Gene Barber

Articles of 2003

THE NIGHTMARE OF THE YEAR 2002 1/5/2003

I haven’t had nightmares since I was young, but I’ve just waked from a bad dream. I know it was a dream, because surely none of it could be real…there is no way any of it could be real. Somebody, please tell me that it was all a nightmare. Please.

The worst hit at the beginning of the nightmare was that a very large white elephant had been tethered on the west end of Macclenny that demanded feeding but nobody wanted to take on the job…evidently not even the crew that had brought it to town. It will have to be fed or put down…make no mistake about it.

Then there were dire warnings from our national government to be on the lookout for tremendous devastating happenings, but we were not given “when” and “where” to look. This seemed to have one of two effects: make us more paranoid or make us blasé.

There were, all through my bad dream, several media mistakenly thinking I had some interest in something called “The Osbournes.”

Popping up much too frequently were admonitions to me to be more accepting of Islam because, in spite of many of its adherents killing innocent people by the thousands, it is a religion of peace. The not-too subtle message came through even in the daily crossword puzzles.

Some of the same preachers of the aforesaid admonitions wanted me to feel guilty about being a white American of several generations. I asked why but received no answer except being bombarded with the word “diversity.” Am I not also a part of diversity? Am I not as welcome in this country as an America-hating-but-America-protected alien?

I dreamed that a young sniper of foreign birth and of what has become so chic these days - a minority - became not an object of revile but of pity. I dreamed that his partner in the deadly shootings must be understood because of his marital problems and that he was trying to be a good father. I dreamed I gagged on that crap.

I recall a welcome break in the bad stuff came when I saw former president Jimmy Carter receiving his rightly deserved Nobel Peace Prize, but the good dream turned bad when folks of the sour grapes variety pounced on the event from all quarters. Whether one liked the man and his politics or not, he did something no other has accomplished since Abraham and Sarah kicked Hagar and Ishmael out of the tent millennia ago…he got Arab and Jew to sit at the same table in peace (and, incidentally, with a Baptist). The man builds houses for poor folk. How can anybody fault him, even in a dream?

I dreamed I tuned in to what I thought was a grunge rock concert, complete with growling and grunting lyrics, and discovered that it was a so-called Christian rock group doing the thing. If you don’t think that’ll make you wake up in a cold sweat, tune into that TV station sometime when you’re awake. It’s frightening. I’ve heard of preachers who could scare people right out of hell, but this stuff has the potential of frightening people straight out of heaven.

There were episodes in my very bad dream of airlines in danger of failing, large corporations flopping, businesses folding right and left, but all the while I saw people at the tops of each drawing unreal (I told you this was a dream) salaries and perks.

In my half waking state I thought that it couldn’t get eerier, but then a woman sued a private club - the Masters - for entrance (I recall Groucho Marx’s comment that he had better taste than to be a member of any club that would accept him).

Just before waking I was subjected to articles and talk show interviews seemingly wanting to make me feel guilty about all the non-Christians who feel left out at Christmas. I say that is their problem; celebrate with me or ignore it. It isn’t my fault you’re a pagan or Muslim.

And to top it off I received solicitation phone calls on Christmas Day.

Somebody, please tell me that it was all a nightmare. Please

Old jail restoration 1/15/2003

When I started writing for THE PRESS again I swore to my self that I would leave history out of these little effusions; I figured folks had enough of that out of me many years ago. But now I’m eating my own words, a nibble at a time. I’ve become involved in (and somewhat enamored of) a project of history these past couple of years that prompts me to return to those history subject days of yesteryear (apologies to my ol’ buddy the Lone Ranger for that expression).

That project - the restoration of the old jail on McIver Street in Macclenny - is one of the reasons I’ve become active in the Baker County Historical Society again, and it is my topic for today.

Twenty some odd years ago I went before the county commission and asked that the Historical Society be permitted to use the old jail as its headquarters, library, and museum. At that time I stuck my neck out very far and promised the board it would be proud of what we would do for the old structure. I’m afraid I failed. Presumptuously likening my self to Moses, I found I had to wait outside Canaan and let younger heads take the lead in the project.

And take the lead, they did. The restoration of the 1911 structure is no longer a daydream; there is action.

Ride by and see the funds thermometer at the old jail. It looks promising, but that red needs to climb much higher by thousands come May of this year.

Why worry about whether it’s restored or even be concerned if it continues to stand? Actually, life will go on and the world will not increase or decrease its speed of revolutions if the old jail is brought back to its earlier appearance and state or if it deteriorates beyond recognition and eases out of the consciousness of the county citizenry.

It’s a matter of local pride that we correct eyesores, utilize structures that are not beyond hope, and showcase our past properly to our own and to our visitors. The restoration of the old historical landmark will accomplish all three laudable goals.

There might still be a couple of folks out there in weekly newspaper readers land who’ve been residing in the far reaches of Siberia and are unaware that Baker County, Florida, has become a big time draw for regional history buffs. The jail receives several visitors monthly researching their past, donating historical and genealogical records, wanting to know more about the county they’ve recently moved into, and often just to view the old lockup. An oft-heard comment: “I’ve lived here all my life and never been in here.”

The Society must come up with funds sufficient to impress the state and our local government this spring. Yard sales and donations jars just ain’t goin’ to get it done. I’m doing my little bit, and I’m probably among the least able to donate. How about you? Want to help preserve a bit of history? Ring up the Baker County Historical Society and do your part.

too cold for school 1/15/2003

The recent closing of the county schools for a day due to intense cold weather evoked many and varied attitudes from our citizens.

Many kids, in the habit of today’s “Let’s live today and worry about tomorrow when tomorrow gets here”, were exhilarated. A few realists among them allowed that one more day of summer vacation would be eroded for make-up.

The old timers spent much time relating to no one but themselves how they’d walked five miles to school each day, barefoot, and in the snow, ad nauseum and didn’t understand why modern kids are so coddled that they cannot tolerate a little cold.

I well remember the days when some of us walked to school when the ground was frozen and cracked. Some of us walked because we lived too close to the schoolhouse to qualify for bus trips. Others of us walked simply because we wanted to.

I recall some of the young’uns walked on those coldest days as they did on the warmest days - barefooted as yard dogs. Some of them wore no shoes because of choice, and others wore no shoes because they had no shoes. Times were tough in Baker County in the 1940’s.

The Macclenny Elementary School used wood for heating, and the teachers would gather us around the heaters, all huddled up in our jackets, in an attempt to continue the process of education. It was sort of holiday-ish in that the teachers would lighten up a bit under the circumstances and almost make the lessons enjoyable.

Mr. Raymond Thomas, custodian for both the Macclenny Elementary and Macclenny-Glen High Schools, and a most friendly and accommodating gentleman, made the rounds about daybreak to every class room getting the pine wood fires started. Occasionally, the pine would be green and uncooperative, and the fires would “outen” about as fast as he could ignite them.

We boys readily volunteered to fetch a turn of wood from the stack behind the high school. It was a micro-vacation and a chance for the smokers to grab a quick drag, all on the same cigarette. Those several minutes at the woodpile was also opportunity for a little adolescent humor and dirty talking (no, we were not angels in olden days, in spite of what your grandpa tells you).

We seldom missed a day during cold weather that a nickel rubber pocket comb didn’t somehow mysteriously find its way to the top of the burner. That stench cleared the classroom quicker than a fire drill. There was, of course, the usual grilling of the boys by the teacher and the usual emotional denials by all the boys. The teachers were awfully sexist in those days and always accused the boys…never considering that some of the girls in our classes were mischievous too.

The temperature could remain below freezing all day, but we still had to go outside for recess. A round or two of “Foxes and Hounds” brought the blood back to flowing consistency.

Recess was the only time we were permitted to build small fires to crowd around, although the school laws said no fires and no matches. Once in a while a boy would get his britches leg afire, causing a bit of excitement and something to talk about for a day or two.

Recess was also the time when frozen ears would be thumped by sadistic playmates…undoubtedly among the most excruciatingly painful experiences of one’s life.

But back to the old timers’ suggestion that today’s kids are spoiled to the point that they can’t take life’s rough offerings…they’re right; we’ve been through close to three generations of living in climate-controlled houses, riding in climate-controlled vehicles, and wearing shoes…and we are soft…and that includes us old timers.

There’s a possibility that our school transportation vehicles are not intense-cold-hardy. Perhaps today’s school architecture isn’t planned for such drastic drops in temperature. But the biggest potential problem is that had school been open on that cold day and one kid had come down with a touch of the epizoodic, the school board would likely have been faced with a lawsuit.

Having the day off from school due to intense cold gave the kids opportunities to go outside and do some skateboarding, hang out at the malls, and in divers other manners spend the day creatively and usefully.

And, yes, I wrote this mostly from the envy I feel toward today’s youth…they got it made, dude.

Prelude to Olustee 2/13/2003

In preparation for the Baker County Historical Society’s “Prelude to Olustee” program, I met with a number of the participants last Friday. I was privileged to sit at a table after our committee meeting and chat with a most interesting group. Among that number were Chaplain Clifford Pierce and John Peden of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry re-enactors.

Mr. Peden spoke with a sonorous voice, rich with spirituality. I, being a nosy sort, began to bombard him with questions about him self and his interest in the Battle of Olustee re-enactment. He, being an amiable and cooperative sort, answered patiently and in detail.

John informed our group that he is a native of Louisville, Kentucky. He spent a career in the US Navy rising to the rank of Chief Petty Officer and since 1977 has made Baker County his home.

“What brought you to Baker County?” was answered with a broad smile. It seems he met and fell for a daughter of one of the county’s oldest families. She is the former Miss Virginia Ruise, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. B. H. Ruise of Margaretta.

John said he liked the Baker County people, and he and his ”sweetheart” Virginia decided to locate here permanently.

Several months back while doing business with a local couple - Larry and Linda Rosenblatt - John engaged them in conversation. From his favorite topic of his faith they drifted on to talk of the Civil War. That aroused his interest and he visited the next Battle of Olustee re-enactment.

John is the first Baker Countian to volunteer for service in the famed 54th Massachusetts Infantry that was so well lauded in the Civil War movie “Glory.” In case there is someone out there in weekly-newspaper-reader-land who hasn’t heard of that Union Army outfit, it was a Black unit organized in March of 1863 at Camp Meigs, Readville, Massachusetts, by young Robert G. Shaw, member of a Boston dedicated abolitionist family.

John and Chaplain Pierce told me that the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, although remembered as a Black outfit, was integrated; the officers, engineers, and medical personnel were white. The 54th was the first Black Union unit to fight, and it lost 20 to 40 men at Olustee.

John and Chaplain Pierce jokingly referred to themselves as “duffers.” Looking up the definition of duffer, I discovered it meant incompetent. As I listened to those gentlemen relate the detailed history of their Union Army unit, I realized there was nothing remotely incompetent about them.

John left us with a couple of lines of good advice: “If everybody swept up in front of his own front door, the whole world would be cleaner” and “Truth builds upon itself.”

Referring to Mr. Peden’s spiriuality in paragraph two, we discovered in the course of our conversation that he is an ordained minister of the gospel, but he prefers to act as a brother among us rather than as a shepherd. He keeps his “dagger” in his coat pocket, his “dagger” being the New Testament whereas the entire Bible is his “sword.” John is a very busy man in “The Soldiers of the Cross”, a jail ministry.

I hope we don’t get into any trouble with some sort of governmental agency, but I asked Chaplain Pierce to close our interview with a prayer that our program would be a success. His appeal spoke eloquently of brotherhood.

As we sat there that afternoon, we all realized there are so many more similarities among us humans than there are differences. It is my humble opinion that we need to work on the similarities, and the differences will take care of themselves.

THE STATE LIBRARY AND EDUCATION 2/26/2003

One of the first things we’re questioned about by a medical person from whom we seek help is our health history. Then he or she might want to know how our family and ancestors died. Doc’s not being nosy; it will help in searching out our medical problems.

To make certain there are no future problems with ownership of our land, we like to have an abstract/history of ownership drawn up.

I could continue for pages, but the gist of the aforementioned examples is that most of us cannot make it through life without histories. In fact, most of us, even those of us whose faces screw up into a countenance of distaste when the word history is mentioned, insist on some sort of histories throughout our lives to keep our lives free from disorder and to guide future actions.

All this leads me to a topic that has not been widely publicized but is running rampant through the heritage minded community of our state - the library of the State of Florida, a major repository of our state’s history, is scheduled to be dismembered, and the excuse is “budget cutting.”

When the majority of voters of Florida were bamboozled into believing that limiting the number of kids to fifteen per school class would be the one and forever solution to relieving stupidity now and in the future, they also offered excuses galore to lawmakers to be careless with one of our state’s major treasures - the State Library.

Established in 1845, this marvelous institution houses priceless maps, rare books, original state records, and other resources beyond measure. It must be preserved for no other reason than it is unique and it exists.

One never knows, but those original state records and priceless maps might be keys in satisfying a property dispute for a couple of you nice readers. A search through the genealogical resources could just answer some questions about your genetic makeup and lead to proper treatment of an inherited disease.

“Is a building full of old stuff worth more than our kids’ education?” you might well ask. To which I might well answer, “That building of old stuff is part of your kid’s education. It is equal to the schools your kids attend. It is one, a major one, of your kids’ teachers. It is where a large part of your kids’ instructors find their teaching material.”

If parents do their job with the children at home, if instructors are dedicated and capable, and if administrators do more than draw salaries, we can load up a classroom with the little dears and education will be done. History has proved this.

In our very own county, crowded one-room schoolhouses with one teacher working with young’uns from primer through eighth grade levels produced results that can be described as nothing less than amazing (example: the older generation knows which direction the bill of a cap should go and don’t wear britches that look as if they’ve been booped in and not dumped).

Of course, there were failures. After all, those teachers were working with human beings, and there are always percentages of every group of human beings who will be failures regardless of the efforts of others to change them.

Wait until you see the results of the fifteen-student cap situation. There will be a whole pile of people hired to fill the extra positions created by all the additional classes…and I shudder to imagine what the quality will be of those hired by the scrambling desperate administrators.

I have a suggestion for our governor and his cronies: cut your salaries and perks back and allow those millions to be put into preserving our state library.

GEORGE WASHINGTON’S BIRTHDAY 2/26/2003

I just went through what I’ll call a shameful Monday. It’s been shameful for several years. It started when a new breed of Americans decided that good ol’ George Washington was terribly passe’ and didn’t deserve his own day of celebration. Same for Lincoln too, it might be added.

The lame excuse was foisted on us by lawmakers that if we instituted a day for Dr. King, we’d have to junk George and Abe so that we wouldn’t be awash in holidays (as if Americans ever dreaded too many holidays).

This, of course, poisoned the wells in that if we old-fashioned patriotic types and admirers of the father of our country complained, we would tote the label of racist (isn’t it about time…or past it…that we abandoned that too easily used excuse for so much these days?).

Junk piling George Washington is akin to the younger generation’s poking fun at the vets of WW II and to us who prepared for an atomic attack in the ‘60’s (kids, laugh all you wish, but it was a genuine threat. You weren’t here, so what do you know?).

As far as I am concerned, it was not too distantly related to those who wished to sack the traditional names of county thoroughfares some years back…thoroughfares that had carried their names for several decades or up to a century and a half.

I’m a’talking tradition here, folks.

Some of you might discount tradition. Others might well ask, as a friend of mine did, “Since when has tradition scratched anybody’s ---?”

Tradition has kept us in check for a long time. Tradition has done a marvelous job of preserving this nation. Tradition has enhanced our lives as surely as butter and cane syrup does a biscuit.

I suggest you folks out there in weekly newspaper reading land get yourselves a genuine history of the first president of our country, the man who whipped an undisciplined rag tag army into a whipper of Great Britain, the man who was described by General Harry Lee as first in the hearts of his countrymen and read it through. He was more human than you might think.

Then get rather nasty with your national representative on this matter. Let’s bring George’s day back to him. He deserves it.

I personally don’t like war 3/24/2003

I suppose everyone calling himself a newspaper columnist or commentator these days feels an incumbency to write about the Iraqi situation. I would rather not, but I’m afraid the constant barrage of talk about it prompts me to do so.

When I went out for the newspaper this morning and looked at the mass of color from my azaleas, noted the many greens representing returning life, and saw the wildlife so happily ignorant of the world’s problems, I took to wondering how there could be such a loud and bloody matter going on half a world away.

I personally don’t like war. I don’t like violence of any kind. I even shy away from unpleasant exchanges of words. It would be greatly appreciated if you nice folks out there in weekly newspaper readers land would not immediately categorize me in the march-in-the-streets-hating-my-country crowd. And, by all means, do not put me in the same class with those still-wet-behind-the-ears so-called entertainers who feel they have some special understanding of the world’s ills.

It’s just that I get very uncomfortable thinking about captured military personnel being bound and used to gratify the sadistic wishes of their captors while I’m smelling honeysuckles. I think of what to me are kids lying on their bellies aiming their weapons for hours trying to repress the thought that they might be on the receiving end of an enemy bullet, and I’m sitting on my front steps counting the myriad greens of the budding trees in my yard. I get terribly torn up inside knowing that there are long strung out masses of refugees ignorant of where other family members are, hungry and thirsty, watching their babies die of malnutrition in their arms, and probably totally unaware of why it’s all happening, and I’m watching wrens building nests on my water shelf.

Now that the war is a reality, I want the coalition forces to get it over with…and this time, do it thoroughly. I think of how we probably wouldn’t have been in this mess had the first military action in Iraq been carried to a logical conclusion. I hope we are not into another Viet Nam where young people are fed into the hopper for the use of politicians.

These two things I sincerely wish for: I want to learn that the reported atrocities of Saddam against his own citizens are found to be false, and, since we are this belligerently involved, I want the invading forces to discover that fears of the reported mass destruction weapons are well founded.

If it is learned that the tyrant has indeed held his power by wholesale destruction of his own people and by unspeakable acts of torture and murder of his enemies and suspected enemies, then I shall feel less disturbed by the war. If stores of chemical and biological weapons are found, then I will be more understanding of this particular war.

That doesn’t mean I have changed my mind about war; I still don’t like it. War is bad.

I’ve watched demonstrations in favor of the Iraqi matter, and some of the participants have turned my stomach. They seemed more intent on trivializing violence and using their approval of this war for an opportunity to party. I’ve watched the protesters, and they angered me. They seemed more intent on displaying warped egos and using their street platform to announce their distaste for the very system that permits them to protest.

Such mindless polarizing of America has been a factor in convincing the many nations of the world that this country has lost its resolve. Were we engaged less in fighting among ourselves, we would doubtless demonstrate enough strength to warn people like Saddam not to spread terror among his own people and to neighboring nations.

Were I as smart as I seem to making my self out to be, I guess I would have been invited up to the White House for my brain to be picked by the policy-makers. Unfortunately, I am like the almost one hundred percent of Americans (and that includes you) in that I don’t know the inside story. I don’t have any more information than has been fed me via the media (and I have just about lost all confidence in what was once known as the news media but is now mostly entertainment media).

Now that we’re there…let’s do it and come home.

SO-CALLED DAYLIGHT SAVING TIME 04/10/2003

I’ve just finished a two-day unnecessary, ridiculous, irritating twice-a-year task; I’ve reset all my timepieces to adjust for what has been foisted off on us as “daylight saving time.” In olden days when all I had to do was use a little key on the back of my antiquated clocks or pull out a stem on my watch it was still an unnecessary, ridiculous, irritating twice-a-year task to “spring forward” or “fall back.”

Now I have to dig out the instruction booklets for each chronometer (I just learned that word and thought I’d like to use it since what I have now are not regular run-of-the-mill clocks) to relearn how to reset it. Because the instruction booklets are written by Japanese folk, translated by Bulgarians, and typeset by Patagonians, there is no way I can understand them, so resetting is a time consuming hit and miss affair (and did I mention an unnecessary, irritating, twice-a-year task?).

Let us view this matter of so-called daylight saving time squarely and rationally. Measuring time is a humankind activity, and setting time measuring devices forward, backward, or sideways does not add one second of daylight to a world that has been revolving and tilting to determine its own length of days for many a year.

We have an invisible internal clock that has gotten accustomed to the rhythms of the earth’s rather regular revolutions and tilts, and a forced reworking of our body clocks creates an unstable condition in our selves that takes weeks, if not months, to re-adjust. Our government representatives can fiddle around with the clocks all they wish, but I have some sad news for them…nature will determine her days’ lengths as she wishes.

A story that probably is not as apocryphal as it sounds has it that a sweet little ol’ lady claimed to appreciate daylight saving time because it gives her flowers an extra hour of daylight for their growth. My favorite story came from a friend who observed, “My, it gets late so early now.”

Employers, watch how your employees use the springtime clock resetting as an excuse for not being on time for work. Consumers, take note of how many businesses simply post new summer opening and closing hours trying to maintain a sensible schedule despite the clock change. Observe that about the only people who support daylight saving time are sporty types who don’t do a lot of work anyhow.

Remind your representatives that it isn’t scribed in stone and can be tossed into the dump where it belongs. Frankly, daylight saving time is farcical and useless.

Oh, yes, and it’s an unnecessary, irritating, twice-a-year task.

Disregard For Heritage 04/17/2003

For many years I believed that only Americans stooped low enough to take advantage of disasters, natural or manmade, to further destroy and to loot. Then I read that mobs of Iraqi citizens broke into stores and availed themselves of TV sets and other goods just as soon as civilian law was removed or rendered impotent.

Another bit of my innocence has been shattered and trash-canned; people are pretty much alike all over the world.

The unthinkable and unforgivable has been the devastating and stealing of my heritage by common thieves. Yes, those objects from the cradle of civilization of several thousands of years ago do not belong solely to the Iraqi people; they are my heritage too…and your’s.

The fact that we ride today on two or more wheels is owed to the probable first use of the wheel in old Mesopotamia. That some of us choose to live in cities doubtless comes from that situation first ideated in the same area. As we live under government (though not always the best and most intelligent it is still necessary), we are indebted to those same peoples who inhabited the ancient Fertile Crescent.

Had the looters hit the grocery stores, I would have understood even as I felt strongly for the storeowners who lost their goods. As I watched the mobs pull down the statues of Saddam, I said, “Go to it, boys…even if you’re doing it just to please the Coalition troops.” I could understand when the street people rushed the palaces to see how the “other half” used to live.

But the mobs also chose to despoil the museums of treasures that are far beyond evaluation…once again proving that humankind is the same the world over.

In our own little county, structures dating back to Florida’s territorial days and early statehood have been unceremoniously torn down for firewood, for fence patching material, and to make way for a double wide. Some have been moved out of the county to sites where they are supposedly more appreciated. One has had its historical significance ruined by being removed from its one hundred sixty years site and relocated to the company of an imitation of a 50’s teen hangout and a Statue of Liberty street lamp.

Our old Cracker buildings are not in the category of artifacts from the dawn of civilization, but, good folks, the disregard for their value to our understanding of our history proves that humankind is the same the world over.

It is not far-fetched that if a kid went through the old Coll Brown House in its original and proper location, restored to its heyday as a working farm, and was made to be aware of the lives of the several generations who labored, prevailed against the vagaries of nature and hostile forces, and yet survived to produce his contemporary generation, he might develop a feeling of gratitude for what he enjoys today…just possible.

Life can be made much easier 06/11/2003

Life can be made much easier to get through, and the job can be done rather simply. Some suggestions are humbly offered below.

Macclenny’s road construction people, get the job over with! By the way, your ol’ columnist appreciated those several positive phone calls about the roadwork in town. Seems a lot of folks are disgusted with the dragged out project.

Drivers, if you see you’re holding up a mile long string of traffic just because you want to turn left into a so-called fast food restaurant, get over it; drive on down the road a piece, turn around some where, and return so you can turn right and not create a mile long traffic jam (you’re not the only driver on the road, you know). Hot shots at the wheel (who are just too cool to be governed by traffic lights), do you not realize that there are other idiots on the streets who might have the same idea of rushing a light as you do…and you can get creamed as well as any body else when the two of you meet broadside or head on? And you could kill me too, which would upset me quite a bit.

So-called fast food restaurant managers, how about instructing your people at the other end of the drive through intercom to speak English? And while you’re at it tell them not to interrupt an order with “Do you want that in a combo?” If we wanted “that” in a combo, most of us are perfectly capable of ordering “that” in a combo. Just because most of your employees feed themselves by fingers only is no reason they should neglect to include eating utensils in their customers’ to-go orders. And, if it’s not too much trouble, tell them they should include everything ordered in the bag before handing it out the window. If you would tend to these matters, you could rightfully claim to be “fast food” again.

Pharmaceutical companies, get rid of those “child-proof” caps. They don’t deter kids, they’ve added costs to medicines, and they are literally a pain for arthritic old folks. And how about being more specific with those “Ask your doctor if (insert some cutesy currently popular Rx here) is right for you.” I asked my doctor if a certain TV advertised medicine was right for me, and he said, “Yes, if you’re in menopause.”

This is for all manufacturers: you might be able to cut prices for consumers just a tad if you’d stop putting your products in packages that defy getting into. And if plastic everything and anything - especially shrink- wrap - were outlawed, life would be immediately easier.

Federal government, if you must nose into our every day lives, here’s one to consider: limit automobile, attorney, medicines, and communications companies to just one TV commercial a week; limit Public Television to just one funds raiser a year (of one week only); forbid television networks to copy any other networks’ programs; and institute classes that inform TV viewers that there can be no such thing as reality television when there is a camera crew to video tape the action and so-called informal chats, a logistics crew, and a medical emergency crew (ain’t no TV outfit going into the wilds in these litigious times and tempt lawsuits).

Fathers, refuse to buy your young daughters any kind of small vehicle that has a red paint job.

Parents, take back your kids; those dope dealers and booze sellers who have them in their grasp don’t give a rap about how the kids turn out. Buy a good simple book on manners and begin to instruct your little dears in basic courtesy. And, while you’re at it, bone up on courtesy your selves. Common courtesy might sound like a lot of trouble to go through in these days of “slop through life and I am first and foremost”, but good manners are like lubricant; life slides easier for all on common courtesy.

A Belated Fourth of July Article 07/07/2003

Your ol’ columnist is a bit late with his Fourth of July effusion, but perhaps he will be right in style in later years when the government switches Independence Day over to the nearest Monday. Then we can have the Fourth on maybe the Seventh or Third. Maybe the government will even change the Fourth to a cooler month since we’ve all become too fragile to tolerate heat and bugs.

The US Army commander at Lake City in 1866 complained that the citizens of the area showed no enthusiasm for celebrating Independence Day. Were that comment made in much later times it would be met with, “Duhhh?”

The people of his jurisdiction had recently gone down in defeat and were more or less under martial law, even though the harsh reconstruction measures of the so-called Radical Republicans had yet to be imposed. Food was short enough to more than hint at starvation for some. The world of the rich had been turned upside down, and the world of the poor (of all colors) had been rendered immeasurably worse.

And a well-fed army officer at the top expressed surprise that the area populace was less than spirited on a holiday.

Locals were, 137 years back, in disagreement with their government. The commanding officer at Lake City might well have pondered the fact that some folks occasionally disagree with those in control. We have seen examples galore of that since the USA took on the job of correcting the governments of other folks throughout the earth.

Some of the dissenters of late were a bit over the edge of propriety with their protests, but we all must bear in mind that theirs was the right to protest.

Had it not been for a radical group in New England and Virginia disagreeing with their government, there doubtless would not have been a USA for us to live in with the privilege of disagreeing with each other and with our leaders.

Had not a widespread bunch of European dissenters been in hot disagreement with their church government some centuries ago, most of you folks out there in weekly-newspaper-readers land would not be attending the church you currently do.

Were it not for the dedicated disagreement of some with their government over the last several decades, we might still be a society divided by color.

If a young Jewish teacher of a couple of millennia ago had not disagreed with the hierarchy of his faith,…well, I think you get the idea.

To be independent means that one has to disagree with someone or something that has heretofore been in control. We disagree with our parents that we are to remain under their strict control. We disagree with and renounce the habits of tobacco and booze. We disagree with our state of ignorance and espouse learning.

In other words, it’s okay to disagree.

But we must be on guard that our differences do not become bitter and split our society, our houses of worship, our families, and our nation irrevocably apart.

Old Records And Maybe Some Lessons 07/21/2003

When your ol’ columnist begged back onto the staff of THE PRESS, he intended to keep his comments contemporary, but he fears his past will not free him. He receives requests for a little local history now and then, and so here are some notes from old musty tomes of Baker County courthouse business.

Fall term of Circuit Court convened in Sanderson on the 9th of October in 1877. Grand jurors were Raymond Beasley, Jesse Bennett, Richard W. Cain (a Methodist minister), Arthur James Wellington Cobb, James Combs, Charles Cook, John Crews, Elisha Dixon, Aaron Dowling, Henry Givens, James Harvey, William Jennings (an Englishman), John M. Johns, David Lock, J. M. Thompson, Leroy J. “Pomp” Thrift, and J. C. Williams. Clerk Francis J. Pons recorded that Judge Robert B. Archibald failed to appear for the 1877 Grand Jury.

Petit jurors for the year were York Brown, Felix Bryant, Francis Bryant, James M. Burnsed (Baker County’s first sheriff), Lewis C. Cobb, J. M. Dorman, G. C. Dyess, William Griffis, Calvin Johns, Alfred Lanier, and J. M. Mott.

The largest state tax payers in the county in 1877 were Koskery Lands at $88.03, Carr B. McClenny at $61.48, and Eppinger and Russell at $60.90. The former two were primarily land dealers but with side interests of no mean consideration in naval stores and timber. Eppinger and Russell were lumber mill operators in Olustee. Their mill operation was the biggest in the world at the time and would hold that distinction until after the turn of the century.

Anna Canova, Paul B. Canova, and Fleming Bates Smith paid taxes on town lots in Sanderson. Paying taxes on town lots in Olustee were Elijah Plunkett, Benjamin J. Roberts, Stephen D. Roberts, William Howe [or Horne] and Company, and Eliza Williams (widow of Sen. Samuel N. Williams).

It might come as a surprise to learn there were town lots in Sanderson and Olustee to pay taxes on. There was no Glen Saint Mary at the time, and Darbyville (the present Macclenny) was yet to considered a town.

A total of $1,311,87 was paid in taxes to the state and $1,141.56 to the county in 1877. A notation on the tax books under County School Tax was the amount of $4.17, but there were no specifics given (probably the monthly salaries for the entire teaching personnel in the county).

Grand jurors for the spring 1878 term were James Altman, John T. Altman, Hardy Bird, York Brown, Francis Bryan, Richard W. Cain, A. J. W. Cobb, Henry Coleman, Zary H. Davis, Daniel Green, James Green, Willis Hogans, George Mays, Stephen D. Roberts, William J. Thompson, and James J. Williams. William C. Cobb was the bailiff, and there was no business for the court that year.

In the first circuit court of 1878 Mack Pierson was indicted for murder. His sentence was for Manslaughter 4th degree and two years at hard labor. Other cases heard were for murder, manslaughter, adultery, secret arms, assault with intent to murder, and polygamy. A frequent case was for the illegal sale of spirituous beverages (courthouse documents would seem to indicate that the county was officially dry in the latter decades of the 19th century).

A typical case before Justice of the Peace Mott Howard [copied as written with incorrect spelling, lack of punctuation, and emphasis here and there] was presented with the following witness statement: “…and then George began to stomp around and struck at James but hit the house I do not think that he tried to hit him but struck at the side of the house Mary struck at him with a piece of wood she was sitting in a nother man’s lap The house was often visited by rough crowds as they some times sold wiskey there.

“After hearing the evidence and examining the witness the court decided that the evidence did not sustain the charge and dismissed the prisoner.

“Court adjourned.”

Sometimes it’s advisable to go back in time once in a while to receive the lessons (1) that although we cannot properly judge the past by the standards of our day, we are reminded that the folks before us were altogether human; (2) that those events and situations of the past that were unpleasant and unfair must be left in the past; (3) that in spite of our cooing about the “good ol’ days”, we are living better than any before us: and (4) that the past can be entertaining.

Crackers 08/11/2003

One of my friends, late of the North, recently asked me, “What is a Cracker?” He had been seeing the word often as he browsed the net for information about his adopted Florida home. He didn’t realize it at the time, but he had just inspired your ol’ columnist for a little effusion on the subject.

No doubt, ever since humankind of one ethnic, religious, racial, or regional type has run across humankind of a different ethnic, religious, racial, or regional type there has been name calling, sometimes in good nature and sometimes as a weapon.

We have mostly grown into the belief that attaching biased labels can only be done as a “one way street” kind of thing. Balderdash…bias is bias regardless of where it comes from and regardless of where it’s aimed.

My own ancestors toted a label that for centuries was uttered with contempt by those who considered them selves their “betters.”

That label is “Cracker.”

For most of its history the word “cracker” has been used as a derogatory appellation among English speaking people. As events and people came and went in Great Britain of long ago it was applied to various groups and always to the unsophisticated and boisterous…the equivalent of today’s “good ol’ boys”.

There were “wise crackers”, “cracker Jacks”, joke crackers”, and just plain “crackers”, and all denoted the same thing – lower class and not to be taken seriously.

Shakespeare in his 1594 play KING JOHN, act II, scene I, wrote of crackers (that was a long time ago, folks). In the mid 18th century when poorer classes of white Georgians and Carolinians stole across the Florida border and spirited away cattle, horses, and slaves from the Spanish and Indians, it was said the Spanish spat out an epithet that sounded much like “Quaqueros.” During the American Revolution, when loyal or conscription dodging families fled to Florida, the British born citizens of the colony referred to the greatly resented newcomers as “Crackers”…and Florida’s British governor James Grant called them, “…those damned Crackers.”

As is the wont of so many amateur historians of our day, a story just had to be invented to give an origin to an unusual label from the past. In the case of a theory becoming a fact and unfortunately a perpetuated myth, those well meaning but benighted souls decided that Georgians driving their cattle down into Florida while cracking their cow whips gave rise to the term “Cracker.”

Whenever I read or hear the whipping cracking theory, I feel a groan coming on.

Then, others have read some half baked theories from the past regarding the old time Anglo-American frontiersmen of the South “cracking” corn and have pushed that as an origin.

That brings on groan number two.

Crackers were Crackers in Great Britain at least a couple hundred years before the common use of the cow whip by Crackers in America. Most early Cracker pioneers were too poor to own enough cattle to necessitate the use of a whip. Those Crackers stealing cattle from the Spanish and Indians of Florida in the 1700’s certainly were not going to call attention to their activities by whip cracking. And to cap it off, Cracker cow hunters “popped” a cow whip rather than “cracked” it (and it was a cow whip, not a bull whip).

Let us lay the whip cracking origin of the label of Cracker to rest…once and for all.

And it is way past time to lay to rest the belief that hate can be directed toward only one ethnic, religious, racial, or regional type. As my dear old sainted grandmother Mag used to say, “---- is ---- regardless of what ---hole it comes from.” The same holds true for hate. By the way, I don’t think most of you will have difficulty filling in the blanks.

Many native born Floridians are now quite happy to wear with pride what was once an epithet in hopes it sets them apart in a state now rife with _______s (please insert any label here you wish…after all, they’re only words…just don’t use them as hate.)

English, Then and Now 08/13/2003

Its evolution into American Southern Cracker Speech
(notes for a presentation before the Southern Genealogist’s Exchange Society, Jacksonville, Florida, 8 March 2003) by GENE BARBER

· Introduction: Two salient points regarding English: (1) there are many forms of English and (2) it is a language in flux.
· The late Mr. McKinley Crews (Cracker English speaker) from Baker County, Florida, might be hard pressed to communicate easily with his young great-nephew (Southern urban speaker and regional slang) from Jacksonville. The great-nephew could probably talk with a contemporary youngster from Newark, New Jersey (Northern urban and regional slang), with minimum difficulty, but the New Jersey kid and the Baker County old-timer would probably find them selves mutually unintelligible.
· Archaic English is not considered standard, but it must not be misconstrued as incorrect English. Regional English is not considered standard, but it is not incorrect.
· The English spoken in a particular time and place that is mutually understood by the people of that time and place is correct for that time and place…and for those speakers.
· It is the purpose of language to communicate. English can be both a marvelous, unsurpassed language for communication, but, due to its many languages background, its regional dialects, and its ever-changing nature, English can also be a most confusing language.
· English changes constantly, and it changes within our lifetimes…as we sit here today.
· Words, which we once used without second thought, are now spoken with hesitation, if at all. Examples (this is not to titillate or indulge in adolescent humor…it is just presenting the most conspicuous examples I can think of): queer (odd), gay (elated), prick (thorn or stuck with a thorn), and boob (a dummy) were frequently used in this area up to about 50 years ago…in their correct definitions of the time. They are now considered racy or vulgar. Words and terms which were placed in the category of no-no’s fifty years ago (screwed, p---ed off) are now incorporated into a lot of folk’s everyday language with little or no thought of their previous meanings. No great council declared that we would cease using certain words or legitimize others; such changes simply evolved from the public’s frequent hearing of certain words and terms from TV, movies, our kids (the most influential, after advertising, in language evolution), and from frequent reading of those words and terms in novels and periodicals.
· Military personnel, tourists, and business people traveling abroad adopt words and bring them home (Papa San, shatzi, salsa, adieu danke, ciao, the whole enchilada, nada, nyet). Some of those words are now considered part of everyday English.
· Mishearing and lazy pronunciation brings about changes in words. In a very short time, duct tape has become duck tape due to similar sound and being a bit easier for some to pronounce. The product is now often advertised as duck tape.
· Television announcers, newscasters, and analysts have done more, and done it more quickly, to standardize and “de-regionalize” English than any other factor, and their changes to pronunciation and grammar have not all been for the best. It is currently common among most newscasters to pronounce short E as short A (“A tast was made on the wast side today to determine who was ahad in judging at the pat show fastival.”). Perhaps this is a result of being encouraged by their broadcast teachers to overly differentiate between short I and short E (or maybe it comes from those weird mouth gyrations talking heads [or it that hads?] are taught to perform before the TV camera). Many local newscasters hired from elsewhere haven’t taken the time to learn pronunciations of their adopted area’s proper place names, and unfortunately even the locals begin to copy their mispronunciations (Kiss’ amee, O’cala, A’ la chu’ ah, Sa’vannah). · Political correctness has hijacked standard English grammar in that disagreement in number is now accepted (“Each has their own pencil” rather than the old “Each has his own pencil”…don’t want to offend those feminists…regardless of how much they don’t mind offending others).
· My presentation will have special emphasis on archaic Southern English and particularly the Cracker dialect. I hope to show how we cannot presume to engage in historical and genealogical research in our area totally using the English of our day…and especially the English that has been introduced from outside our area.
· Repeat: English is a language ever in flux. We don’t know its beginning, it is changing even as we speak this morning, and it will not have been completed when Gabriel blows his horn.
· The long journey: The journey to our regional English is long and convoluted and hidden in ancient mists. The road is believed to have begun in the lower central Euro-Asian continent tens of thousands of years ago. For our presentation, we will be primarily concerned with four groups (English beginnings and later construction are not limited to them though) - three of which are considered by linguistics experts as racially related and speaking a rudimentary language under the invented name “Indo-European.” A fourth, much more distantly related racially and linguistically, moved away from the others and began a millennia long migration north and east, leaving behind most, if not all, the many languages of Siberia. They traveled much farther and are responsible for most, if not all, the languages of the Americas. This last group, we will put on the back burner, for they will not be pertinent to our study until near the end of this journey.
· The three related Indo-European groups also migrated. One reason theorized by anthropologists for wholesale migrations of people is that they were driven from their homes by natural disaster or by invading tribes behind them. I have yet to read of what would likely be the most believable reason - “I want what you have.” This seems to have driven most of the peoples into others’ land during the historical period.
· One group of these ancient Indo-European people migrated throughout much of southern Europe, into parts of northern Europe and Asia Minor, and even into pockets in China. They were the Galatians of the New Testament; the Galicians of Spain, Portugal, and Poland; the Gaels of Scotland (maybe the Picts too), Man, Wales, Cornwall, and Eire; the Britons of the present England; and even the ancestors of the mysterious red haired mummies of China. We will be primarily concerned with those of the far west of Europe. They were quarrelsome among themselves, spoke with a lilt, loved to sing, and were very artistic. They were the Celts. · Another group moved west into southern Europe, developing and leaving behind several languages including Greek. The farthest traveled of that group developed the language of ancient Latin between 3,000 and 5,000 years ago (the experts disagree on the estimates). They wound up in central Italy, but from there took their bloody hand and various dialects of their language around the Mediterranean Sea and throughout southern Europe. Soldiers, merchants, and administrators influenced or displaced several native tongues wherever they conquered. These Latin speakers were sticklers for language rules and forms, both in the classical (poetic, political, upper classes) and vulgar (everyday speech and of the common folk) tongues. This penchant for strict language rules might be related to their need to control and administer the many and divers peoples under their subjugation.
· The third group moved west into northern Europe (Scandinavia, Germany, and parts of the low countries). Their language evolved with a definite aspirate and guttural quality (think of our English P, K, and “ock” sounds). Perhaps a harsh sounding tongue came from millennia among harsh living conditions. It is upon the language of these people that English is based.
· As these groups separated from each other, each developed its own dialect. Each acquired words for new experiences, events, and items, most likely by borrowing from peoples already in the area. They also applied their own names to similar experiences, events, and items. A modern day example is how our Deep South ancestors had to either borrow words from people already here or apply words they knew to new items, i. e. local bass became trout (similarity of form), tortoises became gopher turtles and then simply gophers (similarity of burrowing), and gophers became sallymanders/sandymanners (from their mounds of sand at their burrows). New words also developed from, get this…onomatopoeia, imitating the sound of the object (buzz, ding, tinkle, splash, sizzle, pop).
· Dialects evolved within a single language as groups separated them selves from each other. Dialects would then evolve into separate languages as the groups separated further and farther and remained isolated from each other. However, despite popular belief, many ancient peoples evidently were not ignorant of each other. Proof of trading in goods, raw materials, slaves, artisans, and words are being literally and figuratively dug up yearly.
· As these three groups, and others, interacted through trade and warfare, words, phrases, and pronunciations were exchanged along with artistic and utilitarian items. The languages were more influenced by neighboring tongues the closer they were to the boundaries. Often there was an indistinct dividing line between languages that bordered each other. Sometimes these languages would meld and become the bases for still other tongues.
· And, so, Celtic, Latin, and Germanic languages are the three major travelers along the route to English, and here are their stories and contributions.
· Latin and Celtic mix: The Latin speaking Romans conquered and assimilated the Celtic speaking Gauls of the present France. The Gauls quickly accepted the vulgar (low, common, everyday) speech of the soldiers, merchants, and low administrators and thus was the beginning of the ancient French language. Be advised that the soldiers, merchants, and low administrators were often recruited from distant territories of the Roman Empire and that their Latin was influenced by their native tongues. The Latin speaking Gauls doubtless retained more than just hints of their ancient tongue and were probably influenced by their Germanic speaking neighbors to their north and east, in particular the Franks (the Franks later overran much of modern France, hence “French”). In addition, the Roman army stationed in Gaul was heavily manned with Germanic speaking mercenaries and conscripts, and their language surely had an effect on the Latinized Gaulish language (protoFrench).
· About a couple of generations before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the Romans of Gaul cast a covetous eye across the channel toward the largest of the Celtic isles. Finally after savage butchery, the present England was overrun by Roman soldiers speaking vulgar Latin with multi-ethnic influences. They were followed by merchants and low administrators of like speech. It took a few generations to pacify the British, as most of the Celts of modern day England were called, and they eventually accepted the more luxurious Roman way of life (a human trait) and sophisticated regulated language (not a modern American trait). Diehard Celtic British tribes removed themselves to the north and west (Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, Man, and Eire). Some linguists tell us that very little of the ancient Celtic language remained in the present England except for a few place names. Others say that some of the words in English that have no known provenance are possible vestiges of the Celtic tongue. It is against logical thinking to believe that almost none of the old Celtic tongue of the Britons remained in pronunciation and words, but I try not to argue with the experts…often.
· Celtic influenced Latin and Germanic mix: Rome overextended herself in empire and began to feel pressure from the Germanic tribes in the north and east. After a few hundred years of rule, Rome pulled her troops from Britain and left the now civilized and somewhat effete British to their own defenses. Tribes of Germanic speakers known to history as Jutes, Angles, and Saxons from across the North Sea had been harassing the coastal Britons for several years, their traders had been visiting and noting the easy way of life of the Romanized British, and when the Roman army departed, they considered it carte blanche to move in and take what they wanted. The British held out valiantly but mostly independently of each other. With no allied and concentrated resistance, the Germanic invaders - the Angles and Saxons and others - soon held sway in most of the present England. There was evidently no effort to impose their language or customs on the natives, but in time the Germanic Anglish was the language of Angland (but influenced by the Latinized Celtic natives’ speech). It is of interest to me that there are several old Cracker folk in my area who still speak of Angland and who speak Anglish. Once again, diehard British speakers of old Celt and of Celt influenced Latin removed to the north and west and to Eire. Their influence on the evolving English language was weakened but surely not erased.
· An aside: It was from the time of the Briton’s resistance to the Germanic invaders that the legend of king Arthur was born.
· The Germanic conquerors did not come from exactly the same spot in northwest Europe; they were from different areas and brought their divers dialects with them. As they settled in various parts of the British island their dialects remained separate also. An oft-told story is that one Brit in modern England can travel thirty miles to another town and find that although his new acquaintances are speaking English, they are unintelligible to him…a hold over from over a thousand years ago.
· A double dip of Germanic language: Throughout history, and evidently in prehistory, the British Isles had been an alluring Eden for invaders. The Angles and Saxons and accompanying tribes had scarcely settled in when their close kinsmen the Danes and related tribes pulled the same on them that they had pulled on the British. The Anglish felt it prudent not to wage a defense but instead to offer the newcomers a sizable chunk of northern Angland in which they could administer their own laws and courts as long as they swore allegiance to the king (or kings…Angland was not always a unified kingdom). The land was called Danelaw, and the influence of that latest infusion of Germanic language is still evident in the area. Many of our basic English words of today owe them selves to the influence of the Germanic Danish language and indeed to the other Viking invaders who would come soon after. The Vikings did not attack just the present England; their attacks and eventual settlements also took place in the northern isles and Ireland where their language has been felt strongly since. Another group took over a large area of western France and gave it the name Normandy (Nor- from Norse/Northmen). Within a relatively short period these Scandinavians, closely related to the Anglish across the channel, gave up their marauding and settled in as overlords of their new home. They adopted the language - old French - they found there.
· Old French is mixed in: Because of a poorly reported and less understood series of events (and probably a put up piece of business to my way of thinking) one of the Frenchified Viking nobility decided the crown of his Anglish cousins belonged to him. William by name, he brought the present England under his control, gradually replaced the Anglish nobility with his own, and, although an absentee landlord, forced his form of French upon most of his upper class subjects. His form of French, be it remembered, had evolved from vulgar (low classes) Latin spoken with a Celtic accent, somewhat modified by Germanic Viking speech with undertones of Germanic Frankish. Confusing as that may sound, we have the beginnings, at last, of old English.
· An example of old English is from the poem Beowulf (the bane of many a college English student): “Tho, hey then faind ofercywome, gehnad ‘eh hell ‘eh gaste.” In modern English: “So, he the fiend overcame, gained (defeated) hell’s ghost.” Taken one word at a time for comparison, one can interpret the line easier by reading than by hearing it.
· From Anglo-Saxon our Southern Cracker ancestors pronounced D’s at the ends of words as T’s. Thus the name Coward, which did not necessarily mean craven, became Cowart. Steward became Stewart. “Th” was not the “th” sound of modern English but was pronounced either T or “sts.” Thus the Welsh Griffith was more like Griffis or Griffits.
· P and F were interchangeable in Germanic Anglo-Saxon. Thus we Crackers have the old fashioned pronunciation of riffle whereas others say ripple (ruffle came from the same source) and driff rather than drip. Listen to some of our old folks say famplet instead of pamphlet and chaferone instead of chaperone. As you search for your ancestors don’t neglect to also look up Parr as well as Farr, Perry as well as Ferry, Paris as well as Farris, and Adolphson as well as Dopson and Dobson.
· Germanic tongues use a pronunciation device called an umlaut. It gives some vowels a different sound than modern English does. To get an idea of an umlaut sound, try saying an O or U with the mouth formed to say an R instead. From old English we get the following pronunciations, and Crackers used them until recently: yelk (yolk), chech (church), crap (crop, to cut), wek (work), ernge (orange), bresh (brush), oice (ice), noice (nice). Surnames influenced by umlaut sounds among Crackers: Bleetch (Blitch), Heeks (Hicks), Dees (Dias, Dyess), Royce (Rice). For reasons unknown, R and N became interchangeable in some old English dialects. Some examples: heanh (here) and wheanh (where). Rolloson (son of Rollo…an old Viking name) gave rise to Raulerson, which also became Rawlinson. Robertson is kin to Robinson.
· Some G’s in old English were hard like K’s. The old English word “jug”, meaning to poke or to stick in, was pronounced “jook” (rhymes with look), and from that, incidentally, came juke and juke joint, a place to acquire and indulge in naughty-naughty. The pronunciation “Hickinbottom” for Higginbotham was correct until the past 50 years or so. The “ham” came from the Germanic language meaning home or home area. Modern German Mannheim and English Birmingham are examples.
· Both from the Germanic and old French we received the pronunciation of “wa” for “oi”, thus cwile for coil, bwile to bile for boil, pwison to pison for poison
. · Germanic A’s were often open as “ah.” Thus stab and stave became stob, jab became job, tassel became tossel. In reverse, Jansen might have been Johnson, Stafford might have come from Stoffert.
· M and N were often switched about in pronunciation in old English, especially when at the end of words, thus Timmoms might also be Timmins, Rhoden could be kin to Rodem, and the Partins just might be related to the Partoms. This is far fetched but not beyond the realm of possibility.
· From the Germanic Anglo-Saxon aspirate speech our grandmothers received their habit of pronouncing “hit” for “it.” It is thought that a combination of Germanic aspirate speech and the trill of Gaelic and Germanic tongues accounts for Sarah turning into Sally, Sadie, and Sakie (Sake). Wilhelm-Wilkham-Wilkin-Wilkinson-Wilkerson is likely the progression caused by aspirate speech and trills in our Cracker speech background. My cousin William Rowe often spoke of his aunt Hruchel. From the family Bible record I discovered she was Rachel. Since the Rowes of our area supposedly came from the north of England, it should not be surprising to have heard this pronunciation of Rachel.
· From the Germanic languages, old English inherited syllables on the ends of words that we have dropped in modern English except for an occasional Cracker speaker. “Are you a’comin’ home-uh?”, “I seed ‘eem-uh yestiddy-uh.” For examples of the fully enunciated words with added syllables, listen to an old time Primitive Baptist elder as he exhorts. His delivery was not learned at seminary, but it is a link in a long chain of generations of elders holding forth behind him…word of mouth rather than words on pages…back to Elizabeth I’s time.
· The suffix “ing” came to us from the Anglo-Saxons, but it was “en” when it came to Britain. News criers, military announcers, kings’ heralds, and stage players affected the G on the ends of “en” words for easier distinguishing by the hearers. These were the people, especially the stage actors and their writers, who were most responsible for standardizing spoken English. T’s on the ends of some words ending in N (Brian to Bryant) supposedly came from the same source.
· Spoken English was standardized long before the written form. Folks who claim their spelling and pronunciation of their surnames are the one and only correct ones are correct only in that it is correct for them selves. Four and five hundred years ago, even a quite literate bearer of a surname might spell it differently on the same page. Surnames were sometimes spelled phonetically by records keepers as they listened to the name-bearers’ pronunciations (Stallin-Starling. Dice-Dyess, Hickinbottom-Higginbotham, Barbaree-Barber, Griffing-Griffin, Parley (Pearly)-Farleigh, Riley-Rawleigh.
· To our Germanic speaking ancestors we own almost the entire list of our most common everyday words. Had their language not prevailed under the rule of the Norman French, we might now be “amourable” rather than “lovable.” We would say, “You bet your vive” rather than “You bet your life.” Our ancestors would have broken free from Ol’ Roy George instead of Ol’ King George. We would have an argent coffee service. A small sampling of our frequently used words that came down to us from our Anglo-Saxon speech ancestors: they, them, gold, bridge, sky, liver, hand, foot, earth, mine, shoe, love, shoulder, and most of our favorite cuss words.
· Our Anglo-Saxon and Viking ancestors favored rhyming as they sang, recited sagas, and spoke names. From that we get Meggy Peggy, Ricky Dicky, Willy Billy, Robby Bobby, Molly Polly, Annie Nannie, Eddy Teddy. From them we also inherited Nell, Ned, and Nan as shortened forms of mine Ellen, mine Ed, and mine Ann.
· From them we also get a form of rhythm in our speech (or, at least, our old folks did). I still recall Grandma Mag threatening, “Young man, I’m a’gonna whup yore butt good fashion!” and Aunt Mary’s, “Nosiree bob tail, cut right off up to the brim!”…both expressed in a bobbing rhythm.
· Thought to be from the Celtic influence was the reversal of certain vowels and consonants. Examples: Albrecht from the continent became Albert in Britain, Alfred is often Alferd in the Deep South, and Negro was turned into the N word (and was a legitimate pronunciation with no racist meaning per se until the 19th century).
· Also believed to be from the Celtic is the eliding of letters and syllables. “’Ee’s a’comin’ ‘ome (he’s coming home)”, roe’n ears (roasting ears of corn), c’un (cousin), Edderd/Eddert (Edward), Edd’n (Edwin), Baldin (Baldwin).
· One linguist advised me that the strange “eyu” sound after certain consonants in some old Cracker words came from the Celtic. Cyart (cart), cyorn (corn), cyounter (counter), byarn (barn), pyerk (perk/perky), gyawrntee (guarantee), Pyearce (Pearce), Gyarrett (Garrett). · The same linguist thought the turning of some “eh” sounds into “ah” sounds might be from the Celts also. Tarn (turn), larn (learn), sarvice (service), warn’t (weren’t), tarbel/turbel (terrible), tar (terror), sartin (certain).
· In England, many of the poor folk - our Cracker ancestors - were shoved to the least hospitable parts where their language evolved much more slowly than the rest of the kingdom. Many of these grabbed the opportunity to try a new start in the colonies when the migrations to America began in the 1600’s and 1700’s. They were indentured servants (little better than slaves), escaped impressed seamen, and military personnel. The “better sort” of colonists took what they deemed to be the choice parts of the American eastern seaboard - the middle Atlantic colonies - and left what they thought of as the least desirable areas to the least fortunate, namely the Carolinas and Georgia (believed to be unhealthy for most people). This was the colonial background for what we know as the Anglo-American Cracker.
· English was becoming standardized and slowing down for the educated but remained in very slow flux for the rest. In America it was no less so, and for the people of the Deep South language changed even more slowly. Many old Britishisms (I can say “Britishisms” if I want to…English is an ever evolving language) and dialects remained with them into the late 20th century.
· After several thousand years, the road of English rejoined the group that had migrated into and throughout Siberia and the Americas. Although there had been enmity between the aboriginal American race and the invading white Cracker, they also traded, interbred, and adopted words from each other. In addition to place names (Withlacoochee, Olustee, Pahokee), Crackers borrowed words for food (hominy-lyed corn), actions (chunk-toss), and creatures (cooter- freshwater turtle). I can think of no other explanation for some of the strange pronunciations and words of the Florida and Georgia Cracker than his association with the Creek Indians. Contrary to the hard campaign by some to attribute any Southern word without a proper and known English etymology to black slaves, it must be remembered that those poor souls had most of their language and customs worked out of them within a very few generations; proper study will some day prove that the Crackers owe much of their quite different dialect to the Creek Indians they settled among, bred into, and eventually displaced. This must not be misunderstood that our Black citizens did not contribute greatly to the richness of the English language, but there was a great separation and, therefore, little communication between them and most Crackers.
· And remember…bear in mind…don’t forget that English, regardless of the dialect and form, is not over…done for…kaput…finished; it will continue…keep on…stay with it to add…accumulate…accrue…amass words and expressions, lose…shake…drop words and expressions, and be…exist…live as one of the world’s…earth’s richest…most colorful…most expressive languages…tongues. · Whew, wow, and gee whiz!

A Brief Narrative of Mayport Before The Naval Base. 08/14/2003

A Presentation To The Fleet Landing Forum For The Humanities, Atlanctic Beach, Florida, 20 March 2003

(by Gene Barber with much appreciation to Alton Mote et al for the use of their histories and for conversations regarding the subject)

Some historians have fancied Mayport’s beginning as 1562, but whether the community has existed without interruption since then is moot. Historians tell us the Spanish force under Pedro Menendez saw to it that there was an interruption of habitation when he destroyed the French settlement of Fort Caroline. Some have seen Mayport on maps of the 1600’s and 1700’s, but we fear they might have mistaken the River May’s designation as Mayport Village. One writer, Mr. Wanton Webb, much nearer the events than we, offered the information that Mayport was established in 1830 by river pilots and fishermen.

Through wholesale slaughter and destruction and vicissitudes to fill a scholarly tome, the community we know as Mayport has been here under several guises and names for over four centuries.

The historian of Mayport - Helen Cooper Floyd - begins her booklet “Mayport Remembered, People & Places” with the sentence “Before there was Mayport, there was Mayport Mills, and before Mayport Mills, there was Hazard.” Histories also inform us that the Naval Base and Fleet Landing neighborhood was the site of an old extensive Spanish plantation named Naranjal. And earlier than that, there were forts reaching back to Fort Caroline of 1562.

One would presume that anyone who has read American history is acquainted with the story of the first documented European settlement on the North American continent - and the story of Mayport cannot be separated from that momentous event - but that event is so fraught with romantic novel material that I just cannot begin this presentation without it.

I flatter my self to believe that all intelligent residents of Florida are conversant with the state’s history and are aware there was a Florida before Disney World. Florida’s history is a story of this nations’ first frontier and of this nation’s outpost for its latest frontier - a story drenched in enough blood and gore to satisfy even the most jaded tastes of our young movie-going citizens.

What we now call Mayport has been the site of human habitation for millennia. Proto Indians of this area fished, hunted, gathered, and did all those things that early peoples, as a rule, did, and they evidently developed into a linguistic group known as the Timaqua.

From skimpy, and not always reliable, accounts we can guess the Timaqua were a tall handsome people who were into body piercing and tattooing and anthropophagy (I threw that last word in figuring the more squeamish among our audience would accept that more readily than “cannibalism”). The Timaqua were accommodating to their guests and took to killing their neighbors as much for sport as for self-preservation. Incestuous marriages among the upper classes were common. Anthropologists tell us there were cultural affinities between them and some peoples of Central America and the Caribbean.

Some of that doesn’t sound a whole lot different from some elements of our society today.

The Timaqua traded with their neighbors and linguistic kin and, via them, to points farther south and west and made the mistake of adorning them selves with some of the trade goods - namely gold, silver, and turquoise - when entertaining the strange ones who came from over the eastern horizon in funny looking very large canoes.

It was in May four hundred forty-one years ago that the first known European viewed the broad river on which we are situated and dubbed it the River May (the Timaqua knew it as Welaka - the Chain of Lakes). Jean Ribault and his two shiploads of French Protestants did not tarry at the River May but, after erecting a stone monument on the south side of the stream, sailed farther up the coast to found the ill-fated first Fort Caroline on the shore of the present South Carolina.

That stone pillar, by the way, stood quite close to where we meet tonight; the replica, for convenience purposes, is now located farther upriver.

Christian forbearance has not always been among the most admirable traits of many Christians, and in France of that day there was internecine struggles between Catholics and Protestants. That was a factor in some French Huguenots’ wish to take up residence in the New World, ergo the aforementioned Ribault and his two shiploads of Protestant pioneers on the north Florida coast.

A couple of years after Ribault’s initial visit the religious wars in France abated sufficiently to permit another group of French Protestants to try a hand at colonizing in the New World, this time in Florida (be advised the Spanish considered all the North American continent that they were aware of, or thought they were aware of, as being their territory of Florida).

Under the leadership of Renee Laudonniere, the French selected a high spot on the south side of the St. Johns River to construct a second Fort Caroline. This site, not far from the present Village of Mayport, has long since been washed away into the Atlantic Ocean. From the descriptions, especially those of the artist Le Moyne, we can safely assume the modern replicas of the fort and Ribault’s stone pillar are fairly close ones of the original. It seems that most of the earliest European colonists carefully avoided physical labor and were unable to see food even when it was dangled or splashing about before their very eyes. They wrote of the richness of the land they settled, but they are always recorded in the histories as starving and having to be rescued by Indians or other colonists/explorers. It was no different for the Fort Caroline French. By the summer of 1565 they were desperate to return to the troubles they knew rather than remain with those they knew not of.

As they readied to set sail for home, hope came from across the ocean. Capt. Ribault came from France with seven shiploads of supplies to sustain the little colony - food, livestock, tools, and even…women. They decided to stick it out a while longer.

Spain, feeling the majority of the Americas was her gift from God by way of a papal decree, was quite jealous of her possessions, even one as unproductive as Florida was promising to be, and was determined that the French threat must be addressed.

The man chosen for the task of uprooting the tiny French colony was Pedro Mendendez, a gentleman widely known for his piety…his piety equaled only by his cruel expediency. He founded St. Augustine and set about to “unfound”, so to speak, Fort Caroline. He marched his men from St. Augustine through a late summer hurricane to the French settlement and ordered that all but a handful of women, children, elderly, and cripples be slain. Could we magically take our selves back to that time, we would hear the sounds of the slaughter from where we sit.

A small boggy pond alongside the present Fort Caroline Road commemorates the gruesome event; we know it as Spanish Pond.

Don Menendez found Capt. Ribault and his companions shipwrecked south of Saint Augustine and summarily had them put to death as heretics. The French avenged their compatriots by killing several Spaniards as, and I quote, “…liars, thieves, and murderers.”

At this time, three Spanish forts were erected at and near the present Mayport Village - San Mateo on the site of the destroyed Fort Caroline and two at the mouth of the St. Johns. From one - “St. John of the Portal (or river entrance)” - we believe the river eventually received its present name.

We will now fast forward to the twenty years control of Florida by the British - 1763 to 1783.

Spain had done little to utilize Florida’s natural resources. The land had no native gold, and a land with no native gold was considered real estate baggage. She considered Florida was best used as a base to protect the rich shipments from New Spain. The British, however, more prudently encouraged planters and animal husbandry on the upper east coast and along the St. Johns River.

When Spain turned Florida over to the British, Spanish vaqueros had to abandon most of their cattle that had roamed the Diego Plains - we know that area today as the Guano River, Palm Valley, and Ponte Vedra. The new landowners were quick to avail themselves of the wandering stock to begin a renewed cattle-raising industry, most of which in this immediate area was on the islands just across the St. Johns from the present Mayport.

There were two main cattle crossings on the lower river - the present Jacksonville (called in those days “the Cow Ford” or, in archaic English “Cow’fort”) and one approximately where the Jean Ribault ferries our motorized vehicles across today.

For several years the Georgians and Carolinians, known as “Crackers” had been raiding Indian cattle and slaves…but mostly inland. With the onset of the War for American Independence, the loyalist and conscript evaders crowded into southeast Georgia and into the northeast of the loyal British colony of Florida. There, they constantly rustled cattle and stole slaves.

This is an opportune time to address the word “Cracker”, for the old time Florida Cracker’s blood runs through much of modern Mayport citizenry. For most of is history the word “cracker” has been used as a derogatory appellation among English speaking people. As events and people came and went it was applied to various groups and always to the unsophisticated and boisterous…the equivalent of today’s “good ol’ boys.” English writers mentioned cracks and crackers over four hundred years ago. In the mid 18th century when poorer classes of white Georgians and Carolinians stole across the Florida border and spirited away cattle, horses, and slaves from the Spanish and Indians, it was said the Spanish spat out an epithet that sounded much like “Quaqueros.” During the American Revolution, when loyal or conscription dodging families fled to Florida, the British born citizens of the colony referred to the greatly resented newcomers as “Crackers”…and British Florida Governor James Grant, a Scotsman and veteran of the French and Indian Wars of a generation earlier, called them, “…those damned Crackers.” As is the wont of so many amateur historians of our day, a story just had to be invented to give an origin to an unusual label from the past. In the case of a theory becoming a fact and a perpetuated myth, those well meaning but benighted souls decided that Georgians driving their cattle down into Florida while cracking their cow whips gave rise to the term “Cracker.” But be advised…Crackers were Crackers in Great Britain at least a couple hundred years before the common use of the cow whip by Crackers in America.

Another fast forward: this time to the beginning of the twentieth century. An activity that involved my own cattle raising family then was to annually drive their stock from far inland to Mayport and Pablo Creek (now the inland waterway) for grazing on the salt rich spartina marshes. After a few weeks, the return drive was made before the cattle suffered what was called “the salt sickness.” My grandfather Barber often spoke of encountering panthers in the marsh side hammocks and of listening to the unfamiliar dialect of the Mayport fishermen.

Half way through the British occupation of Florida there occurred an event that was to have a major impact on the community of Mayport. A self styled British philanthropist - Dr. Andrew Turnbull - sailed the Mediterranean coast and gathered what he referred to as the “wretched underprivileged” of Turkey, Greece, Italy, France, Spain, and to a lesser degree, North Africa, but more particularly the Balearic Isles. The majority of his beneficiaries came from the Island of Minorca, and when the boat loads of immigrants set sail, they set sail from Minorca. Hence, regardless of their ancestral Old World homes, all were labeled Minorcans, and all were indentured to Dr. Turnbull for a long time.

In honor of his Turkish wife’s home, Dr. Turnbull named his plantation/colony “New Smyrna.”

In Florida, conditions for the Minorcans were harsh, promises of equipment and supplies by Turnbull were not kept, and taskmasters over the colonists were cruel. En masse the Minorcans left New Smyrna and trekked to St. Augustine where they were afforded a welcome (perhaps due to a feeling of ethnic kinship). After a generation or two, several families drifted away from St. Augustine to other sections of Florida.

Some went to the bayous of West Florida, some went to the wilderness of the Ten Thousand Islands of the southwest coast, some headquartered themselves in the Keys, some migrated to Amelia Island, some settled along the St. Johns south of the present Jacksonville and near the mouth of the river, but none returned to New Smyrna - the scene of their tragic introduction to Florida.

Those who stopped near the mouth of the St. Johns imprinted their culture and surnames forever on what we know as Mayport Village.

Florida has been called the 14th and loyal colony. There was little Revolutionary action in the colony except for a skirmish in the present neighboring Nassau County, a Georgian force penetrating as far south as Sawpit Bluff a few miles west of Mayport, and a hastily constructed British fort on the site of the long gone Fort Caroline.

A major effect of the Revolution on Florida was to bring in Tories from the rebelling colonies. The Revolution also brought many and sundry colorful characters including the infamous Daniel McGirt who was said to have operated with his band of international renegades on both shores of the St. Johns.

Another major result of the Revolution was that the 1783 treaty at the end of hostilities returned Florida to Spain.

The new nation of the United States began working almost immediately to bring Florida into its fold. To that end, colonists like John Houston McIntosh across the St. Johns from the present Mayport agitated for a Republic of East Florida with the intention of turning the new little nation over to the bigger nation to its north. The Republic was indeed created, was short lived, and was in plain view of Mayport from across the river.

During the weak Spanish control of Florida, there was a new influx of international rogues making their headquarters on the islands north of the river and on the south bank in the vicinity of Mayport. They were Mexican freebooters, British and French pirates, Scots soldiers of fortune, and opportunists of every ilk.

During the War of 1812, known in Florida as the Florida War or Patriots War, the Spanish fort of San Mateo on the site of the old Fort Caroline and British Revolutionary fort was revitalized. That war in Florida can best be described as a desultory fracas in which anyone could jump in whenever one wished and was permitted to switch sides as often as one wished.

One historian said that a Spanish sawpit mill near the present Mayport was destroyed by a Georgia Militia unit.

Spain finally gave up and ceded Florida to the United States. The transfer of Florida from Spain to the United States in 1820 made little impact in northeast Florida. Most of the few Spaniards living there left, but the void was not greatly felt. Many Americans had already settled in on both sides of the river, and their allegiance was toward the new owner of the land.

A memorable citizen of northeast Florida and particularly of Ft. George Island from 1813 to 1839 was the Scotsman Zephaniah Kingsley. He was highly regarded by the United States but not by his religious neighbors (most thought of him as an apostle of the devil). Among the busiest of slave traders, he and his Ft. George Island plantation supplied human chattel for much of the slave holding states and to the islands of the Caribbean.

Mayport was not without its share of troubles during the sad Second Seminole War. There were, in the early years of the conflict, raids in the area by wandering bands of related Creek tribes, and some of those raids laid waste to farms and slew entire families.

The river pilots of Hazard, as Mayport was known then, petitioned President William Henry Harrison in 1841 to grant them the Government Custom House for the area. They rightly advised His Excellency that Jacksonville, the holder of the Custom House at that time, could not check the smuggling of goods to both the white citizens of the territory and to the belligerent Seminoles.

As soon as Florida was a territory of the United States, her natural resources were up for grabs, especially her timber. Sawpit mills near the mouth of the St. Johns received logs from up river and turned them into lumber for ocean going vessels. In 1850 Jacksonville received a steam powered circular sawmill (much more efficient than the old manually operated sawpit mills), and for a while, the Mayport area lost some of its lumber business up river. By the on start of the War Between the States, the lumber mill had returned, and for several years the community was known as Mayport Mills.

The forts near the mouth of the river were briefly manned by the Confederates at the beginning of the War but soon abandoned in the face of superior numbers in blue. There was some sniping from guerillas in gray during the Union occupation of the area, and there was some reported violence during Reconstruction.

Mayport saw no major belligerent action, but her lumber mills were torched, and it was reported that most of the fishing piers were razed and used for target practice by Union soldiers and gunboats.

The scars of war, physical and emotional, were still to be seen when the first of many Northern visitors arrived in the vicinity of Mayport and Atlantic Beach. The locals referred to their arrival as “the Second Yankee Invasion”, but they were not averse to making money off the boatloads of Northerners debarking on the Mayport docks…a practice, throughout Florida, not uncommon to this day.

Before there was a Palm Beach and Miami (by the way, you can always tell a native Floridian from an import by the way he pronounces “My am’ ah” rather than “My am’ ee), Jacksonville, Fernandina, and St. Augustine were the playgrounds of the idle rich and were the miracle Edens for Northern consumptives.

Hotels went up along the strand in Atlantic Beach, hotels that hosted the famous - the crown prince of Great Britain, former president Ulysses S. Grant, and Baron DeBarry of Mumm’s Champagne fame.

Baron DeBarry of Belgium spent a few nights in Atlantic Beach before taking a steamer up the St. Johns into what was then considered the tropical wilderness of Volusia and Lake Monroe.

The most noted, and perhaps the earliest, of the area’s hostels was the Atlantic Hotel, built in 1874. It was described by one patron as having wide halls, high walls, airy rooms, a dining room with sumptuously laden tables, and a resident artist.

The Chicago team of Coloney and Talbott, the developers of Jacksonville’s prestigious Edgewood community (and, incidentally, of my little home town Macclenny), stopped over in Atlantic Beach before beginning their platting out work in Jacksonville. An enterprising group developed Burnside Beach (supposedly the namesake of a wrecked ship off shore) at the mouth of the river (now on naval property) and laid tracks for a little railroad to the area. Then the seaside communities of Seminole and Manhattan Beaches were established just south of Burnside.

I remember Seminole Beach from my youth.

The train to the seashore communities that were replaced by the navy base carried the locals’ nickname of “Jump, Man, and Push.” Passengers were often enlisted to help push the engine through the white shifting sand of the dunes.

For reasons yet to be discovered, Atlantic Beach resorts were very popular with the English upper crust. Some of their all night revelry scandalized the locals, but the locals still were not opposed to making bucks off the well-heeled hotel guests. They took them fishing, hunting, and sightseeing, and often staged a gator wrasslin’ match for the gaping tourists.

Then, enter Mrs. Elizabeth Worthington Philip J. P. Stark who found, in her words, “…this unique and fascinating little town on a horseback ride in February, 1914.”

The little village of Mayport was changed forever when that strong-willed English lady on horseback happened on the scene.

Mrs. Stark was said to have been born before her time. A Women’s Liberation activist, a youthful globe trotter without chaperone, an art student of James Whistler, and a conversation partner of European royalty, she entered the Mayport scene like a benevolent and genteel gale of very fresh air.

According to her memoirs, Mrs. Stark, then Miss Worthington, left from her home in New York State in the late summer of 1913 in a horse drawn caravan and headed for Florida. She recorded her impressions of the several country-sides she passed through and of the many people she encountered. She arrived in Jacksonville and searched the area for a good place to raise horses and grow figs. She claimed to have liked every place she saw in Jacksonville except the hotels. She said “…they all seemed filled with people with white or gray hair which seemed odd and rather spooky.”

Boy, she should see Florida now!

A local realtor whisked Miss Worthington off to Atlantic Beach in a Packard touring car, and she fell in love with the area. She bought two ocean front lots, each only 25 feet wide, and a corner lot on 10th Street.

Realizing her wish for raising horses could not be realized on such small bits of real estate, she rode her horse Bud around the neighborhood and chanced to meet a little boy on a tall white horse. He guided her to acreage that took her heart. The next day she rode horseback to Jacksonville and bought the land - all 375 acres of it.

Handling the purchase from the owner Chase Ship Chandlers of Jacksonville was the firm of Harwick and Jennings. Messrs. Harwick and Jennings and their wives remained close friends of Mrs. Stark for 25 years.

Always one ready to bask in another’s glory, I will add here that Mr. Charles Harwick was my relative.

After moving in, Miss Worthington wired her intended - Jack Stark - to come immediately. They wed in Waycross, Georgia, and set in to creating their paradise home - Wonderwood.

Mrs. Stark was among those enlightened Florida transplants who would not waste valuable time denigrating the locals but rather found and praised their positive traits, entered into cooperative ventures with them, and offered - nay, forced - her good services to assist them in areas in which she believed they were wanting.

She organized a Girl Scout troop and taught them to be vigilant during World War I, because she was certain the many unnaturalized Germans living in the Beaches area were surely signaling sensitive information to submarines. As it turned out, the perceptive lady knew whereof she spoke; some of the German nationals of that war (and, incidentally, of the next world war also) did prove to be spies.

Mrs. Stark’s first clash with the United States government came in 1925 when she learned that the bay on her property was to be filled in. She left for Washington and went to the top of the United States Engineers chain of command. She returned home with a promise of an unspoiled but improved bay, secure ownership of the bay, and the right to name it “Ribault Bay.”

The federal government began eyeing Wonderwood and surrounding territory in the late 1930’s for the purpose of establishing a naval base there. In 1940 Mrs. Stark and all property owners about her were summoned to court in Jacksonville where they would discuss, rather one sided it might be added, the sale of their property to the Navy. She was indignant that the Navy’s offer was far below her appraised value. Adding to the insult, she returned home one evening to find her home filled with camping marines and the house ransacked. Later she was ushered out of her house and off Wonderwood property and ordered never to set foot on the land again.

She and her husband rebuilt an even finer home on twenty-five acres the Navy had permitted them to keep. They were not permitted to remain there for long; once more they were evicted.

Once more they rebuilt, this time in East Mayport. Her husband died, and she remained in a small wooded area - another Wonderwood - for several years. Elizabeth Philip Stark was buried in an unmarked grave in the old East Mayport Cemetery.

Although rudely treated by the Navy, Mrs. Stark was not the type of lady to let something like a mere United States military force intimidate her. The Navy took her beloved Wonderwood but not her spirit…and she remained a loyal subject of her adopted country in spite of all her misfortunes.

Ancient forests, both fine and humble residences, the Catholic Church, the site of the Ribault monument, and the very old Mayport cemetery were bulldozed for the construction of the base. Only the lighthouse was spared, although it had been on the list to be demolished. Families with several Mayport-born generations behind them were forced to move.

It is to the credit of those Mayport citizens of sixty-three years ago that no bitterness was harbored; they were good citizens who knew that under the circumstances of war sacrifice was unavoidable and necessary.

I admit to a tad of resentment my self that I can no longer touch the lighthouse and to skip along the south jetties (actually, today, I can’t skip anywhere), but I know, as did those Mayport folk of many years back, that we sometimes have to give up a few little personal pleasures for the good of us all. The Mayport Naval Base is here to stay…and that gives us comfort.

Epilogue
Mayport Naval Station was commissioned in December of 1942. At this writing it is the third largest fleet concentration in the United States. Its harbor can accommodate 34 ships, and its 8,000 foot runway handles any aircraft of any size and type. The facility covers more than 3,400 acres. Mrs. Stark’s grave is now marked.

GRIPES OF YOUTH AND AGE 09/09/2003

One leisurely morning last week, I picked up a sister newssheet from the center of the state and discovered that it runs a gripe column in which its readers are permitted to vent their frustrations about the way life doesn’t go the way they wish. The divers plaints ranged from traffic on I-4 to the manner of modern products packaging.

One evidently young contributor gave us old folks a good raking over, and I got the impression “old” meant from the 40’s up. He or she said that old people should stay off the highway at all times, that they should do their shopping through the week and leave the stores free for youthful shoppers who worked for a living during the week and had only weekends for their buying, and questioned why old people had the gall to live off the earnings of the young. I got the impression the griper also wondered why old people had the audacity to stay alive and take up space.

I had to agree with the young griper about us old folks staying off the highways, even though those highways were constructed (and continually re-constructed) with money from us old folks and the old folks before us (not to mention it was old folks who were responsible for getting our vehicles off dirt rutted roads and onto paved thoroughfares…come to think of it…it was also old folks who invented those road machines youth is so in love with). It would suit this writer well if he never had to share the roads with those youthful drivers who seem to have decided that theirs are the only vehicles on the road.

Many of our youthful and youthful-thinking drivers like to brag about their driving dexterity. Got news, youthful drivers: if some of us old folks didn’t have control of our vehicles and had learned how to dodge your careless road habits, there would be lots more wrecks than there are.

By the way, has drivers’ ed stopped teaching that the headlights of the vehicle being passed should appear in the passer’s rear view mirror before the passer moves over in front of the passee? If it’s taught, then youthful minds seem to forget faster than us old folks.

Re/ the days we old folks do our shopping: I’m certain more of us old folks would be happy to shop through the week, and we might do so as soon as the medical people, with whom we tend to spend a lot of time, decide to work on weekends and leave our weekdays free.

As for us old folks living off the earnings of the young…where has that young person been for the past couple of generations (unborn for one, I’m sure)? It looks like it’s the other way around these days. Old folks had to work long and hard for earnings much lower than those of today, but it has become a way of life for youth, whose earnings are ridiculously greater than the generations before him/her, to frequently go to Mom and Pop to bail him/her out of financial troubles.

Of course, old folks have unlimited amounts of money because they don’t have the great financial responsibilities of today’s youth. We old folks just don’t understand the necessity of designer labels, gym memberships, eating out at trendy restaurants, vacations in the Caribbean, having the “in” address, paying big bucks for landscaping maintenance, and going to the club every weekend (“club” meaning what we old folks knew as “juke joints’).

There, this old folk feels better after a little griping, and that’s one thing we old folks are better at than youth.

I Am Handicapped 10/20/2003

I’ve been advised by old hands at this column-writing business that one best leave one’s personal life out of the public eye when effusing through the medium of the printed word. Your ol’ columnist is not a professional writer, so he feels he can let the public in on a few aspects of his current situation. And, maybe, just maybe, some lessons can be taught by doing so.

Never having been handicapped, I’m having a heck of a time getting accustomed to it at this advanced age. I am not “mobility challenged.” I am handicapped. I am crippled. The only challenge involved is whether or not I can continue to tolerate it.

Not a day goes by that I am not reminded of my halcyon days when I had little patience for the wheelchair or walker frame person slowing the world’s pace down while he or she obstructed a grocery aisle, or stood just inside a business entrance taking up space while getting new bearings, or fumbled for change at a food counter while I stomped and snorted until I could finally get my order in

Ah, yes...the chickens...they do come home to roost. And I step in their droppings daily now that I have become the grocery aisle obstruction (if only I could get to a grocery store now), and have become the space-taker-upper just inside a business entrance (if only I could get to a business entrance now), and have become the fumbler for change at a food counter (if only I could get to a food counter now).

Now that the whining and bitterness has been taken care of, let your ol’ columnist use his experience to benefit those who have to indulge us handicapped folk. Following are some pithy thoughts aimed at the non-handicapped.

If you’re not crippled, keep your advice on how to handle it to your selves. I realize that everybody is medication brilliant these days, but I’ll let the guys and girls with the medical degrees on their office walls decide what’s best for me to take. If all those arthritis too-good-to-be-true fad cures of the past didn’t work, why do you think an arthritis too-good-to-be-true fad cure of today will work any better?

Bear in mind that not everybody these days is happy to be ill or wish to make it their main topic of conversation (though, at times, it seems that way). For my self, my illness, like my bank account, falls under the heading of “my business.” Keep your nose at a distance when curious about why I can’t walk or often grimace in pain.

When you ask me or any other home bound person, “What can I do?’, be prepared to do what’s asked, or, if you can’t or would rather not, be kind and make it clear that you can’t accommodate; don’t keep us sitting here hoping and waiting.

When you are visiting me or other handicapped persons and you see us begin to squirm and screw up the face obviously with pain, why don’t you ask if it might be best for you to take your leave? Why do you feel that because we’re handicapped and stay at home most of the time that we are retired and on permanent vacation? Many of us are still working though not trotting around town to do so.

Be certain that I or other handicapped folks are ready for your tasteless jokes about our motorized wheel chairs, canes, and walkers. I, for one, am not ready, and don’t plan to be ready, for challenges to race you or comments on how sporty I look on an old folks scooter.

By all means, keep your syrupy, dopey philosophy to your self about how lucky I am compared to poor folks who are in much worse shape than I. Got news for you: if everybody else in the entire world had no legs, it wouldn’t help my useless legs work any better. As dear old sainted Grandma Mag once told her neighbor, “I don’t feel near as much pain from your broken leg as I do from my broken toe.”

There, I’ve made your day, I’m sure. For some weird reason, I feel better. Thanks for reading, and thanks for not commenting.

Keep Up With Change 11/03/2003

As a youth, I often whined about not being able to keep up with change. The older folk sagely advised me, “Ain’t nothin’ more changeable than change.” I have observed much change in my life, and one of those most salient changes has been in the language I grew up with.

English, being a word and grammar olio of several languages - basically Germanic, Latin of the common folk, and Frenchified Germanic - has change built into it. It is a language in flux. It is never completed. I am daily reminded of that as I converse with, not only younger acquaintances, people of my generation.

One example of change right here in what was once mainline Cracker Country is that folks here now eat dinner at night when all God-fearing, respectable Cracker folk always ate dinner at noon and had supper at night…as God intended it.

Other examples of language change here in our area are that many of us study the “scriptures” instead of the Bible, describe certain events and actions as “awesome” rather than “ain’t that nice”, use “impacted” as a verb and not as an adjective, enter the “sanctuary” instead of “go into the church”, and accept certain words and expressions as common usage that once got our teeth loosened by the stern hand of parents.

Not being a regular TV watcher, my reaction, when I do turn the thing on, ranges from mildly taken aback to shock as I hear “kick a--“, “p----- off”, the P word (male anatomy), and several other expressions that would have assured that I would have had to eat my supper (now dinner) off the mantle for weeks had I dared use them when my elders could hear. And these examples are from regular ol’ antenna TV…not from cable or dish, and they’re not on during late night fare but right when most folks are eating dinner (used to be “supper”).

The constant influence of TV language has many of my contemporaries using expressions that once had denotations of being not very nice, and they use them without a thought as to their original meaning. Good words have become bad. Bad words have become good (or, at least, acceptable).

I will pause here and accept the label of hypocrite from people who know me well, because I am subject to letting off a charge of naughty words in the heat of anger. My excuse is that I come from long lines of cussers on both sides of my genealogy, and I allow that I control my self when in the presence of decent folks.

Leaving the influences of television and going into every body’s favorite subject of today - illness - I notice that no body has an operation any more. In fact, few use the word “surgery” that took the place of “operation” for several years; now we go to the hospital for “procedures.” And good ol’ country folk who pronounced “aspirin” as “aspern” can now go through those ridiculously long and inane names of prescription drugs with the ease of a professional lexicologist or well-trained thespian.

When I was a kid, we had basically Chevrolets, Fords, Plymouths, etc., but now we don’t dare use the manufacturers’ names when discussing our wheels; we use, instead, letters and numbers (anybody got any idea what those letters and numbers mean?). Most of us talk about our “vehicles” rather than our cars. Instead of saying our vehicles “run well and are economical”, we now talk about our vehicles’ “performance.”

Referring back to the word “basically” in the previous paragraph, I am personally wishing we had never introduced that word to the younger generation. I actually heard an EMT describe his last fatality pick-up as “basically dead.”

Is there a point to this little effusion? No, not really; your ol’ columnist just wanted to share his observations. He also would like to announce that he will eat supper at night and dinner at noon until the day he dies. He just can’t cotton up to change well.

THE DISAPPEANCE OF THE GOPHER 11/17/2003

We old time Baker County folk used to have what we believed was a constant in our lives – the gopher. Known elsewhere as “gopher tortoises”, these reptiles were symbolic of persistence, strength, and endurance.

We could always find their holes in any sandy area by spotting the yellow sand apron they had tossed up in front of their burrows. They were a familiar sight plodding across sandy rut roads and our yards in their quest for their daily forage.

Old timers referred to the gopher as “Hoover chicken” and “hard times chicken”, recalling the days of the great depression when he often wound up in the stew pot.

Some of us kept gophers as pets, and they seemed quite contented with their roles. We didn’t think about it at the time, but we were doing the creatures a disservice by denying them the privilege of getting out amongst their own kind and procreating.

Gophers would be with us forever…or so we thought.

It has been years since your ol’ columnist has seen a gopher. There have been sufficient sightings by others for me to know the gopher is still in the county, but he has certainly had his numbers cut drastically.

The first among the hue and cry is “development”, and, surely, the so-called progress of crowding the county with new population with attendant paved roads, trailer parks, patios, convenience stores, swimming pools, shopping centers, etc. do cut down on his natural habitat and drastically cut his food supply (he’s a vegetarian).

A less discussed reason for destruction of the gopher’s world is the lack of annual fires to keep his habitat just the way he likes it and needs it. Burns always kept the sandy ridges in the county free of excess vegetation and insured the scrub, sometimes almost desert like, environment he needed for survival.

As an aside note, the lack of annual burns have also destroyed much of our natural pinelands and allowed hard wood hammocks to replace them. Not only has this been detrimental to the gopher’s survival, but several native species of plants have also gone the way of extinction in the county. The built up jungle like growth in Baker County might look to be natural, as we let nature take its course by interfering with our “no woods burning” policy of the past few generations, but it is totally unnatural. That jungle like growth is also a giant tinderbox when the next series of drought years come on us, and drought years are natural and unavoidable.

Is the ol’ gopher necessary to our survival? Doubtless, he isn’t. If he plays a major role in our lives except as a symbol of persistence, strength, and endurance, it really isn’t clear. But life without him has certainly been less enjoyable for your ol’ columnist.

If you out there in weekly newspaper reading land have any influence on developers, ask them to consider seeking advice on setting aside some gopher land. If you have any influence with environmental agencies, tell them to cool it on the anti-woods burning crusade; they’re doing as much harm as overly enthusiastic developers.

There is room in Baker County for us all – humans, rose pogonia orchids, long leaf pines, swallow tail kites, and gophers, among many others. We just need to back off on our projects and study what we can do to keep the environment right for us all.

Your columnist is indeed grateful to his friend Gary Kirkland for inspiring this little effusion and for steering me to the gopher tortoise site on the web – http://www.nebbd.com/godo/ef/gtortoise/- a most informative page.

The passing on of passing on lore 12/01/2003

Lore, as defined in Webster’s New World Dictionary, is all the knowledge of a particular group, especially that of a traditional nature. Lore encompasses lots of diverse subjects - local names of fauna and flora, manners, names of ancestors, planting times, ethnic cuisine, morals, home medications, provincial history, hunting and fishing techniques, almost ad infinitum.

The dictionary doesn’t say so, but life can go on without passing down lore, however your ol’ columnist has serious doubts that life will be improved or be as rich without it being done.

Allow me to inform you out there in weekly-newspaper-reading-land of some amusing, but close to shocking examples, of the lack of passing down lore.

1. I once asked two preteens for their grandparents’ names. They responded, “Nana and Paw Paw.” I asked for their real names. Their response: “Nana and Paw Paw.” They had no idea of their grandparents’ given or surnames. Think of the fun law officials would have with that if they needed to contact the kids’ grandparents in a critical situation.
2. Recently no workers at my old shack could distinguish poison ivy from totally non noxious plants in the yard. The danger here isn’t difficult to imagine.
3. Some Cracker friends of mine that had been having supper at night all their lives invited me to dinner. I went at noon and surprised them; they had slipped into the unforgivable habit of calling the night meal “dinner.”
4. A high school history teacher informed his students there were never cowboys in Florida (actually, there were not...there were “cow hunters”). Nobody had taught him that this state is the site of the first cattle raising industry on the continent and remains among the top beef producers in the country.
5. Some young folk in their twenties swore they had it on good authority that chitt’lin’s (chitterlings) were heart, liver, and lungs of hogs. They refused to accept the reality of the subject.

I noticed the sad neglect of lore beginning in my youth when locals began to get heady with post war (WW II) prosperity and replaced family get-togethers with sessions in front of TV sets. Ice cream churnings and pender (peanut) boilings with their attendant lore passing were phased out in lieu of purchased ready-to-eat snacks. Pea shellings on the back porch, where lore was discussed, lost out to boil-in-the-bag frozen foods.

This isn’t a plea for a return to the simpler, but often more toilsome life, but there should be some sort of medium ground found and utilized between the conveniences of today and the passing of lore.

If lore isn’t passed down, it will be replaced by other information from other sources. Often those replacements and their sources are not at all healthy and desirable for a productive and moral society. Sadly, heroes like George Washington, George Washington Carver, and Colin Kelly (remember him?) are replaced by O. J. Simpson, Michael Jackson, and Mick Jagger (and what the heck has any of these done to further civilization’s progress?). Anything related to Jesus of Nazareth is rapidly being replaced by anything that can be expressed with the F word. Pride of craftsmanship and service is being eroded in favor of “What the heck...it sells.”

In reference to the just passed holiday of Thanksgiving, I am thankful that I had family that spent time with me and passed down lore.

This year's nightmare is labeled "2003" 12/29/2003

Seems every year about this time, your ol' columnist wakes from a bad dream. This year's nightmare is labeled "2003", and it was a doozy. Following are some of the wake-up-in-a-cold-sweat subjects.

After several months of warning that our nation and allies would invade Saddam's country, therefore giving him sufficient time to dispose of any and all Weapons of Mass Destruction (and a lot of his own people), we and our allies went into Iraq, and - guess what? - no WMD were found. How surprising.

Europe's mad cow disease has finally hit this country, and in the tradition we've assumed the past several years of being a nation of misinformation, we, the average Joes, have no idea how perilous or safe our existence is now. Reminds your ol' columnist of the mountains of misinformation regarding the AIDS, SARS, and West Nile Fever scares.

Anyone with a personal home computer has just about gagged on the unsolicited pop-up ads for products guaranteed to increase gentlemen's intimate performances and dimensions, and a whole slew of folks somewhere out there in cyberspace has the notion that I'm eager to learn more about some little heifer named Paris Hilton. Not being a prude, I can look and delete, but I wonder how many sweet little ol' grandmothers and toddlers get an eyeful of those very graphic ads.

I just learned that the big dogs of the broadcast industry say it's okay that some programs use the "F" word. How the world has changed; I well recall when I got my bottom worked on to the point that I had to eat standing at the mantle for a week simply because I uttered, "Dern."

I was informed from several fronts that by being a middle class while male of the Christian faith…I am a bad guy. I'm having a lot of trouble with that one.

Two most callous and heinous sniper killers were convicted recently, but, not surprisingly, there were calls to understand how their sad lives had affected them and doubtless caused them to act thusly. A lot of Islam and troubled youth stuff was thrown into the arguments supporting the killers.

At state level, the powers-that-be in Tallahassee decided we didn't need the Florida State Library anymore. The reason given was for budget cutting. The people of Florida, especially the educators, need the library much more than they need some of the insensitive out-of-touch people in the state capitol. I never figured out why some of the nabobs in the capitol building didn't offer to return a goodly portion of their unrealistically huge salaries for the purpose of retaining the library.

Locally, the interminable roadwork continued far into the year. There's a possibility it might be over, but don't get complacent; several times I sighed relief that the work seemed completed only to find it cranked up again with all its attendant inconveniences.

Also locally, we learned the county was around a million and a half in the hole. That's actually more than I owe.

Then we heard that the "Darbyville" replica on the west end of Macclenny might be getting laminate flooring (surely that has to be a dream). Your ol' columnist's research shows that the very few stores and commissaries of the true Darbyville had dirt floors. I've heard more concern for flooring in the ersatz Darbyville than I have for a genuine piece of history - the Herndon-Thompson House behind the old courthouse - that was recently damaged by fire. For someone enthusiastic about historical accuracy, that was when the alarm went off, and the bad dream was interrupted by reality.

The entire year of 2003 was not all bad. There were interludes of sweet dreams, but I'm having difficulty remembering them, and I'm sure they would pale compared to the nightmarish parts.

I can't help but wonder if the year 2004 will be another doozy of a bad dream. If it is, I think I'll just sleep through it.

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