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Uncle keeps his word on special land
Imagine your uncle died and left you a fortune. How long would it take for $10 million to burn a hole in your pocket? But before the spending spree starts, read the fine print. There’s a you-can’t-ever-spend-it string attached to the gift.
That’s exactly what Uncle Jake Moody did in 1952. And it’s the same way his inheritance came. Jake Moody was a rich man, but you wouldn’t have known it. Jake found happiness living in a log cabin in the middle of 3,500 acres hugging the Altamaha River north of Baxley.
Papa John made Jake promise never to cut a stick of the wood that wasn’t absolutely necessary. He didn’t, except to pay taxes. And he would have been riled to give up part of his virgin forest to make way for Georgia Power’s Plant Hatch.
Never married, Jake embraced three of his brother’s children - Causs, Wade and Elizabeth Moody. The brothers and sister lived a mile apart in 100-year-old heart-of-pine cabins, and they never married. But they were wed to their uncle’s vision.
If they had cranked up chainsaws regularly, the trio could have enjoyed fine homes with all the frills. Instead, Miss Elizabeth was happy in an old cotton dress, sitting by her only heat - the fireplace. Causs and Wade felt the same, in their well-worn overalls and brogans. Their dirt yards were swept clean with gallberry brooms.
Years ago, robbers descended on Uncle Jake. They heard he had a safe and figured the miserly land baron had to be loaded with cash. When the safe was tumbled into the yard and ripped open, all they lifted was a $10 gold certificate. Uncle Jake had sniffed out the suspicious-looking men who had been lurking around. He hid his money in a baby’s diaper. In 2001, an arsonist torched the cabin, but the safe is still resting in the weeds where the thieves tossed it.
When Elizabeth died in 1999, at the age of 90, the federal tax man came knocking. The 32 half-nieces and half-nephews had to raise money for estate taxes. Some timber was sold, and they decided to sell the land to divide the proceeds. Nine bidders lined up. All but one suitor wanted to cash in on the towering trees - 300-year-old longleaf pines and mammoth loblollies soaring 120 feet skyward. And there were the old-growth hardwoods that guarded the river bottom.
Papa John, Uncle Jake, Elizabeth, Causs and Wade would have writhed in their graves if their legacy had been hauled off in log trucks. But miracles happen. The envelope from the Georgia chapter of The Nature Conservancy produced the winning bid of $8.25 million. Partnering with the Department of Natural Resources, TNC saved a magnificent piece of Georgia that would have vanished.
I had heard about the Moody Forest. Three years ago, I walked in the wiregrass, beneath the tall timber. I stood on the bluff, overlooking the mystical swamp. And I sat on Miss Elizabeth’s porch, eating a plate of hickory-smoked barbecue. I savored the words of Janisse Ray, author of “Ecology of a Cracker Childhood,” who was propped nearby. Her monologue flowed as magically as the Altamaha River just down the road.
One visit to Moody Forest isn’t enough. Just like done-right barbecue, you’re always ready for one more helping. So I had to go back. And when I slid out of my pickup, I imagined Uncle Jake leaning against the gigantic live oak in the front yard and smiling. The Appling County pioneer kept his word. He had made his father and millions of us proud.
Dink NeSmith is president of Community Newspapers Inc. in Athens. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. This column was printed in the Athens Banner-Herald.