Interviewee: Irene and Johnny Cann
Interviewer: Unlisted [I]
I: Hazel Robertson's father...
IC: Burton Kersey, was my Grandmother Teesparts' brother. In a way, it is a
mixed-up story. My mother was raised by people in Georgia after her father died,
and her sister was raised in Winter Beach with Hazel Robertson's mother and
father, Uncle Burt and Aunt Edy Kersey. My mother was still in Georgia, and
when she grew up, she grew up with a family, and the grandson of the family is
my son-in-law. My daughter married the grandson of the man who raised my
mother. Their name was Walker, Lem and George Walker, brothers. They took
my mother from her father's grave in Quitman, Georgia, and raised her until she
was about fifteen years old. Then, she met my father, who lived around in the
vicinity of the little town called Pavo, Georgia. They got married and came down
to Florida. Oh, they were in Georgia for quite a while and came here. Then, my
mother and dad worked for Uncle Burton Kersey. They grew green beans and all
the vegetables they grew in Florida. They worked with them for a while, and my
mother and dad worked at a vegetable packing house there in Winter Beach. I
think it was run by Mr. Jesse J. Hamilton. He used to be a county
commissioner. They came out here to Fellsmere. Before my mom and dad came
here, my grandparents were here already living in Fellsmere out on our north
road-we call it 507-living in a little house owned by... Mr. Roy Kinney and a Mr.
Dunham were partners together, I think, in a grove, raised citrus here. My dad
worked for Mr. Kinney. Before that, he and my granddad plowed an eighty-acre
grove out on our 507, what we call Ditch 8. They plowed that grove with a team
of oxen and mules, eighty-acre grove plowing, banked it up to plant trees in.
I: Now, when you say a team of oxen, they had to walk behind that team?
IC: They did, with a team of oxen. I did not know that until my daddy told me that a
long time ago. I did not know it.
I: This was your father's parents?
IC: My dad's parents, yes. My mother's father and mother were already dead. She
was an orphan, and she had a younger brother who was between her and my
aunt. This brother was taken to a little town in North Florida called Lee, Florida,
and was left there by my grandfather Sparks. Then, when my mother and father
got married, grew up and came here, my mother's uncle in Vero Beach, Uncle Ed
and Mammy Kersey hired private detectives to try and find her brother, and he
was never found. Yet, there is a man in Greenville, Florida, with the name
Charles Sparks, my mother's father name. They never did find out where he was
or anything, but he was supposed to be there around Lee, Florida. That is all my
mother remembers. She was just a little girl when her dad died.
I: What was your mother's first name?
IC: Mamie Fretwell. Her maiden name was Sparks.
I: And Charles Sparks was her son?
IC: Her baby brother who was taken to Lee, Florida, and they never found him any
more. He just disappeared.
I: And what was your father's first name?
IC: His name was Fuller Fretwell.
I: Now, Mr. Cann, your mother's and father's names?
JC: Clyde Cann was my father's name and Myrtie, my mother's.
I: Do you know her name before she got married?
I: Did you have any brothers and sisters?
IC: Yes, ma'am. I have three living brothers, James, Jesse and Fred, and no sisters.
I: How about you, sir?
JC: I have one brother.
IC: One brother and two half-brothers and one half-sister.
I: My mother's family was like that. She had a brother, a step-brother, and a
IC: Well, both of us have been married twice, and I have two children with my first
husband, and he and I have one, and he has one son by his first wife, and he
and I have a son. Altogether, we have four kids, yet altogether we have five. Not
really but, you know, I have three and he has two.
I: Okay. I guess we ought to have that somewhere down, too. Let's see. What was
your first husband's name?
IC: Jim A. Sikes.
I: And you had two children?
IC: Yes, a daughter Sherry Sikes and a son Richard.
I: And a child by this husband.
IC: Yes, his name is Pat Cann.
I: Then, you have a boy?
JC: John H. Cann, Jr.
I: And you only had one child by your first wife?
I: Okay. Tell me if you remember anything about Winter Beach.
IC: Yes. My mother and dad worked at this packing house. My dad worked with my
mother's uncles. When the boom came along, we came to Fellsmere, during the
hurricanes of 1927. We came here August 27, 1927.
I: Was that a step up in the world for you to come up here?
IC: Yes, I guess you might say so. My dad got a job with Mr. Kinney and Mr.
Dunham in the groves. He worked for them for a long time. Then, he worked with
them and a Mr. Boardman and Mr. Myers and Mr. Brown, all in the strawberry
business. My mother packed strawberries for all three of them, and my dad did
plowing and cultivating for them, fertilizing when they needed it done, in their
I: Did they have a regular plant for packing strawberries?
IC: No. The strawberries were picked, packed, and taken to West Palm Beach to the
farmers' market by a great big truck that came and picked them up from one of
the growers here that owned the truck, Mr. Brown.
I: Did she pack them in her own house?
IC: No, packed them at their homes, out there packing. There was one farm out on
the very end of Willis Street that was run by Mr. Harry Boardman. She packed
for him, and my daddy plowed for him. Then, she packed for Mr. Henry Myers out
on 507, what we call our north road that is going towards Melbourne. Then, she
packed for Mr. Clayton Brown, who had his strawberry patch between Ditch 11
and Ditch 12. That is the way we judged things then. We did not have any
addresses for them, just Ditch 1 and so forth. She packed for all three of them,
and she made pretty good money. With the picked strawberries, she might
make...the highest they ever made picking strawberry was $0.05 a box, and we
thought that was pretty good. Oh, that is a back-breaking job, I tell you. I had two
brothers who could really pick strawberries real good, but my middle brother and
myself, we were busy eating them. Dirt and all, it did not matter. They were pretty
I: They must have had big farms of strawberries then.
IC: I think Mr. Boardman had about, maybe, fifteen or twenty acres. Mr. Myers had
about thirty acres. Mr. Brown had about, I would say, ten to twenty acres. They
had quite a good crop going here. Then, I do not know what happened to the
strawberry business here. Maybe the land wore out. I think Mr. Brown retired,
and Mr. and Mrs. Myers retired and went to West Palm Beach, and Mr.
Boardman and his wife, both of them died. Then, when the strawberry industry
went out, let's see, what did my mother do then? Well, she and my dad farmed
for a short while on Mr. Myers' property, the one who had the thirty acres. They
farmed about five or six acres, I guess you might say. They raised corn and peas
and green beans and squash and eggplant, and they sold them to one of the
grocery stores that used to be in Vero Beach right where Alma Lee Loy's store
is. Do you remember that?
I: Meyers' department store was right there.
IC: Yes. It was right close in that section, right in there. The man's name was Bud
somebody, but she sold vegetables to his store. She sold them to the Piggly
I: How about Allison's?
IC: It could be. It is possible. It was right in there, but it was not very big. It was a
narrow grocery store. They had good business there. Was there a Robby
Allison's store in there? It could have been his store.
I: It seems to me that Allison's store was over on 14th Avenue and 21st Street.
IC: Well, it could have been, but I knew Bud somebody...
I: But there was a grocery store there. I'll look it up.
IC: There was a little grocery store there, and then she sold some to the Piggly
Wiggly over on Main Street right across from the First__ place, the one that
used to be in there. She had a pretty good business there, too, and what she did
not sell to the stores, she sent it to the farmers' market wherever the
truck-strawberries went. She took a lot of it around herself.
I: Was there somebody here who had a truck and trucked it in?
IC: Well, Mr. Clayton Brown had one of the strawberry patches. He had the truck for
the strawberries, but I think my mom and dad mostly took their vegetables down
I: They must have had a truck.
I: The back of their car?
IC: Yes, they sure did, while we kids were in school. Then, my dad worked for Mr.
Kinney, Mr. Brown, and Mr. Boardman, but the last one he worked for before he
started with city...he worked for the city up until he was sixty-five. He worked for
them close to twenty-three years. When my children were all two years old, they
were helping my dad clean up the city. One man kept this city looking like a doll.
This town was beautiful at one time. I know. He was the mayor three times, and
he worked, could you believe, for $1.50 a day, ten and twelve hours a day. My
mother used to have to hunt him up in the car to get him to come home to eat his
lunch. She would have to hunt him up at night to bring him home to have his
supper. He worked just that hard, my dad, Fuller Fretwell. After all the strawberry
men retired, then he got the job working for the city.
I: Was the city well-organized by then? They had a mayor and everything?
IC: Yes. Mr. H.C. Watts was the mayor at the time daddy started, and that is when
my kids were two years old. In 1945, I think, he started in with the city. He
mowed the streets. He dug the ditches. He hauled garbage.
I: Which ditches do you mean he dug?
IC: All the ditches, on the main street and in back of houses. Yes ma'am, he would
get in water up to here, and the thing full of snakes...
I: By hand?
IC: Yes. He had a shovel, and he had a hoe and he had a rake. I am not kidding you.
He cleaned up the town. When equipment had to be repaired, they did not send it
off; my husband would help my dad repair it. If they could not fix it, then it was
taken to a shop in Vero to be repaired. And he mowed all the streets, sometimes
with a push mower, with a riding mower, whichever. He mowed all the big streets
with a bush hog mower...
JC: John Deere first, and then we got a farm haul, something smaller.
IC: Then, when the road-graders from the county would come out and grade the
roads, he would go along behind them, cussing, of course, straight up the street.
Oh, how he could cuss.
I: But for years, then, he was the only man they had on my street.
JC: He was the only one until he retired.
IC: My son and a couple of my brothers helped him once in a while. My kids helped.
My oldest son helped him when he got out of school, all the time, and my
daughter and my two sons helped him. My little son was about two years old out
cleaning, going along behind my dad, wearing my dad's cowboy hat with a little
shovel and a rake. My dad would be shoveling dirt up off the streets, and my little
son would be going right behind him, with his little toys, helping. He would go
along picking up cans and broken bottles. He would say, here, Papa, put this in
the garbage truck. They did help my dad, all three of them. Daddy was sort of the
babysitter when my mother was cleaning house and working at her garden. She
was also the janitor of the Fellsmere school, this old school, about twenty-five
years, and she drove the school bus for eighteen years. She hauled the
schoolchildren all the way from our main canal all the way into town, but they had
to live at least two to five miles from town before they got a ride on the school
I: Now, when you say into town, you mean to Fellsmere?
IC: From the end of the canal all the way in to the old schoolhouse, which is about,
what, five or six miles? She would go to the homes and pick up the children and
bring them to school.
I: And then take them home again.
IC: Yes. One time, she said was going on Ditch 1 from the main canal out to pick
up Mr. Carson Platt's two nephews and a niece to bring them into school. There
was no wooden bridge across the canal, and the sand was real deep. No paved
roads. The sand was real deep, and my mother said she almost got stuck. She
was coming back, going across the bridge to the school, and this old Brama bull
was on the side of the canal. My mother said, oh my God, that bull is going to
come after and, sure enough, he headed for the car. About that time, my mother
stepped on the gas, and the muffler made a loud explosion and scared the old
bull so that he rode into the canal. All the kids and my mother laughed until they
cried. It sounded like a huge boom.
I: Was this a big old yellow school bus?
IC: No, it was a car. Her car. They did not have a school bus...
I: They did not have that many kids.
IC: ...until my mother quit driving the school kids. Then, we got a new man in town, a
Mr. Leroy Medden. He was on the school board, and he decided Fellsmere
needed a school bus. So, they got a school bus, and my mother quit driving her
car. That was a long time ago.
I: Was she the only one who drove children to school?
IC: Yes, for twenty-five years. For twenty-five years, she drove a school bus in her
car. We had a '32 Chevrolet, a '35 Chevrolet, a '36 Chevrolet. We had all kinds of
I: She must have gotten paid very well.
IC: No, she did not. But, at that time, you see, it was good wages.
I: Well, it helped.
IC: It did.
I: In addition to everything else that you had.
IC: That is right. And my mother had a garden. We had a cow. We had chickens. We
hardly ever had to buy too much food because my mother was a good cook. She
fed half the town. Some of these little kids...when we were growing up, my
mother had an old wood stove, and there was a little family over here who were
bigshots up at the sugar company. I went to school with all of them. They were
nice people. My mother did their washings, too. She took in about thirty washings
a week, yes. She did. She washed for all the people who could not afford to have
their clothes washed.
I: Did she have an electric washer?
I: She did it all by hand.
IC: That was the electric washer, a rub board.
I: Did she do the ironing, too?
IC: Yes ma'am, washed and ironed clothes. We had a hard life, I can tell you that. It
was no picnic. He [indicating her husband] had one, too. He was running the
dairy when he was thirteen years old, by himself.
I: Was that around here, too?
JC: No, it was in Ohio.
IC: He came from Bethel, Ohio.
I: I thought we would get to you when you came to Fellsmere and take it up from
there. When you first came out to Fellsmere, then, you found a house to live in?
IC: Yes, on Pine Street, two streets over. I do not know how we lucked out, but we
found a two-story house on Pine Street. It had two bedrooms upstairs, one
downstairs, a living room, a dining room, kitchen, and back porch. The back
porch is where we had our Saturday bass on Saturday night. It was screened-in
and closed in with some kind of black material. I do not know what. We had these
old pitcher-pump wells.
IC: Yes, and you had to pump the water to put it in a washtub, and we had the wood
stove. We had a kerosene stove, too, and my mother used that, mostly in the
summertime when it was hot, and in the wintertime...well, she used both of them
quite a bit. To heat water to wash clothes, she heated it on that, or else we had
an old black iron washpot out in the backyard. Everybody had old outside toilets.
Those were the terrible old days. Well, some of them were good old days, too.
The food was cheap. We always had plenty to eat. We never had any money, but
we had shoes and clothes and three good meals a day.
I: You probably did not even have to go out of Fellsmere to get everything you
IC: We did not. Like I said, on this main street here, we only lived just a half a block
from the heart of town, Pine Street and then New York Avenue and Broadway.
We were just a skip and a jump. We went out our backyard on the lot, and we
went to the grocery. We were right there almost in the heart of town.
I: Did they have clothing stores?
IC: Yes. Let me show you in these pictures here. Where that gas pump is was our
grocery store. Inside, on the right-hand side going north, they had the grocery,
and on the left hand side was the department store. They sold shoes and
clothing and bedding and blankets and underwear, things like that.
I: Like a big general store.
IC: Right. Then, right here, this little building right next to it, was a bakery, a little tiny
bakery. Before it was a bakery, Mr. Seward told me it was a newspaper shop.
And this little building right here was a barbershop. In fact, one man committed
suicide in there when I was about ten or twelve years old. Oh, it was horrible. It
was built onto our hardware store. Okay, and right next to that was our town
garage. And right next to that, in here, was another little grocery store that had
been closed down. It was just owned by some man who did some farming out
here, and he never opened it up. He just sort of used it as a junk shop. Nobody
ever went in. Right next to it was the grocery store downstairs, and up here was
an apartment house. It was owned by Mr. I. J. Anderson. His son, Jimmy
Anderson, used to be the administrator of the Indian River Memorial Hospital
down here, not too many years ago. Right next to it was a two-story building. The
bottom part was sort of a restaurant and bar and the upstairs an apartment
house, and that was owned by John Sutherland, who is a lawyer in Vero, and
his mother and father, Ms. Suzy May and Mr. Hope Sutherland. Right next to it,
this building that's out over the street was our last post office before we got the
new one built that Mr. Mary Jones Grayson Screws had built. On the end of the
main street was another two-story building that now is owned by Frank Clablin
and, oh, it is a rat trap. It needs to be burned down. It used to belong to a
company that bought it, and they held union meetings in it in the upstairs. Years
before that was run, it was a boardinghouse run by Mrs. Bertha Sherra. She had
boarders, young men who worked at the sugar mill, and a couple of her family
lived in there with her and her husband. It got too small, so she and her husband
bought this building over here after Ms. Beesak died, and they took the post
office out of it and put it in this building right here that was built over the street.
They put the post office in that, and that building was owned by Mrs. Lester
Josephay. She and her husband lived upstairs until Mr. Josephay died, and the
post office was downstairs--up until the new building that is on the main street, on
the right, now. Now, this building, I have no idea what that building is and I have
lived here sixty years. This is the only building I remember. The picture was
taken by Gulf & Western. They were going to build a new hotel that looked like
this. That was never built. That was in the works, but that building has never
been in Fellsmere. It said the Broadway Inn, an early hotel in Fellsmere. No, it
was not. This is the hotel, and it was run by Mr. and Mrs. Watts' mother and
father, Mr. and Mrs. Bill Whipple. They ran that until they got disabled, and Mr.
and Mrs. Watts and their daughter Minian, ran that hotel at Fellsmere for a long
time, until the Fellsmere sugar producers sold out to the Cubans, Okiman and
Sugar and Gulf & Western and all that. And they took over the Fellsmere Inn. It
was run by a couple named Doris and Bill Goshorn. Mr. Goshorn got sick and
died, and Doris remarried to a man named Buddy Bird, and they ran the
restaurant in the hotel and a bar. It was a nice place, good food, and right below
that old building, where I told you used to be one of our post offices, that same
Mr. and Mrs. Sherra who ran that little boardinghouse at the end of the street at
the old building that was our company union hall, they bought this old hotel, went
inside, fixed it up, ran a restaurant, a boardinghouse for the boys and people who
worked at the sugar mill and who lived in her old place with her, they moved in
there, too. On this side, they had sort of like a little soda fountain with Mr.
Sherra's old cookies and cakes and cold drinks and ice cream, where all the kids
liked being, and other young boys and girls would go in there. We would play
cards. Some of them would dance. It was just like a little entertainment place. It
was kept neat and tidy, and there was no fussing, no fighting, no beer, no drugs,
no dope, no nothing. The kids were good growing up then. They did not get in a
lot of trouble.
I: What year would this have been?
IS: Well, in the 1940s.
I: Oh, that late?
IS: Yes. I got a divorce in 1947 from my first husband, and all this was going on. It
was in the late 1940s. After World War II was over. It was from the time I was
twenty-two and twenty-three and so on, like I said, in the middle and late 1940s
and early 1950s and 1960s. The town was beautiful. It had palm trees and
hibiscus, and my dad kept everything neat and clean, had the palm trees clean.
He mowed the parking. He fixed everything that could be fixed, and what he
could not he would cuss about it until somebody helped him fix it, mostly like
Johnny here, and he did keep this town beautiful. He and mother had to go to a
doctor's clinic in Miami quite often, and every time they would start out, my
mother said he would get a dustpan and broom, and if he saw a bottle or a
broken can or anything on the street, he would stop and pick it up, put in a paper
bag, and mom would say, let's go, we are going to be late. No, we are not. Mom
said, you can clean up the town tomorrow. He kept our colored town. It was
beautiful and clean and neat. He hauled garbage once a week, and he would
pick up fifty-five gallon drums of garbage, throw it on that truck, and he would
come home so sick and so dirty. He would tell momma, you know what I cleaned
up over there? And momma said, do not tell me, please, because I know how
dirty...one woman had garbage, he said, almost as high as her house, and he
shoveled up, put it in the truck, and he told her, if I ever come back here and that
place is like this any more, I am not touching it; you can just get as filthy as you
want. He said, you are the nastiest woman I have ever seen in my life. Oh, and
she cussed him out. Daddy cussed her right back. He did not take anything from
I: Did it make any impression? Did she keep her place clean?
IC: No. I think she moved out, over some fit; she just moved out and went
someplace else. It was terrible.
I: You were in school then, right?
IC: No. I was only three years old. I started at school in 1930 and I graduated in
1942 from this school. My two oldest children graduated from this school. Our
youngest son Pat went to school up until the eighth or ninth grade. Then they
sent him to Vero for the last three years. They took our high school away from us
in 1963, the year my oldest son Richard graduated.
I: Now, why did that happen?
IC: Well, they said our school needed to be rebuilt or something was wrong with it. It
was not up to standard .
JC: And that it did not have enough students to keep it open.
IC: There was nothing wrong with that school.
I: How many graduated, do you remember, that year?
IC: The year my son graduated? I would say, maybe a dozen. When I graduated,
there were only eight, three girls and five boys. I graduated in 1942. To me, it
was a nice school. I swept it every day, and I knew it was a good school.
I: You swept it every day?
IC: I did. I swept that school for years and years and years. My mother would take
the kids home from school and she would say, I will be back as soon as I get
threw packing berries. I said, okay, I would start in sweeping. I would start
upstairs. Sometimes, my three brothers would help but not very often. They were
too busy going out to the swimming hole or going down to the pool room playing
pool or God only knows what else.
I: That is a pretty big job for a young girl.
IC: It was. I was only about five feet, and I weighed about eighty-nine pounds. I
swept it even after I had my two oldest kids, a long, long time.
I: How long did you say your mother was the janitor?
IC: Twenty-five years, and the bus driver eighteen years in her own little cars.
I: What did you do for fun? After you got finished sweeping the school, you were
probably so tired that you wanted to go home.
IC: Well, a lot of us kids would skate up and down on the sidewalks or we would go
out on our main canal. There was a great big marshy place out there from the
canal that ran alongside the high road up close to where the C-54 Canal is. It
was the St. John's Marsh. It was a huge place and clear: nothing was polluted
then. There was nothing in the canals but fish and weeds and snakes and
alligators. We went out and swam and played with them. All of us kids would get
on the back of...one of the boys had an old flatbed Ford truck cut down, and we
would go swimming on Sundays. On Saturday nights, we would head for the
square dance at Sebastian. We would get there before dark, and we would stay
until everything was over. Then we would go to some little restaurant or place
along the Old U.S. over there, and we would have hamburgers and cold drinks.
None of us drank, took dope or did bad things. We just had a good time. Mostly,
though, we went swimming and skated on the streets. Oh, we had a funny thing
in front of this old hotel where all the boys stayed. One of the young boys wanted
to skate and he wanted my skates, so I said, okay, Woody, here you are. He sat
down, and we put the skates on him. Well, I want you to know, everybody
laughed so hard. We just rolled in the grass. It was so funny. He could not get up
and he could not get down, and he almost killed his fool self.
I: He had never skated before?
IC: Never. Oh, that was so funny. The place where I told you of John Sutherland that
was a boardinghouse upstairs and restaurant downstairs, people would dance in
there, too, after Mr. and Mrs. Sutherland left Fellsmere. It was run by different
people. They would let people drink and dance in there, and they had mixed
drinks and cold drinks and we would go in there and dance some, some of us
kids would, and we just had a good time.
I: Did you have any sports, any organized sports?
IC: Baseball and football, yes, and volleyball, speedball. We played basketball.
I: Was that through the school?
IC: Yes ma'am. We had Little League, and the high school boys had their own
[team]; the Fellsmere Pirates was their football club. I still have my son's shirt. It
says Fellsmere Pirates across it.
I: He played football?
IC: Yes, he played football. I played football, too, with some of the boys. I always
wore pants and everything, and I would get out there. I love to play football.
I: No kidding!
IC: Yes. We played soccer. We played volleyball. We had a good basketball team
and a good volleyball team and a good baseball team.
I: Did they go around to the other schools?
IC: Yes. We used to go to Vero, to Vero Beach High School, and play volleyball and
basketball with them.
I: Did you play them in football?
IC: The boys did, yes.
I: The school was so small, you would not think they would be able to do that.
IC: The boys played football with them, and they played baseball with them. We
played down there in Pocahontas Park. They had a football field down in there,
right across from the old courthouse on Main Street. We played many a good
game down there. When I was not working a few years back, I had the Cub
Scouts. My youngest son was in the Cub Scouts, and my oldest son was in the
Boy Scouts. I had a Den for two years. I was a Den Mother. Johnny and I took
care of a couple of Dens of scouts for a long time. We helped them. The fathers
would not help. Some of the mothers did, but the fathers were not interested, just
Johnny and I, except Johnny has multiple sclerosis and he is disabled. But he
was a carpenter; he built this house and he built another home. He built about
fourteen other houses. We had a lot of material left, and he would teach the boys
how to make birdhouses and different things. The fathers would not do it, none of
the fathers that I know of, unless, maybe, the other Den Mother's husband did.
We had a Dodge van. We took the boys out when they had to go to Vero. We
had march up and down the streets. We took moving pictures. We took all these
kids in our band, took them down there. But, when they had to go camping or
anything, the mothers and the fathers did that. We did not. I told John, we have
done enough, and if they want to go camping, their parents will take them. I
meant it, too.
I: Sure. That is a lot of responsibility when you take children camping.
IC: That is right, and I have to cook and give them refreshment stuff. I would bring
them over on Saturdays to have a workday with them, try to teach them how to
earn their badges and things like that. Of course, some of them did not want to
I: Well, you always have that.
IC: In fact, one of the boys who was on trial here not too many weeks ago-he and
two other boys tied up a man out here and robbed him-he was one of my
Scouts, but he was one of my bad ones, he and his brother. Some of the
language that came out of those boys' mouths! He called my son a very bad
name, and my son knocked him down on the ground. I said, Pat, what are you
doing? Momma, he called me a bad name. I asked him what, and he told me. I
told him, son, you go home until you learn how to talk better; you cannot come
here any more; Scouts do not talk like that, and they do not act like you do,
either. We tried to help the little kids after their daddy was killed here. I said, you
be kind to these boys; they need somebody to be good to them; don't you
mistreat them, and don't you let any other of the boys do that to them, either. My
son was very protective of these boys, and they turned around and cussed him
out. I told him, son, you cannot come here any more. Then the mother came here
telling me that I mistreated him. I said, just a minute; that is not true. I gathered
all the Scouts around and I said, what did these boys say? And they told. We did
not mistreat them. He mistreated us, and he cannot come here any more. I said,
now, I am willing to take a little bit of stuff but not that. I said, now, if he wants to
behave, he can come back. He never came back. That child has been in trouble
the whole time.
I: Isn't that a shame?
IC: It is. He shot one of his own brothers and nearly killed him, shot him in the leg, in
that child's leg almost rotted off. Then, after the boy got out of jail, they almost cut
each other to pieces. In the olden days...My dad told me this. I knew the man, but
I was just a little girl. His name was Humberg, and this old grocery was run by
Jewish people. Sam Mitch ran the grocery store, and his mother and father, Mrs.
and Mr. Mose Mitch ran the clothing store. Well, on Saturday nights, all these
guys would come out and get drunk, you know, and they would take this poor old
policeman and hang him upside down. You know how these old light bulbs used
to hang on an old long cord down the middle, on these old archaic buildings, and
they hang him upside down. Then, the town drunk would come along, and he
would waddle in along. He was a good old man, but he was a drunk. He would
look at him and say, well, fellow, what are you doing up there? Here, let me help
you down. No, no, no, do not let me down; just untie me. Before he got it, the
man cut him down, and he would hit the sidewalk. That poor old guy. If he ever
had any brains, I will never know of it. He got cut down there so many times. And
do you know, not long ago, my husband was down by the fire department
downtown. A young man stopped and asked, did you ever hear of anybody--my
granddad used to be the policeman here a long time ago. And he told Johnny
what the name was, he said Humberger [Humberg, like last time?]. Johnny
said my wife heard stories about him from her dad, but she does not remember
much about him, which I did not. I cannot even tell you what he looked like. He
was, I think, about middle-aged. He was not very big, but he was not afraid of
any of these guys. And we had another bunch of bad people here. They would
get on their horses. There were three or four different families, and they were all
intermarried. They would get on their horses and go through the grocery stores
and chase the Jewish people up and down the streets. I am not kidding you!
Especially the ones who ran the grocery store. Now, they would not bother the
old people who ran the clothing store. There were a couple of them, one of
them especially, who worked in there. He was redheaded, and he was ornery.
My gosh! My mother sent me over to get a dimes' worth of onions. You know
how many onions you could get for a dime, a whole bagful. So, the store was full
of people and he looked at me, what do you want? My mother wants a dime
worth of onions. Okay, and he took the dime. I do not know what he did with it. I
did not watch him. I was watching him to go get a bag, go get me some onions.
He didn't. So I grabbed his shirt and said, Mr. Mitch, you did not give me any
onions. What are you talking about? You did not give me any money. I said, yes,
I did. I went home crying. I was about five or six years old. I went and told my dad
and came in the house. Momma said, child, where are my onions? I said,
momma, I gave my dime to Abe Mitch and told him I wanted some onions, and
he turned around, I do not know what he did, but he did not give me any onions.
My dad said, we will see about that. My dad was rowdy. He walked to the grocery
store. He walked up to him, and old Abe looked at him, well, what do you want,
Fretwell? Daddy said, you want me to tell you? And he told him, I want my onions
my wife sent for. Why, she did not give me no dime; she gave me dime for
candy. Daddy said, no, she did not; that child did not have any candy. Heck, I
only lived as far from here to, maybe, that little house over there. Daddy said, no,
she did not have any candy; she was too busy crying to be eating any candy.
Daddy said, she was afraid my wife was going to whip her, but momma did not.
Daddy said, you get me a bag of onions real quick, or I am going to take you
outside and I am going to clean up the street with you. Well, he got those onions
PDQ [pretty darn quick]. I am not kidding you, PDQ. Oh, we really had some
good old times in this old town.
I: Did you ever have horses?
IC: We did not have any horses, but there were horses all over town. My daddy had
a mule. Oh, did he have a mule and did he cuss! He bought him from Mr. Brown,
the last strawberry man he worked for. Mr. Brown was a good old guy. He said,
you can have him if you want him, Fuller; I do not want him any more. No, I will
pay. Mr. Brown said, no, he is all yours. Between my mother's house and the
houses next door, there were two empty lots, and they were just full of palmettos,
pine trees, oak trees, nothing but woods. You could not even see through them. I
do not know how long it took us to clean that up, but my mother cleaned that up.
My mother had some of the most beautiful farm and gardening in there you ever
laid your eyes on. When she died, she was seventy-one years old, and she died
having a heart attack, but she was digging in her garden when she got sick. She
was seventy-one years old. There was not anything she could not tell you how to
grow. If she put a stick in the ground, it made a tree. She loved her flowers and
her roses. She would rather work outside than in the house. To heck with that;
just give me a garden plow.
I: She did not do much sewing for you, then?
IC: Yes, she did.
I: She made all your clothes?
IC: She made mine. She made some of the boys' pants and some of their shirts, and
she patched my dad's work clothes. She mostly sewed for me because I was the
only girl she had, and she wanted to make sure I looked nice. She made her
clothes, too, but she made very few for the boys, not too many. She made
clothes for my children when they were coming up. She made my daughter pretty
dresses like she did me.
I: Some of the kids from Wabasso have told me that they went to school
barefooted. Did you go to school barefooted?
IC: I started in school barefooted. The first day of school, I even can tell you what I
had on. I had on a little tiny white jumper with a little white slipper and little white
panties to match the little jumper. It was white and it had lavender and red and
orange and white, like little wheels all over it. I was barefooted, and I walked up
on the stone steps. We all got in line to go in school. The professor said,
everybody get in line, the first grade to...we knew where the first grade was, so I
walked in there. My schoolteacher looked at me and said, honey, how old are
you? I said, my momma says I am six, and she said, you are not big enough to
go to school; you are too little. So, I went back out on the stone front steps and I
stood there crying. Archie Hughes, he was about in the eighth grade, I think,
and he squatted down and said, honey, what is the matter with you? You are
awful little. I said, Ms. Horshal will not let me come to school; she says I am too
little, and I have to go home. So, Archie picked me up and took me home and he
said, Mrs. Fretwell, Ms. Horshal said for me to bring Irene home [because] she is
too little; she is not old enough. Momma said, well, we will see about that. So, we
got up there and my mother marched in there, and she had been working in the
garden and she did not even change clothes. She just got in the car, and we
[End of Side 1]
IC: When Johnny and I got married, I found out I almost had pernicious anemia. I
weighed about eighty-nine pounds. When I married my first husband, I weighed
eighty-nine pounds. When I married Johnny, I weighed eighty-nine pounds. I just
never liked to eat too much. I would eat a little bit. My mother always made us
eat breakfast. If we did not eat breakfast, we ate for lunch or supper, whichever.
Momma said, now, if you want the same thing for your supper and dinner, okay,
but you are going to eat breakfast. Oh, and I could not hardly stand to eat
breakfast. We had homemade biscuits, and we had bacon and grits and eggs or
sausage or ham, something. We always had a big breakfast, and our milk. I
never could drink milk. I had to drink water. I could not stand milk. I still do not
like milk. And I have always had to take cod liver oil, cod liver pills, brewer's
yeast, everything to build up my blood, and always green leafy vegetables. My
mother grew spinach for me. I hated it with a passion, and she cooked it for me.
I said, momma, please do not raise that stuff anymore; I do not like it; it tastes
terrible. It never was good. Now, I like it now in a tossed salad, but I do not like
cooked spinach. So we always had plenty to eat, three good meals a day. We
always had a cow. We went all the way to Georgia to get a cow, when I was
twelve years old, from this Walker family who raised my mother. They wrote
momma a letter, and it took us a couple of days to get up there and a couple of
days back, and we brought home a cow. She sold milk, what we did not use. She
sold milk, and she made homemade butter. She had a butter mold that had a
pattern on it. She made butter, and she sold milk to a lot of people. This cow was
a Jersey and Guernsey, and, oh, it had the richest... We would stake it out next
to the house in a little orange grove or along the ditch bank. At that time, they
had a city pasture at the end of this street, right straight ahead, a whole city
block, and people could put their cows in there for nothing and go down there
and milk them. So, my mother put her cow in there, and the boys would go down
and stake it out three or four times a day, or just once a day, so it could have
fresh grass, and my mother also bought cow feed. We had chickens, too. We
had rabbits, and we had a garden. So, we were never without anything to eat.
We never had any money, but we had plenty to eat. These little Rich boys over
here...my mother baked bread on weekends. Momma would look out and say,
Irene, are Tom and David and Bob coming yet? I said, yes. The three boys, Tom
and Bobby and David...
I: They could smell it.
IC: Yes. Tom is the one I graduated with in 1942, and he would come over and say,
Mrs. Fretwell, can I have some of that good homemade bread you make? My
mother would say, Tom, tell me something, son, how do you know I am making
bread? I smelled it all the way over. Momma said, you are kidding. No, I am not,
he said, I smell it every weekend. Then, he would come over different nights and
say, can I eat with you all? Momma said, son, are you hungry? He said, yes, I
am. Momma said, well, what did you have to eat? He said, oh, my momma only
let me have a half a sandwich and a glass of milk, and I am starving. He sat
down, and he ate lima beans, he ate cornbread, he ate hot biscuits, he ate grits,
he ate collard greens, mustard turnips, black-eyed peas, rutabagas; anything we
had, he ate because he never got it at home. He did not even know what that
was, but we had plenty of it because, like I said, my mother would raise corn,
green beans, squash, peas, eggplant...
I: Sure. You always have more than you need.
IC: Yes, and she canned vegetables. We preserved and canned. Not only that, my
school was out just about every summer. When we got to be ten and twelve and
fourteen and sixteen, we would go to Georgia to visit Uncle Lem Walker's family.
We would camp out along the way. It would take us nearly a week to get there in
the old Model-T Ford. My mother would take her skillet and plates and spoons
and knives and forks and our food, cornmeal and whatever we were going to eat,
and our canned preserved foods. We had a special box for it. We would camp
along the road and eat our breakfast, dinner, and supper. Then, when we got to
my uncle's, he was a farmer and he had a big farm. He had colored people
sharecropping with him. We would go to a canning plant that was held in one of
the schools in the summertime when school was out. All the people from miles
around would get together and can their beans, their peas, their corn. They
would fix it ready to can. My mother would buy tin cans and glass jars. We would
come all the way back from Georgia with enough food to last for I do not know
how long, especially during the wintertime when we could not grow anything. But,
in the summertime, we would do that. We did that for years and years. Then,
when we got through all the canning and preserving, we would go up further
along, in Fitzgerald, Eastman, Abbeville, and Hawkinsville, Georgia, where my
dad's people were, and we would camp out along the Ocmulgee River, go
swimming in the Blue Robin Springs, icy-cold, or we would just camp out, fish,
cook, and eat and just have a wild party. That is when we were little.
I: Did you do that for the whole summer?
IC: Almost. Nearly three months. And we would can all that stuff and get it ready to
bring home, and then we would go out camping. This was my mother's people,
but the ones we camped out with further on was my dad's people. We always
used to have a good time when we were little kids. Then, another thing, my dad
was a bootlegger. He was a moonshiner. He helped some of these Fellsmere
old-timers around here, they would go out in the marshes, out past the ditch that
used to be called Alto Adams. I do not know what it was then, but it was later
on. We called it the Sand Lakes. They would go out there, these deep canals of
ours, way out into the marsh out there, past where nobody could find them. We
kids did not know what was going on until we grew up and heard all this stuff. He
would go out, and they would make moonshine. Daddy said the water out there
was so clear you could see the sand down at the bottom. It was beautiful. Daddy
said it almost looked like you could reach out and touch it, and you would try it,
[and the water level would be] over your head. They would go so far out in there,
and they would get on one of these cypress or cabbage hammocks out there
where it was dry, and they would make all this moonshine. Not only that, the
mayor of Fellsmere at that time, mostly, was Mr. Watts. My daddy and Mr. Watts'
brother-in-law, Charlie Whipple, would go up to Melbourne Beach or Vero
Beach and sell it to some of the bigshots on Vero Beach and Melbourne Beach. I
cannot tell you who those are because you would know some of them. That is
the truth. And some in the bigshot police department. Yes sir, I knew this. Then,
two of my uncles were bootleggers and rumrunners. They would go over to the
island of Bimini, and they would take some of this contraband moonshine and
whatever they made over there and sell it for lots of money and come back and
hide the money. One time, my mother helped one of her uncles bury over
$100,000. I am not kidding you. The only way they found it [is], my uncle had a
German police dog called Ranger, and this dog was with them when they buried
it. That is the only way my uncle could find that money, was to take this dog with
him. I said, momma, is that true? She said, so help me, God.
I: After they repealed Prohibition, they did not do that, did they?
IC: Yes, they did.
I: They kept right on just to avoid paying the taxes?
IC: Yes ma'am, from what I can understand. They did a lot of things I do not know
anything about. I worked with a girl who was with some cattle family over here at
Sebastian. When she found out who my uncle was, she said, oh, he used to steal
my daddy's cows. I looked at her and I said, well, good God, how many of my
uncle's cows did your daddy steal? That __ to have killed her. My daddy was
not a thief! I said, well, I do not know that my uncle was; what made you say a
foolish thing before a whole office full of people! Your uncle used to steal my
daddy's cows! I said, well, how many of my uncle's cows did your daddy steal?
The guys there said, yea! I said, well, girl, you asked for it; tit for tat, a pot can't
call a coffee black. I said, well, I do not know that he stole your daddy's cows; I
am not calling your daddy a thief, girl, good Lord; I was only kidding. But
everybody got a big kick out of that.
I: When you finished school, you went to work in the Fellsmere ?
IC: When I finished school...I was married before I graduated. I got married in
December and graduated in June. My husband and I lived together for about six
years. While he was in the service for a little over three years, we had my two
oldest children. When he came back out of the service, he did not want to work;
all he wanted to do was run around and have a good time and drink, which did
not go too well with me, so I left him and came home and divorced him after
about a year and a half. I got tired of nothing. Then, I went to Mr. Waldo Seward,
the man who helped write this book here for Fellsmere. I went to school with him.
I think he graduated about the year I started, maybe a little bit before, I do not
know. Anyhow, I knew him all his life. My two children were as old as his two
children. He had two girls. I had Sherry and Richard, and he had Janet and
Elaine. They went to school together. I went over one day and asked him for a
job, and he told me to come in to see him Thursday afternoon at about two-thirty.
I went to see him, and I have been working ever since.
I: Was that at Fellsmere Farms?
IC: It was Fellsmere Sugar Producers Association when I started with him, and then
the name changed to Okiland? Sugar Refinery, Fellsmere Division. Then, it
changed to South Puerto Rican Sugar Company. Then, it changed to Gulf &
Western. Now, it has changed to Fellsmere Farms, Fellsmere Joint Venture
Altogether, it has been through about five or six companies, and I worked
I: But they do not have sugar any more, do they?
IC: No. The sugar mill closed down in 1966. They did the last harvest season in
1966. The season usually started around October and might have gone through
January and February. Then, when the season is over with, they just cultivate the
cane and fertilize and irrigate. But, the government cut their quota on the sugar
business. We had a union here, AFL-CIO [American Federation of Labor and
Congress of Industrial Organizations]. Well, the union wanted higher wages,
which I cannot blame them. At that time, it was only $2 or $3. They tore the
sugar mill down in August of 1967. The sugar warehouse, now, is part of our new
packinghouse out there at Fellsmere Packing.
I: And, now, you pack grapefruit?
IC: Grapefruit, oranges, navels, and things like that. They just started this season
here a few days ago, a couple of weeks ago. They are right down there just
picking grapefruit, just starting in slowly. Maybe the last of December, January,
they will start picking oranges.
I: And are their groves all up in Fellsmere?
IC: They are all out at Fellsmere Farms. I am not supposed to tell you anything about
Fellsmere Farms. That is up to the bigshots. To me, I do not see what should be
such a big secret, really.
I: I did not know it was.
IC: That is what I mean. It is not, but we were notified not to tell anybody anything.
To me, I think it is ridiculous.
I: We can leave it on the tape, but I just will not put it in the paper. Now, let's get to
you, sir. When did you come to town, and why?
JC: Just wanted a change, I guess. Got tired of the cold weather.
I: And you came from Ohio?
IC: He had pneumonia three times in one year. The doctor told him he better go to a
warmer climate. That is what he told me. So he had an old friend who lived on
Cherry Street, Mr. Woods, in Bethel, Ohio, the little town he came from, which is
a beautiful little farming town. This old man has a brother here, Mr. C. E. Wood,
and his name was Carl Woods. Now, this man Carl Woods told Johnny, there is
a little town in Florida called Fellsmere; they have a sugar mill there, and you
could probably get a job driving a tractor. So, he hopped on a bus, came to
Sebastian on a bus station run by the Lecherers, and Mr. H. C. Watts, our
mayor, was there to pick up his daughter who had just come in from Gainesville
from college for Thanksgiving. He got in there Thanksgiving Day, and he brought
him to Fellsmere. The next day, he came down to the sugar office, and he
applied for a job and went to work driving a tractor. Then, he got allergic to muck,
and he got so sick; it went up in his nose and his ears and his eyes and all over
his body. He broke out in a rash, and he had sores. Our old horse doctor here
(we called him a horse doctor), Dr. Jones, his head was shiny and bald like Telly
Savalas [actor, most famed for Kojak TV series], and he wore glasses. He was a
good doctor. He would doctor you for everything under the sun. He told Johnny
he would have to get out of that muck.
I: Then, what did you do after that?
JC: I went to work in the stockroom. I bought supplies and everything for the sugar
mill and the sugar warehouse.
IC: Sort of like a purchasing agent. He worked there for ten years.
JC: Stacking the sugar and shipping it out.
I: You mean, you had to toss around those big...?
JC: Well, I did not do so much of that. They had laborers out there to do that. All I did
was manage it. I did that until I got tired of it. And Piper Aircraft moved to Vero
Beach, and I left the sugar company and went down there.
I: And how long did you work for Piper?
IC: Two years, 1958 and 1959.
JC: And then I quit because I wanted to work for myself, building houses.
IC: He bought a lumber company from Mrs. O. K. Wilson, and he went in business
and started building houses.
I: Oh. Was that a lumber company in Fellsmere?
IC: Yes ma'am. It was on the very end of Willis Street.
I: I see, and then you started building houses. On speculation?
JC: I was building houses before I bought the lumber company. No, I was building
houses, and I was the city marshal, for four years.
JC: They wanted to sell out the lumber company, so I just bought it. That is when I
got sick and had to give up everything.
I: And how long ago was that?
IC: September 16, 1961. He kept going back and forth to the doctor, Dr. Radfray.
He was not doing him any good, and then he went Dr. Fitz, and he was not doing
anything. [He was] treated him for sinuses and giving him Dristan. He dried up
all his sinuses, but he still kept staying sick and he started losing weight. He got
up one morning, and it looked like somebody had beat him up under his eyes,
black and he was staggering. He had double vision, and he could hardly walk. He
could not even see you unless he stopped and looked right at you. Then, Dr.
Robertson and Dr. Fitz got together and said, son, we cannot help you any more;
we want you to go to West Palm Beach to see this Dr. James F. Cooney. We
got down there, and Dr. Cooney wanted him to go into the hospital right then, but
he said, man, I can't; I have a lumber business in Fellsmere to take care of and
make plans. He said, I got one of my carpenters who came down here with me.
And he said, well, you let him drive you back, but he did not. No, he had to drive
back home. That was on a Friday. He said, well, I want you back down here by
tomorrow noon, no later, and he put him in Good Samaritan Hospital for ten days
and gave him all kinds of tests, spinal tap and everything. Dr. Cooney and Dr.
Staton, or another doctor, Dr. Hastley, said he has multiple sclerosis; have you
ever heard of that? I said, yes, I have, but I do not know what it is. He said, it is a
disease of the central nervous system, and your husband has a swelling in the
depth of his brain no bigger than the point of a pin, and if it explodes...he said, he
is in pretty bad shape, and I am going to have to keep him here for a long time. I
said, well, you do what you have to do, Dr. Cooney. He said, how in the world did
he ever get in the shape he is in? I said, well, working twenty-four hours a day,
Dr. Cooney, everybody is bound to be sick. I said, he would come in from the
lumber company, go out as the city marshal, and what time he was not doing
that, he was building houses and selling. And he said, too much work. So, he
took him out and let him come in ten days. Nothing, you do not do anything but
rest. Right now, he had to go back down the other day. He was not feeling good;
the circulation is bad in his legs, and he cannot hardly go out. I mean, he has
done real good. Dr. Cooney told him, why, you just do not push your luck,
Johnny; you have been doing extra well; just do not push your luck. He said, I do
not want you to do anything, I mean, anything, mow the yard, nothing, not
anything. Well, heck, he built our youngest son a home in 1980. It almost killed
him. 1979 and 1980. The neighbors over here next door, now, they are elderly
people, and one of their brothers helped him finish that house, or he would have
I: But you did have to give up the lumber company and your job as the town
JC: Oh yes, I gave that all up the first time.
IC: He built a house in Vero. He built one over in Roseland, close to the river-edge
there, and there is an oak tree growing up to the top part of it. And he built our
latest juke joint out here called the Sugar Shack. Now, this new company that is
coming in here growing watercress, they bought it, and they are going to leave
the bar in and make a steakhouse out of it. He built this home. The second home
he built was over on Elm Street for one of the men who got him a job at Piper,
Mr. Doug Reynolds. He built them a home. Then, he started building more
houses. He built houses all day long and trying to be the city marshal, too. An
accident happened right out on this street here, and [it involved] one of the men I
work with over at the sugar office, Mr. Baptist, who was our chief chemist.
Another guy was coming from this way. I was sitting right here reading a story,
and I happened to look out. I said, oh my God, Bill and Harvey are going to
have a wreck. I threw my book down and jumped up, and around by that time,
Bill had been hit by Harvey. Harvey was coming this way with a Buick, and
Harvey was looking down this way. Bill was going straight almost through the
intersection when Harvey hit him. It was a little Volkswagen. Harvey hit him in the
second wheel and just spun his car around and hit a telephone pole and knocked
him into a tree and knocked him out in my yard, cut a chunk out of his face here.
I ran out, Bill, are you all-right? He says, yes, I think so; I cut my face. I ran in the
house and got a white towel. I said, put this on it. I said, Harvey, don't you move
your car now; I will go get Johnny. I did not have a driver's license. We had our
Dodge. Anyhow, I jumped in the car and took off like a bat out of
you-know-where and got down to the lumber shed along 507 over here. Johnny
happened to be there, thank God, or I would not have known where to look for
him. He was building about two or three houses. I told him about the accident,
and he came and took care of it. It scared me to death.
I: Well, were you the only marshal at that time?
I: How many police does Fellsmere have now?
JC: Four full-time and two part.
I: You were not the first one they ever had?
IC: Lord, no.
JC: The one they hung up by the heels we were telling you about.
IC: Oh, we have had so many marshals. We had a Mr. Humberg, a Charlie Savage,
Lester Josefay, Mr. Frank Foots, Mr. Bill Palmer, Mr. Johnny McCants, and
Mr. Stubbs. Thousands of them, I think.
I: Well, has the town gotten much bigger?
IC: No, no.
JC: It is bigger now, but...
IC: The outskirts. We have one square mile that [the Fellesmere police] are
supposed to patrol, one square mile.
I: One square mile, is that right?
IC: One square mile is the city of Fellsmere, and we have four policemen?
JC: Four full-time and two part-time.
IC: And you cannot believe where they are half the time, doing nothing.
JC: We have a population of about 1,700, and it takes six policemen to keep them
I: How many police cars?
JC: Three, I think they have.
IC: I saw a little white looking sort of a Bronco.
JC: That is the chief's car.
IC: And then, we have three blue police cars, don't we? I know we do. I have seen
them sit behind City Hall.
I: The chief has a special car. He is special, they think.
IC: Then, is the chief beside these six?
IC: No, he is included. Six altogether.
I: Do you have a fire department out here?
JC: Oh yes.
I: You are in that, too?
JC: I used to be.
I: It is all volunteer, though?
IC: When we built our house in 1955, the blocks we had left helped build the
first one we had. It was open, except we had it closed in on each side. The
trucks were in the center, open to the front. On August 2, 1970, somebody in this
town with fire bombs went down there and threw fire bombs in the City Hall and
threw them in the firehouse and burnt it down with the fire trucks. This happened
between two and three o'clock on a Sunday morning with people standing on
Main Street watching. Two boys drove up to the house. Mr. Tommy Snell used
to be a mayor, and he called and said, Irene, does Johnny know the firehouse is
burning down? I said, What? Yes, he does now. Thank you, Tommy. I hung up
the telephone and about that time, two hoodlums from Fellsmere drove up in the
yard. They knew who did it. I ran out and said, what do you want? He says,
Irene, tell Johnny the firehouse is burning down. I said, he is on his way. They
drove out here about the time the telephone rang. It was Vero Beach and
Sebastian on the telephone. Johnny had already gotten his clothes on and was
gone. The telephone ran and I answered it, Mrs. Cann, does Johnny need any
help? I said, yes, he does; they tell me our fire department is burning down. I do
not know where they all came from. Sebastian: well, do you need an ambulance?
I said, I do not know; I have no idea but, I said, they probably will need some
help. I said, I can see it from my front porch, and I can hear it. I do not know what
has exploded, but something is bad down there.
JC: They burned up three fire trucks and the City Hall.
IC: One of the three trucks had been completely soaked with fuel oil or diesel or
IC: They [the firefighters] tried to start the truck, but if they had, it would have
exploded. Johnny went to open the City Hall door, and when he did, he was
overcome by smoke almost. The City Hall was on fire.
I: Just for fun?
IC: Evidently. We do not know.
JC: It was not fun for us.
I: Do you mean this was in the afternoon?
IC: No, at nighttime.
I: Two o'clock in the morning.
IC: Between two and three o'clock in the morning, on August 2, 1970. I will never
I: That is terrible. Did they ever catch the boys?
IC: No. They know who did it.
JC: Nobody would tell.
IC: The only one would have been a witness if her husband had not threatened to kill
her and drown her in the canal out here south of our groves, just a few years
back. She ran over and told one of the people, and this woman told me what she
said. I said, why don't you tell the cops? If I do, they will burn me down, too.
Sure, they would, the element of people we had in this town at that time.
I: They are not here any more?
I: It is a nice town, isn't it? It has gotten to be a nice town again?
IC: We are hoping so. We have a bad element going on right now. There are two
people running for mayor. That Marion Turner, the one who was in there before,
well, we do not want him back in there, but he has an element of coloreds
working for him. Get him in there...The other one running now is a white man.
The black man, Alvin Thomas, was one of the workers. He came in here to cut
sugarcane. He is from Jamaica.
I: Isn't Marion Turner a black man?
IC: No, he is a white man. Alvin Thomas was the black man. He was one of the
I: But you do not want Marion Turner?
IC: No ma'am.
JC: No way.
I: But then, there is nobody to vote for.
IC: Yes, there is a lady running, Ms. Jay Buvay. She is a smart young woman, and
she knows what is going on in this town. Turner knows that she knows. My God,
they go down and knock all of her signs down, knock them into the ditch, and
they go around putting them back up. She was on the council, and even when
she got in there as council with Jube Lee, the ones on the council would not
even give her a charter, would not even listen to her when she was an elected
official sitting at the council table. She had to put a piece in the paper and write
about it before she could ever get a city charter. She still does not have a key to
get into the office. Even the cleaning lady has a key. But not her. They would
not even give her a charter or nothing. She had to go up there and put a piece in
one of them. The newspaper reporter came up there, and she put a piece in the
paper. Right in front of the city clerk, she said, I have asked for a city charter, and
I have not gotten one yet; I have not gotten a key; they will not give me a budget;
they will not tell me anything; and, I want my rights; I am a council women, I was
duly elected, and I either get them or else. And they are treating her the same
I: Yes. I do not think she has a chance at getting elected.
IC: We hope so.
JC: I do not know, but I hope so.
IC: This Turner, the one in there before, didn't he just take somebody's place when
they got out? No. They put him in there because somebody quit, didn't they?
JC: I think he was elected one time.
IC: He might have been, or put in there because somebody else quit or something.
Anyhow, he got in pretty close with the zoning board out here. I know the
old-timey people, really, but the young people, I do not know them. We have
trailer parks all on this side of town. There are new homes all out in here. Now,
with the fruit-picking company and all, we are going to have close to, oh, there
are 101 trailers over there, and everyone of them [with] four bedrooms, and you
can put, I do not know how many families. But they do not do any voting, only the
ones who have lived here all their lives. Still, these people are going around and
talking against her. He got in with the zoning board when he was in there, and he
had them re-zone property that was outside the city limit to bring it in so he and
another guy could build, what, a housing project back in there?
JC: It is supposed to be a housing project.
IC: On either parts of town, illegally, yet the lawyer they have said it was legal to do
that, but the people who own the property all around in there did not go for it.
They were not even notified it was even being done. He even zoned some
parcels of land in there that belonged to the county. He even had that re-zoned.
He is doing things illegally, yet the lawyer we have is a bigshot in real estate in
Melbourne who could not care less about the city of Fellsmere. That is why
Turner wants to get back in there, to sell more property. He does not even call a
referendum, to the people, for the people, by the people, to let them know. Just
like we got a notice that our property here was going to be re-zoned commercial.
Well, it was, and we voted against it but it is still re-zoned commercial. Old
hippie gal over here and her husband, who works for the post office, they are
separated. She lives over here and has her hippie communes, pot smokers, and
he lives over here with the little girl on this side. He is a pretty nice kid, but there
is something there about that, too. He works in the post office. So, he and she
get together and say, let's go down and have...they own lots back here in the
back of ours. We own all the way across to the street. There are six lots or
maybe more over in here that she bought and owned. She came into some
money from her mother's death, or her father's, one or the other. She bought that
property, and now they want it re-zoned for commercial. Well, it was done.
Johnny went up there and told them, we did not want our property zoned
commercial. Well, it is, and so are those people over there, from 512 to this street
in here, to Bay Street. It is re-zoned commercial.
JC: So they say. I do not know for sure.
IC: It must be. There is a real estate office going up over there on that corner. I told
Johnny, you watch Kid; if she gets her hands on all this mess she would
probably put a bar, and there is a church right in front of it.
I: Oh, I do not think they would let her do that.
IC: That is the kind of people they are. You would not believe it. I mean, that is all
this Turner is for. He has all kinds of judgments against him. He has never held
down a steady job. All of a sudden from the things one of the council put in there,
and he was an engineer here and he was in charge of a farm. What kind of farm?
My God. He has never been nothing. His first wife divorced him. She has three
children, and she works in a grocery store here. She told Johnny, well, this is
something new for him; he thinks he is such a bigshot now, he is going to outdo
himself. And then, he tells everybody the house he is living in looks like a shack,
and it is one of the old Fellsmere homes that you have seen in one of those
JC: It is one of the old landmarks.
IC: He is living in there and not paying the rent, and they are trying to get him out.
Oh, he is a rat, I tell you. His wife divorced him with three children. One of them
is sort of a slow learner, mentally retarded. She takes care of the kids, but he
does not do anything for her. She is a real sweet girl. Let me see if I can find it. It
is one of the old Fellsmere homes, a good-looking home until he got in it. Makes
me so mad I could just kill him. [Turning pages in book.] Now, this is from the end
of it, the very main end. There is that building I was telling you about where it
should be torn down, it is nothing but a rat-trap. There is where it used to be our
post office, and Ms. Josefay lived upstairs. Okay, there is the old John
Sutherland building. It burned down. The old grocery store burned down, and that
has burned down. The old tin garage is still there. There is our bank building.
Gosh, I thought that house was in here. I thought it was, but it is not. My momma
and daddy lived in a home which was bought from Mr. George King's brother, Mr.
I: Did you ever go to the races when they had the races?
IC: Yes, I did. We had races here up until January 1, 1940. My mother used to work
in a concession stand. Yes, watched many of the races, rodeos, and now they
have the brand new Fellsmere school over there. Well, I do not have a picture of
the old home place. It was a nice old home up until he moved in there, and now it
is a mess. All the screens and windows were torn out. He does not pay the rent.
He does not pay his light bill.
I: And he wants to be the mayor?
IC: Not only that, this Fellsmere Management Company thinks he is it. Yes, they are
in with him trying to get some of this low-cost housing up for their migrant
workers to live in, but something has happened there. It has come to a standstill.
I do not know why; I wish I did.
JC: Yes. He has really __ some property
IC: Yes. That is what he did, see, and they paid him a lot of money for that, he and
this Ray Pressal guy. But that is what I mean. You are not supposed to be in
conflict of interest when you are a elected official, and he has lined his pockets
with the city's money and here he is trying to start up a light plant, a water plant,
and a sewage plant and pave all the streets. The people in this town cannot
afford things like that.
I: Do you have your own light plant now?
I: You used to?
IC: Yes ma'am, we did. Some of the old, old people who worked for the city sold the
light plant. It used to be at the end of Main Street right across the ditch. We had a
light plant, and the light plant water works was all in there. When my dad was a
city maintenance man for twenty-five years and the water lines broke, my dad
went around and either put in new pipe with Johnny's help or he cut up old inner
tubes as the pipes were [so] rusty that you could not get them fit together. All
these pipes are covered around with inner tubes that my daddy [put] around
these pipes for people to get water. Yes, went out at one night at twelve o'clock
in the freezing cold. An old drunk bum ran into the water line and busted it, and
people could not get water. There, my dad and Johnny were out fixing the water
line at ten, twelve o'clock and one o'clock in the morning in the freezing cold.
That guy just stood there and laughed, and my dad told him, boy, you better get
away from here; I am going to knock your head in with this shovel. My dad was
so mad he was fit to be tied, and cold and freezing at the same time.
I: Well, this has been very interested.
IC: Oh, I have enjoyed every minute of it.
I: I sure appreciate your taking your time to talk to me like this.
IC: Oh, I did not mind it.
[End of the interview.]