The first time I had the pleasure of visiting Fair Oaks, I knew it as “the ranch” and it was a journey into the past, and into old Florida. I hadn’t ever even been off 441 at County Line Road or to Evinston, so I knew it was a trip to remember from the start. I am still continually delighted to have that magical place and the people and animals there intertwined in my life.
Faye Miles, a Julliard trained concert pianist, was the caretaker then. It was 1987 and I was just 16. I call Faye the caretaker for she always espoused the philosophy that Fair Oaks was for everyone and also for the wild things that lived there. In the past, it had been home to numerous students that studied with Faye’s husband, Guy Miles, an English professor at UF.
I was riding down from Gainesville with Rick Knellinger, and we turned onto a lime rock road from County Line Road and then we turned onto the “lane” at Fair Oaks; it felt like we were driving into the wilderness. The lane was overgrown: moss hanging down into the dirt, palm fronds and branches slapping the car, deep, dimpled light, like being underwater in a north Florida spring. It was fantastic! An old mobile home was barely visible through the growth, ghostly there in the shadows. On the right, and still there on the lane today, was on old wooden gate, partially open and inviting us for a walk into the hayfield. You never saw the house until you drove past a huge 10 foot hedge and then there it was with that magnificent magnolia tree. Grass high in the yard, the pear tree huge and green, and the hedges up past the 1st floor windows. It was mysterious, beautiful, inviting; truly a hidden gem. We got out of the car behind the house, parked near the carport, and I could hear a horse whiney. That was Chief, Faye’s prize boy and one of her joys at the ranch. And then there was Faye coming down the walk, a sloped concrete-walkway that went up to the back porch beside a massive cedar tree with wild periwinkles blooming around the base.
She was a slight woman and gave the appearance of being fragile, but she was not at all I came to learn in the coming years. She had a strength, of spirit and person, that was unseen. I didn’t know then that this angel would have such an influence in my life. Snowy hair, beautiful hands with long fingers, a thin wedding band, and rarely any other jewelry. And her voice… So unique and melodic. And I guess the thing that ties all that together in my mind, and I still recall with such power: the smell of her biscuits baking in the oven on the back porch. Never before, or since she died, have I had biscuits like hers! She welcomed me into her home, onto the ranch and into her life that day. Rick was my passport to her world and it was always special for me to visit and to bask on the glow of her company. That night we ate well. I can recall the biscuits above all else. Then the adventure of going through that old house, filled with all manner of things: horse saddles, books galore, another stove in the kitchen, as well as the huge old furnace, chairs, papers, a glorious helter-skelter abundance of stuff all fascinating in its unexpectedness, into the living room with the upright piano. And the grace of her Mozart. I fell in love with her at that moment and I love her still.
Fair Oaks is as much a state of mind, as a place. I know I am biased when I say it is one of the places I would rather be at any moment, than anywhere else.