Thursday, December 20, 2018

Love blooms on Florida frontier

Screengrab of first page of Chapter 1 of Trust in Love novella

Read the first chapter of my new novella, Trust in Love, free
at Fiction Finder, a website that helps readers find
Christian fiction. (Gerri Bauer photo)
Update: Jan. 6, 2019: Read the first chapter  free at Fiction Finder!

Original Dec. 20, 2018 post:

Today, I depart from my usual focus on reality. Instead, I concentrate on my new novella about fictional life in pioneer Florida.

This is harder for me than you might think. Catholics are raised to steer clear of calling attention to themselves. Yet anyone who writes today knows the reality of the publishing business. Today's authors must self-promote. So here I am.

Trust in Love is novella length, 33,750 words. It's part of the Persimmon Hollow Legacy series but each book in the series can be read alone, in any order. They are individual stories. All are historical romances that take place in a community of faith and values.

Here's the back-cover blurb for Trust in Love, which is available for $2.99 in ebook and $5.99 in paperback:
Book cover of the novella "Trust in Love"
Irish immigrant Margaret Murphy has many talents, but waitressing isn’t one of them. A hotel waitress job in pioneer Florida is her last chance to help her family stave off starvation. But she’s in danger of being fired. Will the love that blooms with a fellow worker, an immigrant from Italy, be a saving grace or a complicated distraction?
As with my blog about everyday life, the novella centers on daily living. My main characters are immigrants who work in one of the hotels that, in reality, were popular in late 19th century Florida. My hotel is fictional, but the long hours of work were real in that time and place. Tourists were wealthy and demanded and received excellence.

I've written previous blog posts about early Florida hotels, and they touch on some of the social dynamics:
Now I feel better for having introduced some real-life aspects of the subject. And will end on that happy note, except for providing links, below, for purchase. :)

Trust in Love is available  from the following vendors.

Amazon (ebook and paperback)
Barnes & Noble (ebook)
Kobo (ebook)
Apple Books (ebook, search for author name of Geraldine Bauer)

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Weird elections a Florida tradition

Black and white photo from late 1800s shows courthouse in Enterprise, FL, with people standing out front
Courthouse in Enterprise when the community was the county
seat of Volusia County. (Photo credit: Florida Memory)
Weird elections are nothing new in Florida. One local fight was complete with "wire-pulling of all sorts," a near-mobbing, a man being shot at, and stealth transfer of official records. Lest that sound modern, please note: this election took place in 1888.

The fight was between sleepy Enterprise and upstart DeLand in Central Florida. At stake was the title of county seat, a prize for any frontier town's economy.  In 1888, Enterprise had already been the Volusia County seat for 34 years. But the riverfront town's prominence and population were slipping as the steamboat era waned.

DeLand was a brash, rising community, having been founded only 12 years earlier. By 1888, it had a larger population than Enterprise - 2,000 to 850, according to a newspaper letter reprinted in the 1976 book Reflections: West Volusia County, 100 Years of Progress. DeLand also had a bigger business district, a respected university, and leading citizens who used money and power to sway opinion.

One of those citizens was town founder Henry A. DeLand. He offered to donate land for a courthouse. He, his wealthy buddy John B. Stetson (the hatmaker), and another friend named Fred S. Goodrich, committed $15,000 to build a courthouse at no charge to county government. Provided, that is, the county seat be moved to DeLand. The information is documented in Reflections and in the local DeLand history book written by Henry's daughter, Helen Parce DeLand, in 1928.

Helen's book, Story of DeLand and Lake Helen Florida, describes the electioneering as a "hot campaign of speech-making, newspaper broadsides and wire pulling of all sorts." She uses the quote marks in her book, so the description must have come from an earlier publication, perhaps a newspaper.

One "ardent" campaigner was a DeLand-based attorney and citrus grower A. G. Hamlin. (The Hamlin orange is named after him.)  Someone shot at him as he was heading home one evening. Foes from Enterprise, I presume, but you never know. He also was almost mobbed, Helen writes. No details are given.

Things were rocky from the start. DeLand attorney Isaac Stewart gave county commissioners - in Enterprise - a petition asking for a public vote on the county-seat question. The petition was signed by 825 people, which Reflections states was more than a third of the electorate (all men, remember, at that time). County commissioners couldn't or wouldn't cough up a second to the motion. They declared the matter closed.

Something called a "writ of mandamus" was issued that forced commissioners to reconsider. Cornell Law's website says, basically, that such a writ orders a government body to do its job.

The election took place on March 28, 1888. Results are shared in a number of local history books, including the two cited above. DeLand received 1,003 votes. Enterprise got 439. Other towns in the county also earned a few votes here and there, including 1 each for Ormond and New Smyrna.

Helen DeLand writes that "two or three thousand people gathered in the streets" of DeLand to celebrate. Festivities included use of an anvil and black powder. Something went awry and a local man was seriously injured.

Down in Enterprise, some residents filed a lawsuit to prevent the physical removal of county records. Local lore says DeLand men snuck the records out of Enterprise in the middle of the night. The stealth riders were on horseback.

Photo from late 1880s shows DeLand's first courthouse under construction
Construction of a courthouse in DeLand started soon after
 the 1888 election. (Photo credit: Florida Memory)
The local leaders held to their promise, and a courthouse was built in DeLand. The existing courthouse in Enterprise became a school for a while.

Today, 130 years later, DeLand remains the county seat of Volusia County. Enterprise eventually reverted to unincorporated status. Both places are revered for their historical value.

The drama of the 1888 election is long gone, but nasty political fighting remains sadly popular today.

Although election shenanigans still happen, some things do change. That $15,000 pledged for courthouse construction in 1888 would be worth about $415, 000 today. No courthouse could be built anywhere in Florida for that amount now.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Florida's first Catholic school

Black-and-white photo of students outside Mary Immaculate Convent in Key West in the 1890s
Saint Mary Star of the Sea school students gather outside
Mary Immaculate Convent in Key West in the 1890s. The
school was attached to the convent, and was operated by the
Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary.
Photo credit: Florida Memory
Key West is famous for many reasons. A few don't align with typical Margaritaville lore. Such as the fact that the first Catholic school in Florida was in, you guessed it, Key West.

A handful of brave Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary ventured south, way south, from Canada to Key West, in 1868 at the request of Florida's then-bishop, Augustin Verot. The congregation's website offers an overview of the sisters' Florida history. It notes that the bishop, "Dreading the introduction of the Sisters to their first Florida summer," suggested an autumn arrival. Smart move, that.

The sisters' destination was the parish of Saint Mary Star of the Sea. The church was built in 1852. It was not only the first Catholic church in Key West, it was the first in South Florida. And only the fifth Catholic church in all of Florida. The church today is a Basilica. To learn more about its history, check the footnote links on its Wikipedia page. They'll take you to archived history pages. The church's website also offers a history book for sale.

Heat, humidity, and tropical climate aside, the sisters faced an adventure from the start. A fierce storm snapped the masts off the ship on which they traveled. They "prayed fervently for protection" and were grateful to reach their destination alive. But their first view of Key West didn't impress them, even though Key West was the largest city in Florida at the time. It had a population of about 5,000.

"A curious crowd of onlookers" met the sisters at the pier, where, thankfully, the church's assistant pastor also waited. And the sisters' first residence was a former Civil War barracks that was being used by locals as a goat barn. I kid you not. The story of the journey and arrival is on the congregation's website, with portions also posted on the current Basilica School of Saint Mary Star of the Sea's website.

One of the sisters died less than a year later, from yellow fever, which also claimed the priests on the island. Life could be tough in Key West. Safe to say they weren't drinking margaritas on Duval Street.

The sisters persevered, as Catholic sisters always do. Within a decade, they had consecutively opened schools for local white children, local African-American children, and local Cuban girls. Each group was in a separate school because of segregation laws. Students of all colors followed the same curriculum, and were taught by many of the same teachers.

After 115 years of service, the sisters left Key West in 1983. Their legacy remains, though, in the parish, the school, and in the descendants of the hundreds of youth they taught in a Key West that is no more.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Set aside labels, share some Spehovka

Photo of sausage bread known as Spehovka
No matter what your heritage, it's easy to agree that the
savory sausage bread known as Spehovka is delicious.
(Photo credit: Gerri Bauer)
Everybody is labeled in this era of identity politics. Yet each label holds within it multiple complexities and distinct characteristics.

One of my labels is Slovenian-American. My paternal grandparents and other paternal-side relatives were immigrants from Slovenia. They left their homeland when it was still part of Yugoslavia. Tiny Slovenia proclaimed its independence in 1991.

The outside world knew my father's family as Yugoslavian. Within the family, they were always Slovenian. And proud of it. That heritage passed to me. When I moved to Florida, I was delighted to learn there was a Slovenian community west of New Smyrna Beach. There aren't a lot of Slovenians in the world. I felt an immediate kinship, even though I'd never met anyone in the community.

The settlement began as Briggsville, and later became known as Samsula. It was founded in the early 1900s as a farming community and remains agricultural today. All kinds of vegetables were and are grown there: corn, peppers, squash, onions, cabbage, greens, etc.

Although named after a man from Bohemia named Lloyd Samsula, the community is Slovenian in heritage.  Many Slovene immigrants were among the earliest settlers, according to the history shared on the Samsula Woman's Club website. That history says the first to arrive were members of the Kravanja family in 1912.

Many other Slovenian family names are shared on that website and on the Samsula Historical Archive, a community history website. I searched for names from my family tree, including Kralj and Habian/Habjan, but came up empty. As a newspaper reporter decades ago, I interviewed a Samsula woman who had started a Slovenian museum in her home. Many items on display - such as clothing and crafts - were somewhat familiar to me. But not enough for a full connection. 

When my parents moved to Florida many years ago, I was certain my father would find kindred spirits in Samsula. I encouraged my parents to attend an event at the SNPJ Lodge. The Slovene National Benefit Society organization/lodge has long served as Samsula's social hub.

My father's ethnicity is Slovenian. Yet he carries an Italian surname due to the name affixed to an abandoned orphan in my family tree. My father was informed by people at the SNPJ Lodge event that he wasn't really Slovenian. The hand of friendship wasn't extended. Just the opposite. He never went back to an SNPJ Lodge event. I don't blame him.

Cover of Samsula Country Cookbook
Photo credit: Gerri Bauer
My dad's experience soured my enthusiasm for finding heritage kinship in Samsula. But I still bought the Woman's Club cookbook when it was first published. In that pre-internet time, Slovenian recipes in English were almost nonexistent. My family had a Slovenian cookbook, but it was written in Slovenian, a notoriously difficult language for non-natives.

I was dismayed to discover the Samsula cookbook's recipes for potica featured pecans. No, no, no. Potica is a sweet breadlike cake pronounced, roughly, in English as "poh-teet-za." This delicious treat has always been made in my family with walnuts, not pecans. I suspected the Samsula recipes were regional or country variations, and continued paging through the cookbook.

Then, I couldn't find any recipe for spehovka. Later editions of the cookbook may include the detailed steps for this savory sausage bread. To me, it's a Slovenian cultural treasure. My father wrote down his mother's recipe more than a decade ago, and I now happily make my own. Yet my recipe is different than the spehovka recipes I've found in modern English-language Slovenian cookbooks from the motherland. One even calls for using bacon and eggs as the filling!

Spehovka is one of my culinary specialties, along with Sicilian pizza and lasagna from the other half of my heritage, my maternal side. I'm a mix of cultures, as we all are. Even within our designated labels, we're different, as I learned with my exploration into the Florida Slovenians. We're all human, too, more similar than we care to believe.

Set aside the labels for a while. Sit down and share a slice of spehovka, or pizza, or sweet potato pie, or flatbread, or beans and rice, or chicken curry ... You get the idea.

Monday, August 27, 2018

1st Florida woman voted in 1915

vintage photo of woman at picnic table with dog
This photo from Vero Beach Magazine shows Zena Dreier,
the first woman to vote in Florida. She voted in Fellsmere
in 1915. (Credit: Vero Beach magazine)
It's a busy election season in Florida, in case you haven't noticed. Perfect timing to remember the lady believed to be the first woman to vote in Florida. In 1915! Five years before the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granted American women the right to vote.

I stumbled across this information in Vero Beach Magazine. I love local publications. They often provide historical information unavailable in larger media outlets. The story details what led to Mrs. Zena Dreier's vote in Fellsmere in 1915, and is fully available online. I first read the article in the print version of the magazine's June 2018 issue, while visiting relatives.

Fellsmere is hardly a metropolis even today. Wikipedia puts its 1920 population at 333 people. I'm guessing the 1915 population was even smaller. But Fellsmere was incorporated even then.

The settlement was launched by Fellsmere Farm Company. Magazine article author Mary Beth Vallar writes about the influence of activist Marian Fell Vans Agnew on incorporation. She was the daughter of Fellsmere's founder, and wife of the attorney who wrote the city charter  - the same charter that authorized women's right to vote in municipal elections.

Florida state legislators likely snoozed through charter review, the article theorizes. The article of incorporation that granted suffrage for women in Fellsmere received what appeared to be rubber-stamp approval in April 1915.

Two months later, Zena Annetta Matthews Dreier cast the first woman's vote in a Fellsmere city election. It was a big deal. The newspaper in Jacksonville - 200 miles from Fellsmere - even covered the news. A screengrab of the article is on the city clerk's website.

Zena, too, had connections to the Fellsmere Farms Company. The article says her husband was the company's top salesman. It's unknown whether she was a suffragette. It doesn't matter. She voted.  I hope all of you do, too.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Drexel sisters' philanthropy touched Florida

front of church building in 1950
This photo of St. Peter Claver Church is from 1950.
(Photo credit: St. Peter Claver community)
The St. Peter Claver Catholic community in Tampa is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year (1893-2018). It's a fitting time to remember the roots of this community, plus its links to St. Katharine Drexel and her sister, Louise Drexel Morrell.

Catholics in other areas of the country don't always realize Florida was Catholic mission territory well into the 20th century. I've encountered publications that gloss over Florida's rich Catholic history and the heroic efforts of religious and lay settlers to make sure the "Cross in the Sand"* stayed put.

Historian and pastor Fr. Michael J. McNally helps us remember. In his excellent book, Catholic Parish Life on Florida's West Coast, 1860-1968" (Catholic Media Ministries, 1996), he writes that, in Florida's early years:
"Winter visitors who came from places where Catholicism had a complex infrastructure were often appalled at Florida's lack of ecclesiastical institutions." (142)
These visitors, plus clergy, religious sisters and brothers, and local lay Catholics successfully worked to change that. McNally relates numerous examples. The Drexel sisters are two of the best known. They are widely recognized for philanthropic and spiritual work on behalf of Native Americans and African Americans in the western and southern United States. Less well known is that Florida was among the beneficiaries in the South.

McNally writes that Louise Morrell visited Tampa in 1911 and "conceived the idea of erecting a Catholic church for Tampa's black community" (143). At that time, the community already had St. Peter Claver School, which dates to 1893. (Arsonists torched the first school building.) McNally says that in 1899, Mother Katharine Drexel, as she was known at the time, gave $2,000 to support the educational initiative (189). That's about $57,000 in today's dollars. Saint Drexel also gave more money at later dates, and visited the school in 1904.

The St. Peter Claver Mission's church building was erected in 1915 with money donated by Louise  Morrell. Of note is that no one in the Tampa business community would loan the pastor of nearby Sacred Heart parish the $3,000 needed to build St. Peter Claver church (189). That's equal to about $75,000 in 2018. The first Mass was said on Christmas Day, 1915, in the new mission church that was large enough to seat 200 people.

Louise Morrell supported the St. Peter Claver community into the 1930s. She visited again after 1911, and through the years donated statues, books and school desks in addition to giving financial support. Mother Katharine Drexel is known to have visited Tampa only once - in 1904 - to see St. Peter Claver School. On the same trip, she also journeyed to St. Benedict the Moor School in St. Augustine, another school she helped financially.

Leading ladies of the secular community also supported Catholic efforts in frontier Tampa. McNally mentions such notables as Henry Plant's wife, Margaret K. Plant, and community leader Kate Jackson (143).

But so did regular folk. In nearby San Antonio - Florida not Texas! It's about 30 miles from Tampa - a determined settler started a home school. Marie Cecile Morse was a mother of six who tired of waiting for community leaders to start a Catholic school in newly settled San Antonio. So she started one herself, in her home, in 1883 with 14 students. I'll tell that story in a future blog post.

*Cross in the Sand, The Early Catholic Church in Florida, 1513-1870, by the late historian and  former priest Michael Gannon, and Fr. McNally's books on church history in South and West Florida, should be required reading for those interested in Florida's Catholic history.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Quilts, a novel, and the Florida scrub

Details from page 26 in the 2018 Journal of Florida Literature, vol 26
My article about the meaning of quilts in South Moon Under
is in the 2018 edition of the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
Journal of Florida Literature, vol. 26. (Gerri Bauer photo)
Florida in the 1920s and 1930s was filled with hidden backwoods homesteads. The frenzied activity of the Florida Land Boom may well have been on another planet, for anyone visiting these pioneer settlements. One such visitor was author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.

Rawlings moved to Florida in 1928. As part of her research, she trekked into the Florida scrub  near Ocala to live with a Cracker family named Fiddia in 1931. Her experiences and meticulous notes evolved into her 1933 novel, South Moon Under, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. (Her best-known novel, The Yearling, won the Pulitzer in 1939.)

South Moon Under is my favorite Rawlings' novel, not least because a thread about quilting runs through it, as hidden as those old homesteads were. More about that later. This blog post is now going to split into two threads, no pun intended.

One thread highlights a video featuring the granddaughter of the woman Rawlings stayed with in the Ocala forest. The other is about the novel's quilting aspect, and about the article in which I explore quilting's place in the narrative. The article is published in the 2018 issue of The Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Journal of Florida Literature, Volume 26. (Yes, shameless plug.) The journal is published by the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Society, of which I'm a member.

Rawlings' hosts in the forest were Piety Fiddia and her son. Rawlings learned about and tried her hand at many aspects of the Fiddias' self-sufficient pioneer life. She then gave the name Piety to the fictional mother in South Moon Under. 

The real Piety's granddaughter, Carol Fiddia Laxton, said Rawlings' writing captured her grandmother so perfectly, she could almost see her on the pages of the novel. That comment, and others about life in pioneer Florida and Carol's childhood memories of Rawlings, are in the wonderful video embedded below. The video was filmed at Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park in Cross Creek, and was sponsored by the Friends of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Farm.

Back to the novel and its quilts: My curiosity about the bedcovers' role was sparked the first time I read the book years ago, but went dormant. About three years ago, I re-read the novel, and the quilting again jumped out at me. I knew I wanted to write about it, but why? What did the quilting signify and why was it featured enough in the narrative for me to notice?

Rawlings didn't use words indiscriminately, but she did use metaphors. I let my ideas percolate for several months and periodically did some research, but still came up empty. Then my mother fell gravely ill, and I started driving back and forth through the Ocala National Forest two, sometimes three, times a week. My mother died, and the trips continued as I settled her estate, relocated my ill father, and sold their Ocala house.

This was an emotionally hard time for me, as you can guess. Each time I drove, the forest portion of my journey soothed my psyche. And each time, I'd think of the novel and the quilting, especially when I passed the sign for the Big Scrub turnoff. The road leads to a now-abandoned homestead that once inspired Rawlings' writing. I'd see the sign, think of the author, think of the novel, and circle back to quilts. For I come from a long line of women who plied the needle, sometimes to keep themselves and their families alive. They sewed as peasants in Europe and in sweatshops in New York City, not as Crackers in the Florida scrub. But some things transcend physical boundaries.

On my drives, I thought about mothers and daughters, needlework, communities, connections, so many things. And one day, the missing link I sought was ... just there, in my mind.  I had just passed State Road 19, and noted one of my journey's landmark sandhills as I rounded a curve. Before I reached the Big Scrub sign the answer came to me in a flash. The quilting in the novel connects women. It helps the fictional Piety thread her extended family together in a way that ensures survival in the scrub beyond basic necessities. Finally, I was able to write the article that became "Piety's Quilts: Stitching Family and Fabric in South Moon Under." Finally, the meaning of the quilts was clear.

Quilting is a multifaceted art and craft in the 21st century. It encompasses all genders, a range of genres and applications, and collective endeavors such as the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, which I was privileged to see about 20 years ago. But in the story world of South Moon Under, and in the daily life I try to uncover in this blog, quilting was part of the pioneer woman's domain. It was something that gave her agency. And that's important no matter what the era.

Here's the video:

Sunday, May 27, 2018

A life in belongings

detail of screengrab of 1800s estate inventory
19th century estate inventory lists were often highly detailed.
I'm so enjoying Lucy Worsley's book, Jane Austen At Home, because it focuses on "everyday things from an ordinary life" (16). That's how I try to focus this blog: on the everyday parts of daily life among regular folk. Finding those details can be challenging. Always interesting, though.

Wills and their associated inventories are one way to view an ordinary life framed by its things. A treasure hunt through such public records occasionally provides insights amid the legalese, generalities, and scribbled or faded cursive writing. You see what was materially valued by people.

The older the record, the generally more detailed it is.  The belongings of a man or woman named B.P. Johnson of the panhandle's Jefferson County were detailed down to the number of teaspoons (nine) in 1880. This person's two quilts were deemed important enough to note each's value, $1.50. One inflation calculator tells me that's about $33 in modern dollars, not very much. It's a fair assumption that those quilts were handmade, and I hope they were treasured.

A man named Fred, whose surname is unreadable in the record, had one pair of pants, one vest, two suits, and shoes when he died in 1882 in Monroe County, in the Florida Keys. No other possessions are documented. He left chunks of change to heirs. Seven each received more than $3,000, close to $70,000 apiece today. Others received from $100 to $1,500 ($2,275 to $34,000), nothing to sneeze at in that era.

Then, as now, inequality existed. The differences between the estates of two unrelated people who died in the panhandle's Leon County in 1853 are one example. The inventory of a "Mrs. Mary Ann B" (surname unreadable) lists more than 100 items including a gold watch, silver thimble, several volumes of books, at least seven quilts and seventeen cane-bottom chairs. She had more mundane items, to be sure, such as a mosquito net, a soap box, and a snuff box. Hers was the only list I saw that included a Bible among belongings.

Compare that to a Mr. Jenkins in the same county, same time. He left behind far fewer items, including a set of crockery and milk pans, some books, one pitcher and cup, two pairs each of pants, shirts, and coats, one hat, fourteen turkeys and one brown horse.

Both these Leon County residents also had what we'd consider the basics: bed, bedding, tables, etc. Neither was what we'd call rich. Mrs. Mary Ann's assets totaled $252 (about $7,600 today), and Mr. Jenkins' belongings were worth $79 (about $2,400). They were unequal, but both would be considered as living below the poverty level today.

So what can we glean from such records? Maybe consumerism wasn't as widespread back then. Perhaps goods weren't available, or weren't affordable, or just weren't wanted or valued as much as they are today. Hard to say. I'm sure some people in pioneer days over-consumed and lived beyond their means. And I don't want to go all nostalgic about so-called "simpler" times that weren't simple at all. Life was downright harder back in the day.

One thing I can say. The older I get, the less attached I'm becoming to things. Or trying to become less attached. My goal is to downsize to what's really meaningful (to me) and needed for a comfortable but basic life. I won't end up with seventeen cane-back chairs, but I might keep nine teaspoons.

Records cited in this blog post are from and online public records. 

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Hardly perfect

partial cover of El Scribano journal
Detail of the cover of the 2006 El Scribano.
I didn't want to write this post. So I delayed, and delayed, and procrastinated some more. Why? Because I like to write about the strengths of the pioneer Catholic community in Florida. Not its weaknesses.

But the Holy Spirit prodded me to post. Humans are flawed. Amid the many people trying to do right in pioneer Florida, some did wrong. Possibly, they didn't realize it. One can hope. But just as we stumble along on our paths today, so did the Catholics establishing a foothold for the faith in Florida. They, like us, hopefully realize(d) faults and make/made amends.

In this case, the positive is that the Church and its representatives in Florida educated children of color in an era when it wasn't popular and when laws made it difficult. The negative is that within that educational system, some people engaged in racist behavior. That truth emerged from recollections written by a former pupil of St. Benedict the Moor Catholic School in St. Augustine. They are published in the 2006 issue of El Scribano, the St. Augustine Journal of History.

I wrote about the St. Benedict the Moor school in this blog in March 2017. I particularly noted how three religious sisters were jailed in 1916 because they were white women teaching children of color. The memoir in El Scribano reflects the late 1920s and early 1930s. The article's author, Barbara Vickers, was born in 1923 and attended St. Benedict school from kindergarten through eighth grade.

The overall article is about family and neighborhood life in Lincolnville, with school a part of it. Some elements are familiar to Catholic schoolchildren everywhere and in every era: "The sisters stressed catechism, multiplication tables, and literature, and they were very stern." I remember as much from my years of Catholic school. Other aspects, however, were worlds apart. Listen to what else Vickers writes: "Items discarded from the white Catholic school, St. Joseph's Academy, were considered good enough for black children." That included desks and schoolbooks, which were about three years behind, "but sold to black students nonetheless."

Part of me rises to defend those early religious sisters. I imagine their funds were severely restricted. Vickers writes how the sisters would varnish the old desks before sending them to St. Benedict's. But there's no excusing some things. Vickers remembers that only light-skinned children of color were chosen to crown a statue of the Blessed Mother each May. And that a choir teacher, a Sister St. Matthew, told Vickers that "all colored people can sing," when the young pupil tried to explain that she couldn't carry a tune.

Vickers doesn't write with bitterness. She includes details about happy times, in fact, the memoir is more positive than negative. She tells how everyone in the community crowded into the school yard to decorate floats for the Emancipation Day parade each year. And she remembers that: "It was always a pleasure to attend the nine o'clock mass at St. Benedict's and see the sunlight coming in from my favorite stained glass window..."  Her grandmother and great-aunts had donated the window in memory of their mother. 

In its contributor notes, El Scribano lists Vickers as having been a "vocal leader in the town's civil rights movement." I don't know if she is still alive, but I thank her for penning her remembrances of school years. I like to think at least some of the sisters were free of prejudice, but have to accept that some weren't. As with all history, we have to know of past wrongs in order to learn from them.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Relic road was modern marvel

Picture of the start of the Pershiing Highway Interpretive Trail
Vehicles aren't allowed, but you can hike a one-mile section
of the 1917 Pershing Highway. (Photo credit: Gerri Bauer)
We're super-sized in so many ways in our modern lives. A giant, single-serve soft drink comes close to the size of a whole bucket used to haul water back in the day. Okay, that's an exaggeration. But serving sizes are, to me, the most obvious sign of our gluttony for bigger, better, more, more, more.

I never considered highways as testaments to the oversizing of our culture. Yet one close look at the 1917 Pershing Highway archaeological site makes me think otherwise. What a narrow strip of a road. Certain 21st century vehicles would hang off its edges. The tiny-car movement I noticed in recent years seems to have dwindled, no pun intended. In my region, at least, I see far more large pickups and SUVs than I do small cars.

Automobiles were basically one size when Florida inmates built the Pershing Highway, part of which is now an interpretive trail between DeLand and Daytona Beach.  Using the bench in the first photo for scale, you can see how narrow the brick roadway is. In its heyday, the highway was a marvel and technical achievement that served as the main route between the two cities. Before the road connected them, a trip from one to the other could take an entire day. Even though we call it a highway today, in its time it was simply known as either the DeLand Road or the Daytona Road, depending on which way you were traveling.

A man reads the informational sign at Pershing Highway Interpretive Trail
A sign at the trailhead explains the history of the road once
known as Pershing Highway. (Photo credit: Gerri Bauer)
Think for a minute, what it must have been like to travel the brick paved road in the 19-teen years. Nothing but a slim brick path across sandhills,  tangled hammocks, and wetlands.  The signage at the trail's entrance says the "pea gravel" concrete on each side of the brick was added in the 1920s, likely to allow two cars to pass one another. The initial road was one-lane. Even widened, it remained unlit. A trip at night must have been a lonely journey through a densely wooded, unpopulated area. The highway still looks isolated today.

The road that appears so desolate to me was a sign of progress in the early days. So much so, that it was featured on Volusia County's 1917 license plates, according to author Ronald Williamson in his excellent book, Volusia County's West Side: Steamboats & Sandhills (History Press, 2008). The book is a collection of history-focused columns Williamson wrote as a journalist. In the article about Pershing Highway, he says the old road was uncovered when wildfires burned through the region in 1998. Before that, vegetation had swallowed and hid this vestige of an earlier time. Today, you can hike a one-mile section known as the Pershing Highway Interpretive Trail. The trail is part of what is now Tiger Bay State Forest.

Entrance sign to Pershing Highway Interpretive Trail
The old highway was abandoned when U.S. 92, seen behind
the sign, opened in the 1940s. (Photo credit: Gerri Bauer)
Named after World War I General John Pershing, the highway was abandoned in 1947. Adjacent U.S. 92 made for much easier traveling. You can see the parallel roadways in the third photo in this post. I'm far from an expert on automobiles, but the cars of the late 1940s had to be boat-like in comparison to vehicles of the late teens and early 1920s. So, too, the difference between narrow Pershing Highway and four-lane U.S. 92. Even the grassy median on the modern highway is wider than the old road. Both are dwarfed by roads and bridges being constructed in the 21st century. Size marches on.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

One-stop shopping of yore

The old-time general store offered one-stop shopping to pioneers and settlers. Kind of like Amazon and big box outlets do today. With some differences. Personality, for one. The general store of yore functioned as a community news hub, post office, and gathering place. The multiple roles made each general store unique, and far more than just a place to buy coffee. Proprietors knew patrons by name.

True, the merchandise selection was limited. Overnight shipping didn't exist for special orders. General stores filled the needs that existed in their time. The one in this Florida Trailblazer video is the C.C. Smith store from the 1920s. You can visit it at the Pioneer Florida Museum and Village north of Dade City, which is in Pasco County. The video description says the store served the Lacoochee area. Wikipedia describes Lacoochee as a "census-designated place," but it seems to have a rich history that can be explored via links at a History of Pasco County webpage.

I've yet to visit the Pioneer Florida Museum and Village. When I do, I'll be sure to sit down in that chair on the store's front porch, and rest awhile.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Of life, death, and loss of a loved one

Photo of 19th century letter
In pioneer days, communication was by letter and telegram.
Today, we use text email, and phone calls.
Photo credit: Gerri Bauer
In some ways, we're not so different than pioneers. Many modern Floridians live far from extended family. When a loved one dies, we communicate by text, emails, and phone calls instead of by letter or telegram. But the message, the hurt, and the feeling of loss are the same. The distance from close kin produces aches atop the existing sadness.

Another similarity shows up in how neighbors step in to help in the absence of family. If you're lucky enough to have a supportive spouse, good friends, and helpful neighbors, you're blessed. I am. 

This all came home for me ten days ago, when I lost my beloved mother. Next steps and care for my elderly father landed on me with an urgency. My nearest sibling lives more than 700 miles away, the others more than 1,000. Even I live 75 miles from the town my parents were in.

Like in pioneer days, distant people aren't always able to drop and run when and where needed. Then, transportation difficulties ensued. Today, our unfeeling world interferes. In both eras, financial and health matters factored in. Let's just say I'm grateful 75 miles is nothing today, in terms of distance. I glad I am and was available to the man and woman who raised me with love.

My husband, friends, and neighbors, both in my town and my parents' town, have propped me up with their care and help, just as spouses, friends, and neighbors did in pioneer days. Had the Lord granted earthly life to the two children I lost to miscarriages, I'm sure they, too, would have been by my side, as children in the past were with their parents. As children are today. 

My mother loved flowers. Maybe that's why the floral aspects of pioneer accounts of local deaths stay with me. In an 1878 letter to her son, who lived more than 1,000 miles away, DeLand innkeeper Lucy Mead Parce writes about how a coffin was trimmed. The account is from The Parce Letters: Voices From the Past (Gerri Giovanelli Bauer, West Volusia Historical Society, 2004).  
"Mrs. Thomas's baby (4 weeks old) died last night. Miss Deane sent over for me to come and help trim the coffin last evening. We have some beautiful fine white wildflowers & I made a wreath and cross of those & geranium leaves."
In her memoir, Pioneering in Hillsborough County, Fla. (Daniels Publishers, 1972), Clyde Mansell Gibson mentions flowers in a recounting of her Aunt Emma's 1900 death. The six-year-old Clyde and her siblings and mother:
"... cut all the flowers we had and took them to Miss Grace and her mother to arrange in wreaths and other floral arrangements. They used a lot of arbor vitae for greenery and made everything look beautiful because Aunt Emma was a lover of flowers and had coral vine and honeysuckle growing at either end of the front porch." (40)
Bereavement flowers today are factory farmed and corporately arranged. They're beautiful with a sanitized perfection light years from the messiness of real life. My mother loved sweet peas. I plan to plant them on her grave.