Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Hideous Plastic House

I have been keeping a secret from you. The Big Picture can always be viewed from many different angles and perspectives. It is easy to leave out a part of the picture to create an impression that doesn’t capture the entire truth. If you don’t step back far enough to gather as much information as possible, looking closely at one single facet can lead you astray by touching just a few emotions. The Big Picture is far more complicated because it contains lots of facets that touch lots of thoughts and feelings.

Have you ever noticed that some people seem to think their cars can give them some characteristic or value that can’t be properly relayed to other humans through their personality or behavior? These people always tend to have new cars, shiny cars, big cars and expensive cars. They get washed and scrubbed and polished like some favorite pet. Real estate agents love to prove they are successful with a car. Some men with monster trucks try to create the illusion that things are bigger than they really are. Need a boob job or a little blue pill, hormone replacement therapy? Buy a car.

The neighborhood where I live is zoned rural and built residential. Because of the high cost of housing this rural/residential in reality has become a cross between duplex and apartment zoning in built structures and habitation. Don’t let the freely roaming jungle fowl fool you, each half acre lot is its own small apartment complex and parking becomes an issue. My landlord’s downstairs tenant parks below their house on an extension of my driveway that is between the two of us.

Every year now Hawaii gets some new insect plague and I do mean plague. The insect population of the latest pest can reach astronomical proportions and we can’t do much better battling the onslaught than African peasants swatting at locusts.

Two years ago the pestilence was a new species of whitefly. Plumeria trees all over the island looked as if they had been sprayed by the canned snow used for Christmas trees. The bugs were so thick they even migrated to the top of the leaves. Under that white cottony fuzz was a dark black sheen that coated every surface. The main trunks of the trees were completely black. If you walked under the tree you could feel tiny drops of liquid landing on your skin. Honeydew was raining from the trees in visible drops and black mold was growing in this insect excrement every where it landed.

My beautiful Buttercup Tree was attacked by this tiny white hoard. I started a campaign of regular water baths with the hose nozzle set at the longest sharpest spray, good enough for scaling fish, to squash those whiteflies’ in an insect tsunami as I washed them off the leaves. It was an attempt just to keep them at sub plague levels.

There is something else under the Buttercup Tree now.

Mannette move into the downstairs unit at the same time as the whiteflies. One side of my Buttercup Tree gracefully shaded the parking pad where the prized possession of this divorced women was going to spend some time. The lovely BMW lasted one night there because in the morning it was covered in a clear sticky slime. There was a request from the landlords for me to do something about it so I grudgingly removed some major limbs that arched over the space.

Fancy cars often come with custom fit covers so it seemed reasonable to just cover the car as well. The covered car lasted two nights under the newly pruned tree. She claimed the slime oozed through the cover but I know it was just too much effort for her to deal with the sticky thing. The car moved up to the front lawn to park until a new solution could be found.

One day I came home and there on the drive was a Hideous Plastic House. Her son had come from the mainland to visit for the holidays and together they proudly erected this structure. It was jammed up against the trunk of the Buttercup Tree and had turned a two space pad and turn around into room for one car only. It was completely encased with side panels so what had once been an open space and major corridor for all kinds of traffic through a garden and nursery dead ended in a plastic bat cave. At the store they managed to buy a house that was way to long so they removed one section of framing and the plastic roof and walls were draped and adjusted to fit. It looked like the folds of Shar Pei dog and it was parked in my garden flapping in the breeze. I was not happy!

Mannette’s attempt to recapture fond memories of Maui from a time long ago didn’t go well. She was a very attractive normal appearing women but she would never look you in the eye and barely spoke. Over time I realized she was scared to death. A slight breeze generated rustle could startle her. The job she got caused panic attacks and she had to be rushed to the hospital from the community college a few times. A back pain was discovered and then so was oxycontin. The lovely BMW sat in the Hideous Plastic House all day long most of the time now. Once a week it went out for a bath. At the most inopportune times as if she sat by her window waiting for a customer to come down the drive she would appear silent and timid and needing to leave in a hurry. The Plastic House had so constricted the drive that it was a major procedure for this woman, even with a precision driving machine, to turn herself around with another car on the drive and be able to leave. Fifteen minutes later she was back with a piece of fruit from the store. I was not happy!

It was a wet and stormy winter and that Plastic Shar Pei House bounced around and flapped in the wind right outside my bedroom windows for months. I placed cinder block around the ankle of the posts to hold it to the ground and it still danced around the driveway. The Shar Pei folds collected rainwater and it dripped and sagged. The wind was still stronger and the Hideous Plastic House at times got contorted to half its width. It could stay that way for days and still doing a daily fruit run no attempt would be made by Mannette to readjust her car container. After a few days of looking at this I wouldn’t be able to stand it and would move the block covered legs back into place and drain the flooded folds. I was not happy!

Both the end of the whitefly plague and Mannette’s stay on Maui finally came. It may seem like a paradise at first but you can’t lie around sucking the life out of things forever. It is the real world here too after all and competition from other bugs and people eventually will clear things up. The lovely BMW was shipped back to the mainland and she followed a week later. The very next day I was ready to remove this plastic curse from my world. My landlord however had other ideas and wanted it to stay for the next tenant. I suggested one more time a simple built carport to cover the whole pad. He declined again in his regular miserly way. I was crushed. I have lived here for fifteen years and I know both my landlords are about as observant as the blind. When they left one day I removed the side panels and rolled up the excess fabric hanging off the back end. At least now I could walk through the space again.

It was months before Nalani moved in. The first day Nalani parked her car down here I was thrilled to see it had a major dent and scratch along one side. Not quite a beat up Maui Cruiser, but it was just a machine to get her from point A to point B, not an extension of self. I had known her for many years since she was a friend of the landlord’s daughters growing up.

Even though I still hated it, I had gotten used to sitting in the shade of my plastic house and potting plants or doing cuttings. It was a lot less aggravating when it was useable space and didn’t hinder foot traffic. Though it would be a parking space again, she was young, active and had a job and the car wouldn’t be sitting there all day long. Nalani’s car also didn’t call for the return of the Plastic Bat Cave.

I was out cleaning one day many months ago and sorta of accidentally, maybe, kinda poked a hole in the roof of the Plastic House trying to knock the leaves off that had collected there. Winter has returned and even though there has been next to no rain, the regular wind and storm winds started to blow the sun baked Plastic House around the drive again. One gusty evening I saw my cat GreyMan perched on the roof. He would climb up there from the Buttercup Tree. Later that night when I was out there again the roof of the Plastic House had been ripped almost in half and it hung from the frame flapping in the breeze. I liked that.

Over the next couple of weeks this thing I despised began to slowly disintegrate in the strong winter winds. Nalani continued to park there as if nothing was going on even when the plastic fabric hung so low you had to duck to get in and out of the space. My landlord’s deck looks over this scene and they had to have noticed this thing I offered to remove falling apart below them. It was another contest of wills that I always lose. It wasn’t my Hideous Plastic House. I didn’t want it there. I didn’t park there. It was not my responsibility to clean up this plastic carcass. As usual after weeks of waiting in vain for one of them to deal with their own mess I couldn’t stand it any longer and cut the cord still holding the tattered thing together and removed chunks of the plastic and tucked and folded the rest off to the side.

The disintegration is not complete and it continues to decompose on my drive. I haven’t said a word and have just looked forward to its eventual skeleton where I may be able to say, “Can I take this down now?”

Last week Nalani came down the drive and parked a shiny new sporty looking blue Honda with paper dealer tags in the remnants of the Plastic House. I got a major sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Yesterday Nalani informed me that she was getting water spots on her new car from my irrigation system.

I see blue sky filled with yellow blossoms through the half roofless Plastic House. I see blue sky through the blooming branches of my Buttercup Tree. From certain angles ugliness can be avoided. The giant yellow blossoms that litter the ground can be collected and savored on their own away from the thing that lives beneath it.

I am going to suggest a simple built carport over the entire pad again but I can see a new Plastic Bat Cave in my future. This is just one more facet of the life of my Buttercup Tree. It is still not the complete picture. This tree has a history and a future. The parent clone I planted and grew lives a couple blocks away. There is more I can tell you, but for now what is important to know is that beauty can exist side by side with trash.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

A Story of Art

Dedicated to Aparina

Sometimes words are hard to wrestle into place. They exist in a totally dark room with a black background. There are many hidden entrances and exits. Each word is printed clearly on its own separate card. The common words are haphazardly piled up on top of each other all over the floor. Bigger more complex words are attached to the walls. The transcendent words of mystery without simple definition look down on you from the ceiling. Each separate word glows as it is bathed in a shifting black light, the only light. I have to try and gather the right group of these slippery glowing words in the right order from this dark room to form the sentences to tell you something.

Sister Ana was my favorite companion. I would always stop in for communion when passing through her town. We had met years before when she was exploring Santeria, the Afro-Cuban abomination to the true Catholicism of her heritage. I had found her drugged and bedraggled, wrapped in saran wrap with a few colored balloons still clinging to the inside of this garment. At one point she had been a jar of jellybeans. I held and guided her through the throngs gathered to celebrate the pagan All Hallows Eve. I brought her safely home.

New Orleans was Sister Ana’s new home. We decided as usual on this visit to explore the city and spread the Only Way. It was an auspicious night. The season was upon us again. I wore my special 50’s style thin iridescent tie with my regular starched white shirt and dark dress slacks. Sister Ana wore her dark skirt and white blouse. She carried a hand carved colored orb I had made for her. Decoration as celebration is best when understated. Our leather bound Queen Harriet edition of the Ancient Book of Rules were in our hands with ribbons placed in the proper passages to be ready for the people we encountered.

The night was cool and the clouds hung low not quite sure if they should be fog. We walked the dark streets and talked excitedly about what this night might bring. As we walked the clouds became mist. Now far from home we began to think of shelter. The Convent was not far so we headed towards Rampart Street.

As we approached the iron gates in the arch leading into the Convent a light caught our eyes. Projected on the bare industrial wall of the building across the narrow road from the Convent was the haunting architecture of another building. The picture changed and a different building was imposed on the wall as if trying to make the plain building into something more grand than it was.

The gates were open and a large crowd was gathered inside the courtyard created by the wall and the two story brick buildings of the Convent. Large brick planter boxes filled with shrubs and small trees and built in benches help fill the large space. At one end a giant Live Oak, symbolic of this city, stood dead. A large stump that was not yet ready to give up its prominence in this garden.

The crowd pulled us in and up the stairs to a large entry room that connected to the balconies that overlooked the courtyard. An eerie green light filled the room. Highlighted at one end was a large table that held an entire tropical island complete with mountains, shore and tropical vegetation. Part of one slope of the island was missing and as we grew closer we could see people were dipping tiny surfboards into the landscape and eating chunks of this scene. Sister Ana insisted and we both ate from this strange buffet. What seemed like a chipped beef pate with a mild horseradish pineapple lawn both stung and tingled the tongue. We managed to grab a glass of punch before the crowd swelled and pushed us along the darkened corridors of the Abbey.

As we passed the open doors to the rooms along the hall a strange new scene appeared in every room. Some rooms we were pushed into and others past. This was not how our night had been foreseen. In one room a very large circular ottoman was the stage of a fine sensuous women dressed in nothing but sheer scarves that twirled about her as she danced. Bathed in a soft red light her tender nudity hypnotized us into reverence.

Constantly moved by this murmuring but gentle throng we came upon a room that was completely blue. The floor, walls, ceilings, even the sparse furniture was a vibrant periwinkle blue. The furniture was not as it should be. The stuffed lounge chair was attached to the wall and a side table at its feet on the floor. A floor lamp hung from the ceiling and a small chest of drawers was perched at an angle between the wall and floor. The only thing not this single color of blue was a large mirror that completely filled one doorway.

In another room a strong young man in his Calvin briefs was tethered from head to toe and staked firmly to the wooden floor. Dozens of thin white ropes accentuated by his smooth brown body coursed around his limbs and over his body. A platoon of mechanical toy soldiers marched in disarray around this captured giant.

The crowd which had been strong yet smiling and polite and had communicated in quiet hushed tones suddenly began to grow louder and more excited. I held on to Sister Ana and we were carried out of the building and into the courtyard.

It very rarely snows in New Orleans. The sky above the courtyard was filled with thick fat flakes falling gently to the ground. An event of this magnitude caused a major reaction in the crowd. Suddenly with the beat of a drum a pounding rhythmic music filled the courtyard and the crowd began to dance. The snow kept falling. The music’s tempo continued to climb as the falling snow increased in thickness. The strong young man released from bondage smiled in rapturous joy as he was caressed by the rhythm of sound and moving bodies. For what seemed like hours we danced with the music and the falling snow. It kept on as the snow was growing knee deep and dancing was getting difficult. Finally the snow began to ebb and the music slowed. The crowd thinned and we were released back onto the street outside.

We walked slowly getting our bearings, determining which way was home. I noticed I did not have my Ancient Book of Rules and automatically turned to go back to get it. When I turned looming over the Convent walls high into the sky, the dead Live Oak was encased in glistening white snow. I touched Ana’s shoulder and she turned to look. We paused to look at this sight and into each others eyes and then turned back and headed home. The ribboned rule book no longer seemed like the Only Way.

Ani still held the hand carved orb I had given her at the beginning of the night. Her Ancient Book of Rules was also gone. There was now a faint glow emanating from within the colored orb and we used its light to guide us home.

The Incident at the Bread Factory

“What in tar nation is goin on down ta the bread factory Vern?”

“Ain’t that somethin, BillyB? Them people are lookin pretty darn mad.”

“What’s done caused all that ruckus?”

Well BillyB from what I heard told, seems the boss had a good idea to promote his self. He figured he could make beer instead of bread. Same basic ingredients kinda and since it makes more money and folks cain’t never have too much beer he made a contest for getting his self some beer recipes.

He posted signs all up an down the interstates saying “America’s Voted Number One Beer All You Can Drink FREE!” “Submit your original recipe for making the best most affordable beer at this bread factory for a chance to win.” Now how was folks gonna pass that up. Here was a factory gonna make beer and if their special method won they was set for life. Everyone else would have a great new affordable beer to drink.

“Wow Vern, that sounds mighty fine. Shouldn’t them people be daincin instead?”

“They sure was excited at first BillyB, everybody talkin special recipes and runnin the factory and such. The recipes started pourin in faster and faster from all them people seein the signs on the interstate and nobody could keep up.”

Lots of folks though knew that the factory was gonna have ta upgrade and the polyticians was gonna need to make some laws bout this. Others thought about where the best ingredients was gonna come from and about the mess the factory might make. Even more was designin delivery trucks and thinking bout the workers. Takes more ta make beer then just a simple recipe and folks was givin their ideas and talkin to turn this whole factory around. They was promotin The Number One Beer after all, The Best Beer Ever. The factory needed to be made right too.

“Yep I guess that’s right Vern.”

So the boss took all them ideas for the factory and such and simple recipes for beer and never rejected a one of them as wrong headed or disqualyfied and sat with his thinkers for a spell to pick out the good ones. Then he announced his first sample was ready for folks to try.

“I see a bunch of kegs all lined up down there. They must be makin beer now Vern, but no one seems to be drinkin it. They’s all just yellin and shoutin.”

It show is a mess down there. My friend Yeager come up from there and told me that they ain’t gonna put much money in the factory or the ingredients or nothing else and all them kegs lined up down there is all Old Milwaukee beer with different logos stuck ta the sides. They’s wantin people to taste em and pick out which one of them is the best of the batch for the Best Beer in America prize.

“WOW! Ain’t that somethin. I guess folks was really expectin a great new beer.”

“What’s gonna happen now Vern?”

“We’ll just have ta wait an see BillyB. Maybe the factory will have ta stick to bread makin.”
(to be continued)

Bonafacio and Jesus

As if timed by the clock of an irrigation system they arrive every Tuesday afternoon at 2pm. I look at them in awe and with great respect and at the same time with an unfathomable sense of dread and horror. These two ancient men arrive in an old blue pickup truck to mow and edge the lawns of two adjacent houses in a gated golf course community. I have seen them many times over the last five years but now my schedule closely matches theirs and I see them almost every week.

We have never spoken. I have nodded my head in acknowledgement as a hello over the noise of the machines and the passing visual contact created by the dance we do as we go about our chores. Most days a younger man, in his 40's perhaps, stops by to check in with these methodical and gnarled laborers. I imagine him to be one of their great-grandsons because the thought that he is just a boss to them is too repugnant.

They dress like my grandfather did when he worked in his yard. They are well covered by the work clothes of a time gone by and for a climate it seems of some other place. In long khaki pants, long sleeved flannel shirts, sturdy shoes and baseball caps one mows the grass while the other weed whacks the edges.

What they are doing is of no importance. That is not what catches my attention. It is the fact that it is them doing the same thing as me that makes my heart almost stop and that demands my mind to find a story to go with this sight.

Bonafacio and Jesus I have decided to call them. They are a pair of tiny exquisitely carved antique bookends. Two very old Filipino men who look to be in their late 80's and have those weathered and wrinkled tribal faces that you have seen looking out at you from the pages of National Geographic. Neither of them can be taller than five foot four and their combined weight might be about 180 pounds. Bonafacio works the trimmer and I watch for the weight of the commercial grade engine to pivot on the fulcrum that is this tiny little gnome of a man and pull him over with it.

I watched one day as the two of them together slowly lifted the mower from the old blue truck and even more slowly and gently set the mower on the ground, no ramp for these guys. Jesus, the smaller of the two takes the mower and with a shuffle that belongs in a nursing home mows the lawns. His steps do not lift his feet from the ground and his stride is the length of one foot. The mower is not self propelled but I still fear it may get rolling to fast and drag him away.

It is a mixture of magic and fear that Bonafacio and Jesus bring up into the chatter in my head. The fear is of course that I see before me my own fate. Do these two ancient men still have to go mow some rich persons lawn to feed them selves and pay their bills? Knowing a bit of Hawaiian history and of the immigrants who came here, I wonder are these men even citizens? Did they come here at the turn of the century to work the plantations and work their way up to be gardeners but never quite join a system that would give them social security? Is this my economic fate too, a laborer until the end? Oh God Help Me!

The magic is undeniable though. It is as if I am watching characters of some Asian fable I do not know. They may have been cast as statues and have sat tucked away and quiet for centuries like ornaments in some garden, now come to life before my eyes. They are like a pair of garden gnomes full of wisdom about the mysteries of nature. They are still at work, impervious to the changes around them and telling me in their quiet way that this is the work, gardening, that keeps them alive, that this is the kind of work that may keep us all alive.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006


My father’s parents came from Ireland. I do not know the exact year or the town in Ireland. They settled in St. John’s, Newfoundland and it was there that my father, James Francis McDonald was born. From there they moved to Boston, Massachusetts.

When my father was eighteen they moved to Jacksonville, Florida and settled in the northwest section of town known as Panama. It was considered country in those days. It consisted of fifteen acres all set out in fruit trees peach, pear, plum and persimmon, and scuppernong grape vines. I loved to swing in the grape vines. The house was three stories.

I remember my mother driving Charlie our horse hitched to a gig and cutting through the woods from our home in what was called Campbell’s Addition in the Northeast end of Springfield to spend Thanksgiving Day in the country. I was only four or five at the time but I remember it well and seeing the woods fires and my mother telling me that it was tramps camping in the woods and her saying “Get up Charlie”

After we had moved down town I was staying during the day with my grandmother (my mother’s mother). My cousin Lucy who lived in the country in Panama was about six years older than me. She came to my grandmother’s and asked if I could go out to the country for the week-end. My grandmother asked Lucy who was with her. She said “the man that works on the place was around at the store getting the groceries.” My grandmother said I could go. I hurried to change my clothes. I had to put on new stockings which I usually complained about but I never said a word putting them on as fast as I could. When we got around to the grocery store a man came out and put a box of groceries in the wagon. Lucy jumped up on the seat and took hold of the reins and told the horses to “get up.” I said “Lucy, where is the man?” She said “0h shut up child there a’int no man. I just told your grandmother that, so that she would let you go.” I was having the time of my life when Uncle Robbie came for me on Sunday with his bicycle. I had to sit on the bar of his bicycle on a cushion all the way home and we were five miles from town. We often spent the day there after we had moved down town.

One time I remember the ladies were crabbing off the dock. The men had gone out in the boat to do some deep sea fishing. My mother was calling to one of the ladies to bring her the crab when she backed off the dock. She clung to the pilings of the dock while the other women yelled for help. A man passing on the road on his bicycle heard the calls and came to the rescue. He was terribly fat and when he lay down on the dock I was afraid he would be pulled in. However he succeeded and they took my Mother up to the house where her clothes were dried out. She had on a heavy black skirt and it kept filling with water. She kept telling me “I’ll be out in a minute darling” when I started at one time to jump in with her. Some years later we learned that his name was Wagner and I was in school with his son Jerry. I also knew the daughter Lucille.

After Grandfather and Grandmother McDonald had passed away Aunt Katie and Aunt Mollie with Aunt Katie’s children, Lucy and Frank moved into East Jacksonville. They were not in the area of the Jacksonville fire. They rented the old home and some years later it was burned down. There are still a few wild olive trees standing on the hill where the house once stood. The wild olives were originally a hedge up each side of the house. I have taken my children from time to time and shown them the site where their ancestors lived.

I was just nine years of age at the time of the Jacksonville fire of May 3, 1901 but I have a very vivid memory of it. We were just finishing dinner when we heard the clang of the fire bells. So I went out on the side walk. My grandmother’s home was just three blocks straight down Ocean Street from the fire station. I often went out to watch the engine drawn by big dappled gray bores come out of the fire house and turn the corner. Today they kept coming and coming until there were no more to come. I knew it must be a big fire

My Uncle came home for dinner as the noon meal was called in those days. After dinner my Uncle told my grandmother that he would go and see if he could find out how near the fire was. He returned in a short time and said “Mama you don’t have anything to worry about the fire is five miles or more away”. It was my grandmother’s anniversary (wedding). She always kept a piece of the Christmas fruit cake wrapped in a linen table cloth and from time to time poured some wine over it. My Uncle said, “Mama get a bottle of wine, and we will have a “hot time in the old town tonight”. Little did we know how true those words were going to be?

I stayed with my grandmother after I came from school every day until my mother came from work in the evening. We lived just a block away. She always made me change from my school clothes. This day was no different. I had on a faded calico print the worst dress I owned. That was all I owned the day after the fire.

The fire was getting closer all the time. The smell of fire was in the air and you could scarcely see the sun for the haze of smoke. It looked like a ball of fire and it was just as hot.

It wasn’t long before another uncle; my grandmother’s married son came to help her save some of her belongings. He had gotten his wife and baby on a boat across the river. His father-in-law was a river boat captain. My other uncle had learned that the fire was spreading all over town. He had managed to get a Negro man with a truck that hauled freight for the department store that my uncle worked for. He took him in the saloon in back of the grocery store on the corner and tanked him up with beer. Houses all around were on fire and my uncles were urging us to get out of the house. I kept bringing my doll things down on the porch begging my uncle to put them on the truck. Just as they were about to drive away he threw my doll carriage on the wagon. It leaned to one side after that. Years later I gave it to his little girl.

My grandmother had locked her dresser drawer in which she had her household money and the lovely locket of her mother hand painted on ivory. Her father had five of them painted for his five daughters. I always loved to look at it. My uncle came in with the axe and wanted to split the dresser open but my grandmother wouldn’t let him. She could not remember what she had done with the key. As a result everything was lost.

To this day I often wonder why I didn’t take my dolls especially one that had been given me by the lady from whom my grandmother rented the house. It had belonged to her daughter who was grown up now. It was almost as big as a year old baby, had long golden braids, ears were pierced with ear rings in them and a trunk full of beautiful clothes.

My aunt had dragged down the stairs a trunk of my father’s thinking it contained some of my mother’s treasures, silver and china which she had stored in her mother’s linen closet. However it turned out that it only had in it a few pieces of china, some books and old clothing of my father’s. My father had gone to a city in the North to go in business with a friend. He was a Jeweler and my mother had a chest of his containing his jeweler’s tools to send him when he got settled. This all went with everything in the fire.

Well we finally got on our way but not before my grandmothers house was on fire too. A piece of burning shingle fell striking me on the hand which burned me all afternoon. We went through a narrow wood walk along the banks of the creek winding our way to the North. There was a large grove of huge oak trees which bore the name of the man that owned the land called Searing’s Grove.

It was crowded with people, household belongings and animals. We stopped to rest for a while. While we were resting my grandmother opened the box which she had been carrying thinking it was her silk ruche she had gotten for Christmas. They were worn around the neck slightly back on the shoulders like a small fur is worn. To her surprise when she opened the box it contained a cheap doll which had been given me by Cousin Pauline which she had gotten with tea from the A&P Tea Co. I did a regular Indian War dance when I saw it. I cry to this day when I think of the lovely dolls left behind to burn.

Before we left the house I had seen a lady pass by, dressed in her Sunday best, wearing a large hat adorned with an ostrich feather leading her cow right down the middle of the street.

My uncle was pushing us out of the house when my mother arrived gasping for her breath and suffering with an asthma attack which she was subject to. She had been waiting on a customer for mosquito netting and asked him if he knew anything about the direction the fire was taking. He said “You don’t have any thing to worry about lady. It’s going east. The Catholic Church is on fire”. My mother dropped the netting saying “My God man that is right where my child is.” She left the store immediately. Walking so fast and the distance she had to walk is what brought on the asthma attack. She didn’t even stop by our home which was only one block from my grandmother’s. She was so anxious to get to us. I had been begging my grandmother to let me go get Mama and she told me not to dare move that Mama would find us. My mother lost all of her beautiful jewelry. My father had made her so many lovely pieces, brooches and bracelets. It was the First Friday of the month and my mother had been to Mass and Holy Communion that morning. Before going to work she slipped off her diamond ring into her top dresser drawer. I remember a bracelet that she wore made of gold and silver woven together forming a lover’s knot that my father had made her.

Someone had thrust the family photo album into my mother’s hands. My grand mother was clutching a long box, and my Aunt had her kitchen apron held up in front of her with all her friendship cups in it. We rested in the grove until my mother seemed a little relieved of the asthma attack. Then we continued on into the neighborhood beyond, going from one friend’s house to another. Everyone was crowded. An elderly friend of my grandmother’s gave me a bonnet of hers to keep the sun off my head. When we got around the corner I threw it in a ditch. I got a laying out for this.

We stopped at the home of a friend of my uncle’s and though they were crowded, they allowed us to rest for a while. They were just a few blocks from the creek where the fire stopped. My grandmother and aunt continued on into East Jacksonville, as my uncle had told them to do. He was sure of finding refuge with an old friend of his in East Jacksonville when he left with the colored man and the wagon. My two uncles had managed to save a few bundles of clothing etc., and my grandmother’s sewing machine. He was almost overcome by the smoke when he reached his friend’s home.

My mother and I were still sitting on the porch of my uncle’s friend when a young man my mother knew came along driving the Express Company’s truck with his aunt’s piano in it. My mother went out to him and asked if there was any chance of getting us to the other side of the fire area to the foot of the viaduct. He said he was going that way and would take us. He had to lead the horse on foot from time to time and lift up fallen wires with the whip and then guide the horse over smoldering ruins of houses and buildings. It was almost dark when we got to the foot of the viaduct. My mother and I walked across it to the home of her cousin which was some distance from the foot of the viaduct. Her house was pretty crowded but she took us in. We slept four to a bed that night with a chair beside the bed with pillows on it for me. My mother said I clutched her hand and cried out all night “Mama, Mama”. We stayed there about two weeks.

An old lady, a distant cousin made me the first dress I had. The dry goods stores built temporary buildings of wood to enable the people to get materials for clothes. The Red Cross set up a commissary in Hemming Park. We were given cots and bedding. My mother also got a sewing machine. We then joined my Grandmother, Aunt, and Uncle in an apartment in Springfield. With cots and boxes to sit on and another to act as a table to eat off, this was all we had to start housekeeping.

The fire started in a fiber factory in the Northwest part of town. The fiber was used in upholstering furniture and making mattresses. It was believed that a carelessly thrown match while the Negro workers were resting after lunch was the cause of the fire. It had been very dry and hot for a month, with no rain and the wind sprung up shortly after the fire started which caused the fiber to be carried by the wind starting fires in several areas at the same time so that the firemen were handicapped in fighting them. Most of the structures were of wood construction and wood shingle roofs with the exception of a few buildings in the in the business section. Fire equipment came from as far away as Savannah, Ga. The fire spread over a two mile area and consumed 466 acres in the heart of the city stopping on the North by Hogan’s Creek, on the South by the St. John’s River, to the East and West by the creek. The Post Office, the Astor Hotel and Duval Hotel were the only buildings left standing.

Later we moved to a house on Riverside Avenue. It was while we lived there that my dream took shape. Several blocks from our house I often passed a little white house that sat way back from the street on the bank of the river. Two huge oak trees with limbs like protective arms over the grounds. There was a white picket fence enclosing the yard across the front. The grass was always green and two white rabbits hopped around in it. The gate was two steps up from the sidewalk. I would stand peering through the gate, entranced by what seemed to me a veritable fairyland. This picture stayed in my mind all through the years like a mythical “pot of gold” at the end of the rainbow.

From the ashes of that tragic fire of May 3, 1901, a new Jacksonville was born, reborn to a new growth and new progress that was to see it become one of the greatest cities of the United States. Skyscrapers began to rise, new hotels, churches and theaters.

I had just shortly recovered from Diphtheria at the time of the fire. I had become infected with the disease while spending the day with Annie and Joe Lackman while Aunt Della went down town to purchase some material. Little Herbert, four years old was feverish and vomiting. I held him on my lap. He died with Diphtheria and three weeks later I came down with it. It was while I was ill that Mrs. Brickwedel gave me the doll that had been her daughter’s. Other members of the family gave me some German coins for my bank. When I was taken ill I remember my uncle carrying me from our house rolled in a comforter to my grandmother’s. When the doctor told my mother that I had Diphtheria and would have to be quarantined I wondered why she was crying. She was begging him not to report it as she was obliged to work. The doctor said if he did not report it he would be running the risk of being barred from the profession if it was learned that he had failed to report a case of Diphtheria. He finally consented to me being quarantined in an up stairs bedroom of my grandmother’s home. Miss Lottie Buck, who was a nurse for whom my grandmother had done a favor at some time offered to be quarantined in the room with me. Disinfected sheets were hung at the door and everything was sterilized that was passed to and from the room. Miss Lottie stayed right in the room with me until I had recovered.

Time marched on but always in the back of my mind was the little white house. One day, shortly after the fire my mother and I went to the ruins of our home to see if we could find anything. Standing on a pile of debris just as if some on had placed it there was a statue of St. Joseph that Sister Mary Anne had given to my mother when she was married. It was not even scorched. We also found my bank which was of metal and looked like a bank that you see in stores with a combination lock. The coins were all melted together. Later we managed to separate them so that you could see the dates on some of them and tell what they were. Another time I was spending the day at Aunt Della’s, Joe and I decided we would walk over to ruins of my grandmother’s house. They only lived on the other side of the creek from the fire area where Brickwedel’s grocery store had been. The door to the safe was propped open with a stick. I put my foot against it to tie my shoe lace. The door came down on my foot and none of us could lift it off. There were men nearby cleaning up the debris and a colored woman was carrying water to them. When they saw what happened they came to our help. The colored woman took off my shoe and stocking and my toenail came with it. She bathed my toe and tore a piece off her apron and bandaged it up. One of the men carried me to the street car on Main Street and we rode to Phelps Street where Aunt Della lived. Mama was coming there for supper. We had planned to play games, but I was in too much pain for games.

Time marched on for me also. I grew into my teens. There were parties, straw rides, Thursday evening band concerts on the Springfield Blvd., sitting on the lawn holding hands with your boy friend, dancing to the music and summer evenings going by trolley to Phoenix Park on the banks of the St. John’s River to see the Mabel Page Stock Company. It was also the good place to wind up the straw ride with a watermelon cutting. “The Jolly Crowd”, a club composed of all of our crowd often had our picnic there. We met once a month at first one home and then another and about two or three times a year to have a dance.

Pablo Beach, as it was known in my girlhood was a popular summer resort. You had to go by train in those days. The 4th of July was a great holiday at the Beach. I had friends there that I often spent a few days with. I remember one time that I was there Alice and I wanted to go visit with Gladys Wheeler. She lived quite some way down the Beach known as South Pablo. Her brother Ed went with us. He soon tired and left us to come home by ourselves. As we walked down the Beach, a man walking his dog kept whistling and we were afraid he was whistling at us. There was nothing but high sand dunes along the side of the ocean. We would run and climb up one side and slide down the other side. We finally made it back to Alice’s house and were giving Ed down the country to his mother when he jumped from behind the door.

Sunday excursions by boat on the St. Johns River to Green Cove Springs were another enjoyable pastime. One Sunday a girl friend of mine and her boy friend and me and my boy friend went down for the day. We packed a picnic lunch. There were tables and benches under the huge oak and magnolia trees and there was a pool for swimming. The pool was quite slippery on the bottom due to the scum from the sulfur water. My girl friend sent her boy friend to get her camera to take some pictures. I never will forget the look on her face when he stepped into the pool and promptly went down on his face, camera and all. I never did find out if she was able to have it fixed. I had been to a party a few nights before. My boy friend had to work, so I went with some one else. When I asked my boy friend to get me some magnolia blooms he said “Why didn’t I have that pine tree (he was quite tall) get them for me.” He was mad about me going to the party with him.

June 21, 1909, I graduated from St. Joseph’s Academy. It was not the happy occasion it should have been. My grandmother died shortly after we arrived at the Convent for the exercises. Therefore they never took place. However, I was presented my diploma and medals.

I had been dating a young man for some months. He was in the auditorium. When he learned of my grandmother’s illness he located a Dr. and also my uncle. My grandmother was anxious to know if he had arrived. This was the third heart attack she had had in as many weeks. The Dr. did all he could, but she passed away. I had been taking a business course along with my graduate studies with the idea of doing office work. My Uncle through a friend of his got me a temporary job at the Post Office. Usually they didn’t employ women. I was at a matinee at the Duval Theater when he came and took me out to go see about this position. I can’t recall just how long I worked there. However, my friend Gertrude Paris got me a position with the Daniel Advertising Agency where she worked.

I often visited at her home with her and her mother occasionally having dinner with them. They had two young men boarding with them. They were from New Orleans of French descent. Gertrude was dating the older brother and I began dating the younger one. We couples and another more settled couple, friends of Gertrude’s went down to the beach the 4th of July. The following morning I read an ad in the morning paper for a secretary at the Florida Time Union. I applied for it and got it. I liked the Circulation Manager that I worked for and also the other employees in my department. In fact, from the Editor In Chief down everyone was quite friendly. My boss’s office was next to that of the bookkeeper. On Monday the men came down from the press room, composing room, and the engraving department to get their pay and naturally I got acquainted with many of them. There was one in particular that was real good looking. He often came to my desk to get a requisition for supplies for the engraving dept. He worked in his undershirt and I couldn’t help but notice his wonderful physique. He reminded me of the poem about the village blacksmith.

One day I was busily typing and hadn’t heard him come in. When he leaned down and whispered in my ear “You know little girl I love you” I nearly fell off my chair.

Then he started asking me to go to lunch or dinner. I made all manner of excuses but it didn’t faze him. It got to be a joke around the office when I told him I had to go to the dressmaker. He would wait downstairs where I usually came out on my way to lunch. It finally got so I would have someone on the lookout for me and go out another door. This went on for some time but I finally started going out with him.

The Circus came to town and a crowd from the T-U was going. He came and asked me if I would like to go. I wasn’t too keen on it because I thought we would have to ride on the street car. When I mentioned that fact he said we could go in a car. So my ears perked up and I thought better of it. Then he took me to see “The Chocolate Soldier”. However he took me to many other plays and musical concerts. He played the cello himself and was particularly fond of good music. He was also an artist. His paintings winning him acclaim wherever exhibited. Through him I learned an appreciation of art and music, opening up a new way of life for me.

He persisted in waiting for me until all my younger boy friends drifted away. I was always finding a box of chocolates in my desk drawer and on Sunday would come a box of flowers with a gift of some kind tucked in. At Christmas it was white kid gloves and a beautiful silver purse. After about a year he proposed marriage. I accepted a beautiful diamond ring from him. Still I was not sure of my feelings towards him. He was so different from the boys my age that I had gone with. I was afraid of the differences in our age. So after a few months I returned the diamond. He almost cried. I could see he was broken hearted. I felt badly too and wasn’t sure if it was love or sorrow I felt for him.

He left a few days later on his vacation by Clyde Line Steamship for New York and Danbury Connecticut. That was where his family settled when they came to this country from Scotland. He told me some time later after we had decided to try it again that he was feeling so blue while sitting on the deck one night that he threw the ring in the ocean off Cape Hatteras.

I missed him while he was gone and I approached him about dating again on his return. When he mentioned giving me a ring again he asked what I liked next to diamonds. I told him “Nothing.” However, he decided for himself and had a setting made by a well known jeweler with two diamonds and a ruby possibly with the idea that the number three might bring more luck this time. The ruby flanked by two diamonds being symbolic of love and happiness. It has evidently proven so for we were married June 4, 1913, leaving by Clyde Steamship for New York and Danbury, Connecticut on our wedding trip.

Billy had purchased a lot as an investment when he came down to work for the Times Union. So while we were planning to be married he started having a house built on it. We moved into our new borne July 12, 1913. While I loved it and it was a white house. It still did not fulfill my dream. Billy also had the dream of having a home on the river and said,” We will be looking and some day we will have a home on the river.” However we lived there thirty five years and our four children were born at that location. Every Sunday we would read the real estate ads and when there was anything that sounded interesting in waterfront we went to see it. It was not until 1941 that we found a waterfront lot that we could afford and started buying it. In August 1947 we started building and according to the contractor we would be in the house by October. We did not get into the house until Dec. 18 due to storms and the delay in construction due to World War Two. In the meantime we were busy clearing the land and setting out the plants that we had brought from our old home.

The house was of block and frame construction, painted white, with red roof and red brick on window sills. The fence across the front corresponded with it, having posts of white block topped with red brick and farm style wood palings. The land extended 400 feet to the river and was shaded with magnolia, oak, gum, maple and hickory trees, besides the flowering trees of redbud, dogwood, golden rain and Crabapple which we have added. At last my dream has come true.