Coquina Gates: 4, Last Chance

by Tim Gilmore, 4/1/2017

cont’d from Coquina Gates: 3, Riots of the Fall and Nor’east

April Fools’ Day

Andrea Maybury plans later in the day to visit Anna’s grave.

It’s the eighth anniversary of her death.

Nor is that fact a perverse April Fools’ joke. Nor was it one on April 1st, 2009 when Barbara Mattison, Andrea’s best friend, who lives in the front house across the dirt lane, called her and said, “Anna’s gone.”

“Where’s she off too now?” Andrea had wondered.

Though Anna wasn’t supposed to leave her bed, she was always darting out her door and through the lanes of Coquina Gates in her wheelchair when no one was looking.

“Andrea,” Barbara said, “Anna’s dead.”

She was 26 days short of her 94th birthday.

Last Chance

“I tell her about my grandchild and what I’ve planted and how the fruit trees are doing,” Andrea says about her regular visits to Anna’s grave. “I told her what a surprising abundance the lemon tree had last fall.”

Andrea moved into Coquina Gates 10 years ago to help take care of Anna. She’d moved from a condo in suburban Orange Park after thieves broke in. Two years before that, she’d been robbed at gunpoint in suburban Mandarin.

The physician for whom she’d worked had just closed his business when Andrea saw the newspaper ad calling for a caretaker. A Rhode Island native who spent part of her childhood in the Bahamas and moved as an adult to Southern California and then North Florida, Andrea had never seen any place like Coquina Gates. She instantly felt a sense of safety and wellbeing she hadn’t felt in years and a deep resonance with Anna.

When Andrea interviewed for the position, she told Anna’s daughter Randee, “Even if you don’t hire me, please don’t let your mother stay in a nursing home.”

Andrea’s own mother had stayed in two Orange Park nursing homes where she was administered the wrong medication and where, after she’d had her hip replaced, nurses dropped her and dislocated her new hip.

Andrea lives in one of the two smallest houses in Coquina Gates. She loves to watch Tiny House Nation and other shows about the “tiny house movement” on Home & Garden Television.

Hers is the original house and the only one the Russells never named. Andrea moved into Anna’s first house while Anna lived in her last house.

The house is only 800 square feet, but was less than half that when the Russells lived here with their two small children.

The Russells had begun renting the wooded property behind Old Ms. Bachee’s little Victorian house closer to Bartram Road. All that’s left of that house now is the unpaved driveway, a ring of camphor trees, and long mounds of Cast Iron Plants in the woods.

Anna was pregnant with the Russells’ first daughter Randee and stayed with her parents in Georgia while Jim built the strange house, simultaneously tiny and monumental.

The coquina hearth is the smallest in the village, but it’s still more substantial than hearths in most homes. The chimney rises from the roof like a mountain village, layer pitched and gabled upon pitched and gabled layer, patches of stucco and fieldstone and marble and slate exposing unexpected vents rising toward the full vents of the gnomic mountain house on top.

The pecky cypress interior walls, stone floor, and solid oak ceiling beams of the front room are similar to the details of larger rooms in the other houses. This one room and the single bedroom were the beginnings of Coquina Gates. The kitchen and second bedroom came much later.

Anna told Andrea about a journalist and writer named Ski (She assumes that’s the suffix of his last name.) who lived in this house in the late ’80s or early ’90s. Ski opened his doors to the village raccoons, let them come in and wander the house, fed them and gave them water and milk.

Like the other houses at Coquina Gates, this first house feels like it was built to love and take care of you, and Andrea says that’s precisely how she feels here.

She says, “It’s home. It’s a house that was built that way,” as though home is a quality an artist can build into a house, the way you can taste the love cooked into certain homemade meals.

Two things, though, Andrea was not content with in this original house. The pecky cypress that surfaces the front of the house’s addition seemed sun-dried and blanched. So she varnished it. It looked wonderful, dark and rich. And the next day the sun seemed to have evaporated the varnish. Secondly, she decided the house needed a name.

We’re sitting at her outside bistro table, while Midas, her shaggy and cleverly named Golden Retriever, eagerly pushes his snout into my hands for me to pet him, which it’s my pleasure to do.

“I call the house Last Chance,” she says. “Don’t you think that’s a good name?”

I agree. “So the first house is Last Chance?”

“I came here for Anna,” Andrea says, “and she’s gone. And this will be the last place for me too.”

cont’d at Coquina Gates: 5, The Gates