthy, as cattle are a prized commodity in the late 1800s. But even though his gold piles up, Tobias remains a true man-of-the-land and he passes this trait onto his son, Zech.

Zech carries on his father’s business (which now includes oranges) but also starts something of his own, mainly buying land. Tobias believes “no man can own the land…the Lord lets us stay on it temporarily as tenants.” But Zech knows what is coming and so buys acres and acres of land without his father knowing it. Still, Zech and his wife Glenda live on the land with Tobias and Emma, never falling into the trap of a wealthy lifestyle. It is Zech and Glenda’s’ son Solomon “Sol” who falls prey to progress and ends up selling much of the family land.

The trials and tribulations the MacIvey clan face over 114 years is incredible. There are hurricanes (including the devastating 1928 Okeechobee Hurricane) and encounters with everything from wild boar to outlaws. They lose a herd of cattle, their cabin, their crops, their children, their livelihood and their land. Meanwhile the Seminoles get pushed further and further south while the coasts become more and more developed. Old Florida begins to disappear as Sol MacIvey becomes an old man and he is left with a pile of money that does nothing to assuage the sadness of his memories. The last line of “A Land Remembered” may be one of the most heartbreaking I have ever read.

It’s clear that Smith was a keen environmentalist bemoaning the lost Florida wilderness. I wonder how he felt watching more and more of the state being gobbled up by development from the time “A Land Remembered” was published in 1984 to the time of his death in 2014. Even though there wasn’t a lot of nuance in the characters (the good folks are really good and the bad folks really bad), and the writing is quite colloquial, I was still enamored with the MacIvey’s life and their incredible resilience. But what kept me riveted was the true star of the story – Florida. What an amazing place this must have been, snakes and all! And what an amazing place it still is. I can tell you one thing – the next time I drive through the Everglades on Route 41 and stare into the trees, I’ll think of Tobias and Emma MacIvey living off coons and squirrels in a small shack made of cypress trees. And I’ll be happy that there is still some of that wilderness left for me to imagine their life.

There is a great website dedicated to “A Land Remembered” and Mr. Smith. His son Rick is carrying on his father’s legacy. It’s a fun site to peruse. www.alandremembered.com.

Lynn Alexander is a recently published author and long-time book, food, cat and college football lover (Go Green!). Her career journey started in upstate New York, writing and recording commercials for radio. She moved to Venice, Florida to manage a restaurant which led her to Naples and Marco in 2002, where she currently books weddings and events for a local resort. Alexander is a Leadership Marco 2015 alum which fed her passion for history and learning. A butterfly at parties but a loner at heart, she loves nothing more than baking yummy desserts then retreating to a quiet corner to read.

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