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Suburban cowboys

In a spot soon to be surrounded by a sparkling new high school, massive shopping mall, exclusive golf course and more homes than they would care to count, Eddie Glisson and his family endure.

Eddie and Mary Lou Glisson, married for 46 years, bought their 10-acre spread on Hixon Road in 1962 to raise their twin sons and enjoy country living. The boys are grown now, nearly 40, but both still live on the property, which hasn't changed much since they bought it.

It's from this rural spot in an increasingly suburban neighborhood that the Glissons run the family business, a suitably rural choice: hauling livestock and raising cattle.

"If we have too much hauling, we have boys we can use, but mostly, it's just the three of us," Eddie Glisson says, referring to himself and his sons.

All around them, however, the landscape is changing.

Already the walls of the new Sickles High School loom across the street. The new golf course being built by Outback Steakhouse executives will go on property beside the Glissons' next-door neighbor. Behind them, the proposed Citrus Mall will soon begin construction, and they hear developers plan a huge subdivision to one side.

In a few years, their property will be a rural island in a sea of development, and Eddie has some reservations.

"When that school gets here, you'll have drugs and auto thefts," he grouses.

"We've been back here away from everything for so long, we don't have to hear neighbors fussing at each other, and we don't feel closed in. I don't like being closed in. When you're retiring, you like things to be the way they were."

The Glissons know those times are long gone _ even in relatively bucolic Citrus Park. The unlocked doors and open spaces that characterized the area when the family moved here more than 30 years ago long ago succumbed to the pressures of growth.

Not that the Glissons are giving up on their way of life. Although supposedly retired at age 66, Eddie Glisson still works with cattle and horses. And the entire family takes part in Glisson Livestock Hauling.

Mrs. Glisson feeds and vaccinates the cattle and answers the phone in the house or the barn. Jeff specializes in hauling horses long distances, something his brother, Jim, used to do before taking a full-time job at Feed Depot. He still helps out on weekends.

In addition to their 10 acres, the Glissons lease an additional 500 acres _ 40 in front of their property, 40 in back, more in other locations in the Citrus Park area _ to graze their 200 head of cattle. Their property runs almost to the dead end of Hixon Road. Jeff's newer, two-story home sits near the road, while his parents' home next door sits back off a long unpaved road fronted by cow pastures and flanked by an old barn and lots of farm equipment, trucks and horse trailers.

Father and son look natural in their western shirts, straw cowboy hats, jeans and boots. When they talk about their ranch and business, it's obvious by the pride in their eyes and the smiles on their faces that they love what they do.

But that is changing, too.

"Cattle are fun to work with, but the biggest problem is that they're not profitable," Jeff says. "The price has dropped drastically."

"NAFTA had a lot to do with that," Mary Lou said with a scowl. "They can ship 'em in from Mexico cheaper than we can raise them."

"My brother and I sold all our cattle," Jeff said, shaking his head.

One thing _ maybe the only thing _ that hasn't changed is the family's work ethic.

Right now, the Glissons are concentrating on their horse-hauling business. They transport show and race horses, sometimes very valuable ones, around the country.

They move family equines to new homes. They take horses to the airport in Miami to be shipped abroad. They drive ailing horses to the veterinary hospital at the University of Florida in Gainesville, and transport others to parade sites.

Jeff handles the long-distance hauling, which sometimes requires overnight stays at horse motels, where owners can sleep in a motel room while their animals are fed, brushed and bathed for $25 to $35 per night. Over the years, the Glissons have become acquainted with many ranchers across the country, and are always welcome to pull in and rest.

"A lot of people think you just pick up horses and drop them off," Jeff says. "But it's a profession. You're responsible for their safety and comfort. You have to be able to look at a horse and read it and understand how it's feeling. If you have a horse that's sick or anxious, you have to know how to handle it."

No matter how much development encroaches, the Glissons say they plan to stay on their ranch and continue working the only way they know. In the meantime, they are dealing with change the way they have dealt with other challenges: as a family and with a sense of humor.

"Pretty soon there's going to be a high school football field across from my house," Jeff says, with a mischievous grin. "I guess I'll just have to open a Taco Bell."