The road to Eatonville

“Life is a journey, not a destination.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

Eatonville, Florida was my destination when I backed out of the drive on Sandridge Road a couple of Fridays ago. I was reminded of the Zora Neale Hurston Festival in January and was determined to attend this year. As the festival weekend approached, however, my resolve weakened and I waffled back and forth about going. I decided finally that I didn’t want to regret not going, packed my Jeep, and headed out.

Instead of driving the full six hours, however, I spent the night in Jacksonville with my niece Erica, my grandniece Koriana, my grandnephew Corey, and their cousins Terrance and Michael. Before dinner, the kids regaled me with their dance moves while we watched their then favorite movie Dance Fu starring Kel Mitchell of ‘Kenan and Kel’ and ‘Good Burger’ fame.

Before leaving the next morning, the kids and I had “Coffee and Conversation”, a tradition started a few years ago when I babysat them. It must’ve been a secret they kept from their parents, though, because not a word about coffee was ever mentioned until their parents had left. Over coffee that Saturday morning, we discussed school, grades, and their pets Khi and Khia, which, by the way, are a cat and a dog. Corey was having trouble in math and since his cousin Michael is good at it, he agreed to help.

Luther Smith

My nephew Luther Smith, RIP

By noon, I was on the 95 freeway heading to Eatonville when I decided to go with the flow instead of going directly there. So, in honor of my deceased nephew Luther, I stopped first in Green Cove Springs where he lived at one time. Approaching the left turn that would take me into the city, I spotted ahead what turned out to be Shands Pier on St. John’s River and went there instead. After snapping a few photographs from the pier and enjoying the sun and breeze, I stopped next at the St. John’s River Bridge. One couple was fishing from the bank while another fished from a boat. It really was a beautiful day to be out. I snapped a few more photographs and reluctantly headed back to the car to drive the few miles across the bridge to Green Cove Springs.

There wasn’t much to see and too early for lunch so I made a U-turn and pointed the GPS to Eatonville since I’d visited St. Augustine before. A few miles down the highway, though, I saw a sign to Crescent Beach, made a quick exit and headed that way. Again, it was a gorgeous day to be sightseeing—sunny, breezy and mild—so I grabbed my camera and headed to the ocean with its white sandy beach despite the several cars parked there. It seemed that quite a few others had the same idea as I did as we all stood there on the pier admiring the beauty of it all. The seagulls soared overhead while the sea oats swayed in the breeze. As difficult as it was to tear myself away, I headed back to the car to drive the 92 miles to Eatonville.

I found the St. John’s River again in Sanford, Florida and was reminded of my drive up the Pacific Coast Highway as I drove US-1 out of Los Angeles with the ocean on my left. It was a beautiful sight then and a beautiful sight in Sanford.

It was after 5 pm when I finally made it to Eatonville. I drove past the venue, found a hotel, and had dinner. It had been a beautiful day but I was whipped and wanted to go straight to bed! I spoke briefly with a classmate I hadn’t seen in over 30 years before settling in and ended up watching Lifetime’s ‘Betty and Coretta’ before drifting off to sleep.

I was on the festival grounds well before noon and walked about feeling historic Eatonville before visiting the Zora Neale Hurston Museum. Eatonville was one of the first Black towns formed after the Emancipation Proclamation and remains to this day “The Oldest Incorporated African-American Municipality in America” according to the city’s website. A favorite writer and the author of Their Eyes Were Watching God as well as many other novels and short stories, Zora Neale Hurston claimed Eatonville as home. What an amazing feeling to walk where she walked so many years ago!

After the festival Sunday, I met my classmate in the Altamonte Mall parking lot. Happy to see each other, we hugged and hugged, talked and talked, and never made it inside the mall or anywhere else. We stood out there catching up for over two hours!!

Shortly after 4 pm, I headed back to Jacksonville where I spent the night with my cousin Jean. We visited my 97 year old Uncle Braiford who’s recuperating in a rehabilitation center. As wonderful as it was to see him, he is no longer the vibrant and handsome man of my memories. He’s still handsome, yes, but very fragile now. My visit with Jean reminded me so much of my visits with cousins Barbara and Marvin in Atlanta. They’re so genuine and easy to be around that you don’t want to leave. But I left Florida Monday afternoon anyway, stopped in St. Mary’s to visit Crooked River State Park where I took pictures of the river and journaled before driving the 60 or so miles back to Sandridge.

As Thomas Jefferson said, “never put off tomorrow what you can do today.” It was a wonderful trip, and I’m so glad I didn’t put off going!

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