Posts Tagged ‘Bob Kealing’

Even though I’ve lived in Florida for most of my adult life, I didn’t grow up here. Still, I was lucky enough to have cousins who are natives, so I have more than the usual Florida vacation memories of beach and sun. With my cousins Paulette and Gordon Jr., I enjoyed the free-range, small-town childhood of Central Florida B.D. (before Disney), going barefoot in December, picking oranges in the backyard, pole-fishing in little lakes. For attractions, there were the slopes of Sand Mountain, the parrots at Busch Gardens and waves at the beach, but my favorite part of those treks was stopping at A&W for frosty mugs of root beer.

Yes, I’m waxing nostalgia, but it’s what William McKeen calls “honest nostalgia” in the introduction to  Homegrown in Florida, a collection of “stories (some fact, some fiction) of a vanishing place and a lost time.” There are also song lyrics by John Anderson and a few poems, including Teri Youmans Grimm’s “Miss Senior High Duval County.” Like many of the stories, it mixes the bitter with the sweet, and while it is particular to a time and place, it also has a coming-of-age universality.

A goodly number of the tales are sand-in-our-shoes memories of outdoors adventures. Although Stephen F. Orlando’s “The Other Campout” ends happily with teenage boys cutting up in a waterspout, in Jeff Klinkenberg’s “Nothing I Could Do,” a boys’ golf-course adventure turns into tragedy. Ken Block’s “Riding the Wave” pays homage to surfing and a younger brother’s battle with cancer. But Sherry Lee Alexander remembers the sweetly Southern vibe of Miami of the 1950s-60s in “Seaboard Coast Line” when “we were all still kids in Camelot.”

Allisson Burke Clark, “God Only Knows,” moved to Florida at age 11 and promptly encountered teased hair and iridescent eye makeup courtesy of mature Michelle. “My mother had talked breathlessly about the long growing season down south — we’d have flowers ten months out of the year, she said. Did Florida kids, like hothouse flowers, bloom before the rest of us?”

(Perhaps I should mention here that my cousin Paulette, three years my senior, taught me how to smoke, blowing smoke rings in the orange blossom-scented air. Of course, years later, after I had moved to Florida, she also saw me through quitting.)

Other contributors to the book include quintessential Floridians Carl Hiaasen, Zora Neale Hurston, Tim Dorsey and Tom Petty. The latter recalls “When the King Came to Ocala” (as told to Paul Zollo) and his early enthrallment with Elvis.

Petty also was inspired by Gram Parsons, the subject of Orlando author and TV reporter Bob Kealing’s “Calling Me Home: Gram Parsons and the Roots of Country Rock.” Parson’s contributions to music have long been overshadowed by his “live-fast-die-young,” drug-fueled lifestyle, his fatal overdose at 26, and the weird, failed attempt to steal his body and burn it in the desert.

But while Kealing doesn’t skirt the tabloid stuff, he’s more interested in Parsons’ journey as a muscian, his “own Cosmic American roots, planted deeply within the Georgia red clay and Florida myakka.”

The book itself is a fascinating journey to the past and back again as Kealing revisits the people and places important to Parsons’ career and life, and to Southern rock. Kealing has an entertaining, conversational style that nicely complements his subject, who crammed a whole lot of living into two decades. A new batch of old photographs from the 1960s and ’70s also prove revealing. Then there’s the discography, from The Shilos and the International Submarine Band,  to the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers,  to Gram Parsons and the Fallen Angels, Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris, and just Gram Parsons. Ah, he was young and amazing.

Sure, I can get all nostalgic reading this book and hearing “Hickory Wind.” But it’s honest nostalgia.

Open Book: Both Homegrown in Florida and Calling Me Home are published by the University Press of Florida, which sent me review copies. And I’ve known Bill McKeen and Bob Kealing for pretty much as long as I’ve lived in Florida, which is longer now than Gram Parsons’ fleeting life.

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