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Issue #191, Epic Road Trip, June 13, 2018: Haile Plantation, Florida

June 13, 2018

I went to sleep without using earplugs last night, hoping I could survive the drone of the air conditioner; but I was torn from unconsciousness by a searing ringing in my right ear, and so I turned the machine off, and lay in great discomfort for the remaining hours before daylight. I only fell asleep for brief snippets of time, and during those moments, had two powerful dreams: One, I was with Jules Laurita, Dona’s daughter, who has brain cancer, and I was hugging her and looking deeply into her eyes, and crying; and then shortly before I finally roused myself I dreamt I was going to a Grateful Dead concert, heading to my seats with Patty and other friends; we picked a seat near the top center of the stadium and I saved my seat and left to use the bathroom whereupon I ran into Steve Mechels, who also seemed excited to be there; I joined the line for the bathroom and finally found what seemed to be the right portable, but it was falling over, rendering it difficult to use; I heard the band playing “He’s Gone”, Bob Weir’s guitar sliding down notes in contrast to Garcia’s plaintive singing..and then I was up for good (heading to a real bathroom).

It’s interesting how every snippet of dream-life often contains rich symbolism, especially when the snippets are brief and difficult to attain, such as when my ear is really burning.

I also lay awake thinking about our visit to the Haile Plantation, near Gainesville, yesterday. Paige’s great-great grandfather, Sydney Haile, was born in the house, and of course we had to try and visit. We scored a private tour with Karen Kirkman, the director of the non-profit that runs the place. She met us at around 1pm at the site, after we had taken the kids to get haircuts and had eaten a meal at Subway (which they were ecstatic about).

The Hailes are a big deal in this area - I noticed many shops in the shopping center had the name ‘Haile’ associated with them. The plantation house has been lovingly restored - largely through the efforts of Karen, who gave us the tour. Mimi, of course, has strong associations and memories of the house, as she visited it often when she was a child. The house is most unique, I think, in that nearly every wall has writing, mostly in pencil, all over it: inscriptions made by family members, inscriptions by visitors, notes about the childrens’ height, notes made about recipes or ingredients for medicines to address dysentery, or to clean the walls of smoke, or to get rid of rats, pictures, etc. It reminded me of a bathroom stall made public. I suppose that they had little access to paper, and so writing on the walls was a great way to keep a record of things.

Sydney Haile was the 12th of 14 siblings and it was his father, Thomas Haile, who built the house. Mimi remembers being there and crawling under the house (it sits on large limestone blocks to help with cooling in the summer); unlike today’s green lawn, it was a dirt ‘swept’ yard to keep insects away from the interior. Inside, the pine flooring is all original as was the the four-poster bed and the piano, but apparently the roof has been replaced several times.

The central aspect of the home, to me, was the fact that it was built by the slaves that Thomas brought with him when he fled South Carolina, because of the failure of his crop of long-stem cotton; and it is those slaves, (now respectfully called ‘enslaved people’ to at least point to their humanity) were what made possible the economic situation for the Hailes. At one point I asked Karen, “How did they keep all these enslaved people doing work for them”? and she said, “Over-Seers” - so I guess it was through the use of force that black folks were compelled to continue to work for the white family. In the display case at the visitors’ center was an iron ball found on the site - this was probably “used only in transport”, Karen said.

Another interesting historical fact was that after the Civl War was over, some confederate soldiers came through the area and stayed at the house carrying what remained of the confederate ‘treasury’ and as proof, Karen pointed to some inscriptions that she said were the signatures of those soldiers.

Visiting the Haile Plantation was a moving and profound experience for me. Like the Civil Rights museum we visited in Mississippi, this site was an unavoidable testament to the reality of enslaved peoples, who made such a life possible. For better or worse, the fact remains that Paige’s great-great grandfather was the founder of this plantation. Many generations later, we have come to visit, and to reflect.

Although Karen clearly was a historical powerhouse, she also had the eyes of a caretaker. As soon as we had arrived and were standing on the back porch, she noticed a tree had fallen on the lawn; and then later at the visitors’ center she noticed how a bird had been busily crafting a nest on top of the lights near the bathrooms. We bought a book, a magnet, and a print as well. The kids were very well-behaved, looking especially sharp with their new haircuts.

After our visit to the plantation, the kids and I headed over to the swimming hole again, and Phoenix and I swam while Orion rode about on his bike. He still seems shy about swimming, and it was telling that he didn’t even want to get in. The water was cool and inviting; it comes out at about 72 degrees year-round, which is what makes it so inviting for Manatees, who swim in when the ocean temperature is colder. We swam with some large blue fish, one of which I even touched while diving, and I even climbed up on one of the cypress roots, and jumped into the water.

at the prescribed hour
we meet the historian
under stormy skies

The kids insisted we rent a canoe, which at first seemed unlikely as only 1/2 hr remained for the rental time before the rental person had to leave, but as we stood there deliberating on whether or not to spend $34 for 1/2 hour, this fellow suddenly changed his mind and told us to take the canoe and return it along with the lifejackets and paddles to a spot behind the rental kiosk after we had finished. Orion went to get Paige, and soon we were paddling down the spring-fed stream, glassy-flat and slow-moving, towards the Suwanee River. Once at the confluence we paddled through clumps of water lilies, past a sleeping turtle, and ferried across the to the other side, where we floated next to Spanish moss on the tress and past an abandoned house, where a fishing rod and an old canoe had been left haphazardly on a decrepit pier, then turned around and floated back to the inlet towards our starting point. Having returned safely to shore, we the kids paddle around a bit by themselves, before returning everything as instructed.

Haile plantation
created by the enslaved
for the unenslaved

no central plumbing:
every room with chamber pot
cleaned by the servants

fleeing with the purse
the confederate soldiers
also wrote on walls

those southern soldiers
fleeing with the treasury
also stayed the night

every inscription
conveyed on the plaster walls
brings our lives closer

not a verdant lawn
but carefully swept up dirt
protects from insects

the overseer:
facet of plantation life
taken for granted

fifty years ago
Paige questioned why that candy
denigrated toes

checking out again
another stately home
built on slave labor

remedies and cures
all recorded on the wall
thoughts that still remain

with an eight-pound ball,
it must have been difficult
to run from this house

descendant of slaves
soaring from Haile Plantation:
Commodores singer

cracks on the wall
pointing to the urinal:
I buy more coffee

solo/group kukai
jonathan machen