Red River baby. I was born on December 16, 1951, in the Baptist Hospital on the banks of the Red River, in Alexandria, Rapides Parish, LA. We pronounced it LOO-zee-anna; Loo-EE-zee-anna is the Cajun pronunciation; sounded affected to us rednecks, well lah di dah. Now I mostly use the Cajun pronunciation; I'm so fickle. I really am. My mother was Nina Fay Vermillion Cassady (always went by Fay) and my father was John Tom (not Thomas) Cassady. May they rest in peace.
Those crushes went nowhere. It was a Sunday afternoon birth; what a considerate baby I was, for maybe the last time. They named me Jeffrey Scott Cassady, after no one in particular. I was Scotty at first, then Scott or occasionally J Scott. I did not inherit my dad's flame red hair; Mom's brunette genes prevailed there. But I did inherit his freckled fair skin that burned easily; Mom always said I was thin-skinned. All through childhood I idolized my dad; he was my first crush. That left me with a tendency to crush on redheads.
My chosen middle name is Alexander. When I chose my current name in 2004 (I have a history of changing names and accents), I chose my GGGGGrandfather's first name. That's the furthest back I ever got with genealogy. Zachariah Cassady flourished (as they say) in the Cheraw District of South Carolina circa 1736. I also chose a new middle name, for reasons I didn't understand at the time, though I thought I did; I didn't understand until I typed the first paragraph of this story.
Pineville, sorta. We didn't live in Alexandria, we lived across the river in Pineville, notorious as the location of Central State Hospital, the Louisiana nuthouse, still in operation. We didn't actually live in Pineville either, tho' that was our RFD address; we lived a ways out on the Old Marksville Highway on a hobby farm my dad bought instead of a house in town when the US Forest Service moved the family from Ft Collins to Louisiana.
Filling Stevie's shoes. I was, as my mom delicately put it, an unexpected blessing. My elder brother, Steven Michael (they called him Stevie), died at age 2 a year or so before I was born. They had no intention of having another child, but my mom got pregnant anyway. She was 38. They thought that was too old to give birth in those days, but after medical consultation she went ahead with it. Or rather with me. Thanks Mom!
Spoiled brat. The circumstances of my birth had a lasting effect: I got babied and made allowances for way more than any of my siblings; I was a spoiled brat. This didn't bother my sisters Gail and Peggy; they were babying me. But it bugged my brother Tim, and he would point it out: See, you got a power mower for him to use and I had to mow with a push mower; I knew it would happen. You what? Bought him a motorcycle?!
Thankfully I've mostly outgrown that. When I was a wee one, Mom and I had a game we played. She would swoop in to kiss my belly, but instead put her chin on me and move her jaw as she made a funny sound, nananana. I would dissolve in helpless laughter at her tickling. I would beg her, "Chin me, chin me!" But one time I knocked her glasses off with my flailing limbs, so we had to stop. That little game left me extremely ticklish, later a thorn in my side when it came to intimacy. My sweetheart would caress me lovingly and I would jump like I'd been poked with a red-hot poker.
Inheritance. I don't know the size of our farm, but I suspect it was around 40 acres. Our inheritances, the four of us, were all in the form of real property. Tim got the 45 acres he & I planted pines on in the 60s. I got 40 acres that Dad had planted to pines in the 70s. Gail got Suwannee Riverhaven, and Peggy hit the jackpot: 4 lots on Captiva Island. She sold way too early, but still made out like a bandit. After my parents died I took over managing my plot, and I was a good absentee tree farmer, shelling out thousands over the years for thinning, weeding, & fertilizing. By the time I was ready to buy a house in Seattle, those trees were mostly big enough to be graded chip-n-saw rather than just pulp. After considerable wrangling over the phone I received a check in the mail that paid for the house with cash left over, tax free as inheritance. Thanks Dad!
Cracked corn. We had chickens, 2 horses (Star & Blue), and a black dog named Midnite. And a big ol' vegetable garden, of course. One of my big treats was getting to feed the chickens cracked corn. The chickens loved the cracked corn; it was their treat. When I delicately hurled it at them they raised a huge ruckus, exploding into the air and pecking madly at the dirt to score their delicacy.
He was too feisty. I was also a fearless horseman in those days: someone would put me on Blue, the gentle mare who was not at all blue, and lead her around the paddock while I waved my arms intrepidly. But I never rode Star, who did have a star-shaped forehead blaze.
For a long time I considered stump water a sort of magic potion. Most of our farm was wooded. To me the cleared area felt like a vast prairie that went on forever; it was 4-acre pasture. There was a big old stump in the middle of the pasture, taller than my head; I was transfixed to find dark rainwater in a little cavity in it one day. I stood for a long time just looking at that dark brown water, and the rest of the world went away. To me it felt like a tiny pond with a magic spring that was there all the time. The dark brown color of the water seemed magical to me. This was one of my earliest experiences of spontaneous meditation; I was about 3. Years later, when I lived in Tallahassee, I discovered the real practical magic of stump water in the form of cypress pond water, water that's been stained dark brown with tannins.
Secret beach. I never much liked going to the beach. It was kind of interesting at first, but I sunburned easily, and I hated the sticky, sandy feeling that being at the beach left me with. I was ready to go after about 15 minutes, and everyone else wanted to stay for hours. The car ride home was intensely uncomfortable because my thin skin was sunburned, gritty, and irritated by the salt. Some friends in Tallahassee knew about a secret beach near Destin and were just dying to take me there. I resisted for a while but finally gave in. We drove along Highway 98 east of Destin, and turned south toward the Gulf onto an unmarked dirt (sand) road through the pines & palmetto. The road wound around and ended next to a cypress pond full of that dark brown water. We parked and walked on trails through the palmetto scrub to the beach. The beaches along this stretch of the panhandle are quite nice, for beaches; the sand is touted as the whitest in the world. But that's not what made this beach special. We played around on the beach and I got tired of it sooner than anyone else. To my surprise, my friends didn't mind heading back. When we got to the cypress pond they waded in and relaxed in the dark water. The tannic water was crystal clear, stained coffee color; the bottom was that pure white sand. Cypress pond water is mildly acidic; it washed away the sand and stickiness from the beach and soothed my tender skin, irritated by the harshly alkaline environment of the beach. Like the ads say, it restored my skin's natural acid balance. My skin felt smooth and happy after my stump water bath; I had finally found a beach I could live with.
There were giants in the earth in those days. My pasture stump was big but not that big. Much later on my brother told me about coming across bark rings way back up in the woods of north Florida: the disappearing remnant of an old-growth pine felled decades ago. He said he found some 12 ft across, maybe more.
He said I prolly shouldn't do that cuz I'd gum up my record with hair wax. There was an old upright piano in the living room. I used to hide behind it when Peggy was in the living room on a properly supervised 1950s date with her boyfriend, a redhead like my dad; my dad's nicknames had been Carrottop and Copperknob. Only her boyfriend had a flame-red flattop. I was fascinated by his razor-sharp butchwaxed hairdo, and I would come up behind them as they sat most properly side by side on the couch, to get a better look. Little brothers, jeez. Peggy was very tolerant. It's not like they could make out. I had some kind of kid's record in red vinyl, maybe Xmas music, and one time I brought my record and placed it on top of his flattop, red to red, where it sat quite securely. He was good-natured too.
Next time for sure. Mom played that old upright piano, and that was possibly my favorite treat of all. I'd sit beside her on the bench as she played old favorites. The one I remember most was Red Sails in the Sunset. I learned that one later on, after I took piano lessons in Asheville. I could have started piano lessons way back then just by asking her to show me something more interesting to play than Chopsticks or Blue Moon. After that they would've found me piano teachers. But I didn't have the focus or discipline required to become a musician.