Interviewee is Vera Milner
Interviewer is Vernon Peeples
P: Good morning, Vera. I am delighted to be able to talk with you this morning about
some of your experiences as a native Floridian and your early life in North Florida
and some of your experiences in Southwest Florida.
M: Thank you, Vernon. I am so pleased to meet you, and I feel that we have a lot of
common from the background of years past.
P: Right. Your name, now, is Vera...?
M: Milner, but I was born a McMullen. The first McMullen in this country was from
Scotland, and he was George Washington's drummer boy for thirty months.
Then, the family came south because of health, came down to what is now
Largo, in the early 1800s. That is where my grandfather was born. Then he
moved up to what is now Taylor County, which back in the early 1800s was just
open country. That is where my father was born. Then when he grew up, he and
my mother married. Annie Pauline Townsend. Grandfather Townsend came
from England. He was an English professor and came to Charleston, South
Carolina. They met after the war between the states, [and] they settled right at
the Georgia-Florida line. When father and mother were married, they
homesteaded 160 acres of land. They built a small little cabin, one room with a
fireplace [and a] clay floor. That is where our oldest sister was born. They began
to clear the land and save the logs and the timber to build a house in which the
other seven of the children were born. Back then, of course, farming equipment
and that was just a plow and a horse or a mule or two and a weed hoe, very few
instruments to work with compared to today. As they cleared the land, they saved
the logs and assembled them together. The neighbors from miles around would
come together and help. They would call it a house raising. They would build a
house up with the logs, and then they would cut certain timber of a certain grain
that then they would make the shingles to go on the roof. My father made
shingles as long as I was around on the farm. If something needed a new
shingle, why, he made it. I have helped to make many. Anyway, the family
cleared the land. Of course then, the money crop, well, money was not the
greatest object in the world. It was food, supplying your family with food and
clothing. But the income for the family at that time was cotton and peanuts and
corn. Cotton was the main money crop and also raising turkeys. Raised turkeys
and, of course, sold the turkeys off before Thanksgiving. We always looked
forward to that because, as I grew up, I was an outdoor person. I would much
rather get up at 4:00 in the morning and go out and hitch up the mule to the
sugar mill when it was time to make cane syrup and grind a barrel of juice before
I went to school rather than get up and have to cook breakfast. As time went on
and we children come along, we had wonderful Christian parents, and my mother
thought to waste time was the greatest waste of all in this world. If you wasted
time, you should be doing something constructive with it. Our mother and father,
of course, there was no formal education much at that time but they did get a
basic education. My father could write the most beautiful hand I ever saw [of]
anyone, I think. My oldest sister and my baby sister took after his writing, and the
rest of us took after our mother's. Sometimes I have trouble reading my own, yet.
They taught us, though, that before we went to school we knew how to read, we
knew how to count to 100. By the time we were in third grade, we were taught all
twelve of our multiplication tables. I had trouble remembering what eight times
seven was. That one just escaped me. Mother was teaching me one morning,
going over the tables. I missed that one, so she tied my two fingers together with
a little red string and set me behind the door. She would come by every few
minutes and she would say to me, how much is eight times seven? But I did not
have to stay there too long. Every time I think of eight times seven, I can
remember that incident. But we had a wonderful life. Our parents were good to
us. They were strict parents. Right was right and wrong was wrong, and do not
get out of line, but we were never abused. Now, mother was more the
disciplinarian. Father was the one as I grew up, I always went to him with all my
troubles, even when I got [to be] a teenager and was dating. I could not wait to
tell my dad about my date the night before, but I would not talk with mother like
that. It never was pressured. They let us meet our own way in those kinds of
things. But we grew up in a Christian home. Father and mother were members of
the Primitive Baptist Church, you know, back in those days. Also, they had the
missionary Baptists in Daytown. The first and third Sundays in the month were
the Christian missionary Baptists, but the third Sunday of the month was
Primitive Baptists. We would all go to Primitive Baptist Church on mother and
father's day. I cannot remember when we started going to the missionary. You
would not have ever known that they were not members, too. All the children
grew up in that church and all accepted Christ as their savior there and were all
baptized in that church. It is wonderful once in a while to go back to the old home
place, that old home church, and I do, Brewer Lake Baptist Church. They saw to
it, though, that we had the best education available for us. Each of us grew up,
and anything that come along, I know one time we contracted with a neighbor to
hoe a field of crop that he had that needing hoeing. But mother helped us. She
went along [and] my sister three years younger than me. When it came time to
pay for, why, the farmer that we had hoed the field said he was only going to pay
us half-price, a half of what he promised, because mother did the work. Mother
did not like that very well. Neither did we, of course. Needless to say, I never did
feel too kindly toward them. When I grew up, of course you know, almost all
children are mischievous. After I found out that she told mother everything that
she saw me do or say, I always made it a point to have something for her to tell
mother, but I would go home and tell mother first. Then we would have a laugh
about it. I just wish the children today had the wonderful knowledge and the
wonderful security of feeling loved and yet disciplined in the home because we
sure did. But Sister and I are the only two of the family left. So far as I know, the
first generation of McMullens, as I said, was then about the turn of the century,
1800s, in Largo. Then we come on down into the present time then, then father's
generation. My father and mother and his brothers and sisters are all gone, and
mother and father's children are all gone but the two of us. When we depart-she
is ninety-one and I am ninety-two, will be ninety-three in April-we are the last two
of the three generations that I know of, of my father's. Of the McMullen clan that
my father was, there were seven brothers and five girls. My great-grandfather
was James, my grandfather was John, and my father was Malcolm. The old
McMullen name is still around but is scattered here and there. The McMullen clan
meets the Fourth of July in Largo every year. This past Fourth of July, there was
over 500 people there, so I guess we have been pretty prolific in this part of the
country. But we [are] still proud of the McMullen name. I have got a cousin
John-you know Cousin John-in Live Oak.
P: J. L.?
M: J. L. I call him Cousin John, but he is J. L.
P: White Acres?
M: And his wife Kitty. We see them and talk with them, and we enjoy talking about
all the old family history.
P: You mentioned, Vera, that one of your ancestors moved near the Georgia-Florida
P: Where was that?
M: It was just right out between Tallahassee and back in that area near Lowndes
County, Georgia, on the Georgia side.
P: Lowndes is in Georgia, but it is contiguous to Hamilton County.
M: Yes, in that area.
P: Probably in Hamilton County?
M: No. Live Oak is in Suwannee County.
P: I know, but they moved near the Georgia-Florida line.
M: Yes, I believe they did. I am not so sure about that.
P: Well, Hamilton is between Lowndes County, Georgia, and Suwannee County, so
probably in that area, I would think.
M: Yes, in that area. It was during the time after the war. Of course, you know there
was nothing to be bought. Mother and grandmother and them, they would weave,
make it into thread and then weave it into cloth. My mother's responsibility was to
do the knitting and the weaving and making of clothes for her brother Al and her
own. They used bark to dye, you know, take the bark from the trees to make the
dye to dye the material so they would not always be white. But we grew up, as I
said, with a Christian background and very proud to be American. We were
always taught that discussing the difference between the North and the South,
mother would always say, that was before your day and you are all Americans.
So, we grew up with the feeling, and to this day, I know at the village a lot of
times I am referred to as a Florida cracker. That is fine. I do not care. Finds me
with ease if they enjoy saying it.
P: I have said, Vera, that if a person is embarrassed to be called a Florida cracker,
they are not one.
M: I think you have a point there. Anyway, I am very happy to be here, and I am very
proud of my heritage.
P: You have every reason to be. Do you recall if you had any ancestors who were
involved in the Second Seminole War, which would have between 1835 and
M: Not to my knowledge. If they were, I do not know about it.
P: Were they involved at all in the Civil War?
M: My Grandfather Townsend, yes. He came from England to Charleston, South
Carolina, and he had a plantation out from Charleston. When the war came and
time to make a decision, and he had seventy-five slaves, he freed them all. One
old couple did not want to leave, and so they stayed. But father then joined the
Confederate Army. They got grandmother and the family settled down where
mother was born, and then he went to serve his country. But he was captured
pretty shortly and spent most of the time as a prisoner. After the war, he was
freed and he made his way back, found the family. My Grandfather McMullen
helped to supply the backup for the Battle of Olustee out from Lake City. He was
not in the service, but they provided what they had from the farm to feed them.
He helped the backup of furnishing food, and helping the prepare. He never was
involved in any of the battle, except to help those who were in the front line. I was
brought into this world with a black nanny, Aunt Alice, that was my mother's best
friend. She spent a lot of time in our home. She was my mother's good friend.
She would paddle one of us as quick as mother if we needed it, and we knew it.
As time went on, Aunt Alice got old along with the rest, and Marion went to
Miami. So, I was away from there, but my baby sister Thelma lived right in that
vicinity until she died. And Sister lived at Live Oak. Of course, Brother was the
youngest, and he was in Jacksonville. Those of us who were away would send
money to Thelma, and she would go once a week to Aunt Alice's and carry her
food and fix her food and look after her, because that was the day before social
security. As time went on, when Aunt Alice died, all we children went back today
and we bought a casket to see that she had the proper service. The casket was
carried with a wagon with a mule pulling the wagon, and we children walked
behind that wagon to take her and to put her to her last resting place. I loved
Aunt Alice as much as I loved anybody, I think. She had a great influence in my
P: You mentioned Largo, which is the capital city of the McMullen clan.
M: That is right.
P: And the fact that your ancestors lived there very early in Florida's history.
Obviously, the family is scattered throughout the state of Florida today and has
served in many capacities of public service.
M: Oh yes. The McMullens and the Booths were the first to plant citrus in Pinellas
County, Hillsborough County at that time. They were the first planters of
grapefruit and oranges in that area. In fact, there are McMullen Streets, and
Booths, all over that whole part of the [state]. The McMullens and Booths were
the planters. They planted citrus together.
P: Pinellas County was not free from Hillsborough until 1911.
P: That is when Pinellas was created, but obviously the Pinellas Peninsula was
settled many, many years before that, and there was a lot of activity in the
Tampa Bay/Pinellas Peninsula area during the Civil War.
M: Yes, there was, and the Key West area, too. My father when he grew up, you
know, at that time the sponge interest was very prolific in that part of the country.
Cedar Key on the coast up there, they did a lot of sponge fishing from there. I
think [of] so many childhood happy childhood memories, a fire in the fireplace in
the wintertime and crawled up in his lap with his little old pipe. I still have his old
pipe. [He would] tell us about his adventures and stories when he was on the
boats carrying the sponges from Cedar Key to Key West. He was a good
storyteller. We used to just love hear him, and he would spend many evenings
after we had our homework. That had to come first. It was supper, wash the
dishes, do your homework. Then you would have time to listen. Father played the
fiddle, but they were very interested in we children hearing about life. There was
someone, a violist, that was coming to Dade to give a concert. They dressed us
all up, put us in the wagon, and they took us to hear because father wanted us to
know the difference between a violin and a fiddle. I remember one time, too, that
the Chatauqua came through there, and so they took us all to the Chatauqua. To
this day, things of that kind are still of great interest to me. I am very interested in
politics. I just enjoy being involved in it. The only office I ever ran for was the
hospital board in Lee County, and I was elected to that four times. I never did
really want to hold an office. I just liked to be involved, and I am to this day.
P: That is wonderful. Do you remember any early elections in Lafayette County?
M: No, not too much because, you know, I left there when I was nineteen years old,
and I was seventy years before I went back. But I remember when Governor
[Sidney J.] Catts was governor of Florida [1917 to 1921]. He was coming to
Mayo. They still have homecoming in October. I do not remember what month it
was but he was coming to Mayo, so they took all we children and put on our
Sunday best. Then the Live Oak LOP&G was running from Live Oak to the Gulf,
and they would go into Mayo. We all went out to Mayo Junction and got on the
train and went to Mayo for the day so we could get to meet and to see Governor
Catts. Any candidate who ever went to town, why, they always wanted us to
meet with them and talk with them. They taught us to listen. Of course, that was
then maybe a little hard for me to do, to learn to listen. It still is a good lesson, if I
can learn it yet.
P: Going back, though, to your early life in Lafayette County, do you remember any
Christmases? How did you celebrate Christmas?
M: Christmas was a great time. We girls always got a little china doll about this long.
I regret so much that I did not keep one. Father would always go down on the
Suwannee River, which was about a mile and a quarter away, and he would find
a very pretty holly tree, cut the tree, and we would put it over in the corner of the
room. Of course, there was no electricity. We never had electricity in the home
where I grew up. I grew up without it. And, of course, all the facilities were out in
the backyard or away from it. Back then, you went outside to take care of the
necessities of life and you cooked inside. Now, everybody goes outside to cook
but comes inside to live. But yes, I well remember many of those things.
P: I am sure that they were very happy occasions for the entire family.
M: Very. To dress the Christmas tree, mother would save colorful scraps of material.
She made everything we wore. I can well remember the first dress that I ever had
that was store bought. But we always got a new pair of shoes, especially baby
doll sandals, black patent leather. I made all the grades up with black patent
leather shoes. That was our dress shoe. But she would cut out scraps of colorful
material, some of them the shape of stars. Of course, she did not have candles
because you did not put the lighted candle. Being on the farm, we had several
lanterns. We would always fill and wash the globes of the lanterns, and we would
string them about over on the tree to give it some light. We would find something
to always decorate the tree, and we could hardly wait for Christmas morning to
come to find out what we got. We always got an apple and we always got an
orange. Those are two things that were always there. Remember when they had
little peppermint sticks of candy about this long? He would buy that by the big
gross box. That was our payoff for, like they would believe in giving you in the
wintertime, what was it they used to give us to keep us well and healthy and it
tasted so terrible. Cod liver oil, for one thing. But after you would take that, then
he would give you a stick of candy. That was your payoff. At Christmas time, they
would get the big sticks of candy, and they would be part of the Christmas tree
decorations. So, Christmas was always a great time and a family time. Father's
sister, Aunt Sally, and her family lived about five miles from us. The families
would all get together at Christmas. One of the two times in my life I ever got
drunk was when I was a youngster and it was a very warm Christmas. It was
custom in our family as far back as I can remember, as long as the family was
there, that mother had a pretty crystal punch bowl. In the big room of the house
was what we called the library table. On Christmas morning, father would always
make a bowl of punch and set it on that table. Usually father would see to it that it
was served in the right way, but this particular Christmas was very warm. Mother
and Aunt Sally and the women folks were all in the kitchen, and father and all the
men folks were on the front porch. That left the punch bowl unattended. I thought
that was the best stuff I ever tasted. Nobody was watching, and so when time
came to eat, why, I was asleep. Father went in the bedroom and got me and set
me [down]. We had benches. We did not have chairs beside the dining room
table. He set me on the bench at the end, and I can remember to this day that
feeling of going over. So, he picked me up and carried me back and put me back
to bed. But that night, they had a community Christmas tree. They told me that
the sheriff would be there and anybody that was out of line, he was going to take
them to jail. That Christmas was one time that mother had no problem keeping
up with me. I held on to her skirt tail. I did not want to leave. We just had a happy
Earlier, you mentioned cane grinding. What did you do with the skinning?
They would take that off, and then the night, you know, it would settle down, and
you drain that off the next morning. Then you take the rest of that, and you feed it
to the pigs. They would get real happy about that. Some of that would turn into
vinegar. Anybody that wanted it could have it. We never did do too much with
that. It had alcohol in it.
The cane buck.
P: It was potent.
M: It was potent. The pigs liked it very much, and they would show the effect of it,
too. We children, we thought that was funny.
P: Certainly when family members or friends died, it was a very sad occasion, but
funerals were certainly very significant events in the life and death of people.
How were they handled?
M: Men folks, if it was a man, the men folks would get together and they would
bathe them. They had to make a table, or have a table. If they did not, they would
get some lumber and put it together. They would bathe the deceased one and
dress them in their very Sunday best, and they would lay him out. The neighbors
then would stay there and stay up and sit up with the family until the funeral.
They were never left alone. My mother should have been a doctor. She was
gifted to that, if she had had the background and the opportunity. She was
always called if there was illness in the family, and she would go and help. When
anyone died, especially if it was a lady, woman, mother would always be the one
that they would call around our community to go and prepare her for her last rest
on Earth, and I often went with my mother. Now, my sister that is living now, she
wanted no part of that. To this day, she just does not really like to go in a room
where there is a corpse alone. That part of it, I never had any fear about or any
discomfort with, and I used to help my mother prepare the ladies for their burial
and get them dressed and so forth.
P: You mentioned about castor oil. I was going to ask you about Calama.
M: Calama, yes, that was it and then follow it with castor oil. Gee, that was terrible.
Did you ever wear asfetity?
Oh yes. I used to wear that to school, and I was so ashamed of it because it
smelled. But that was to keep us healthy, keep us well. And sulphur, you know,
for the healing. Another healing something when you would get a cut or a wound
or something that you used, because medicine, you know, you just did not buy
too much of that. Luckily, as far back as I can ever remember, there was a doctor
in the community, but this helped. Cactus that you see growing around, the big
leaf cactus. If you had something that got irritated or an infection, used to take a
peel that cactus and make it into a and put it on that to create the
healing, and it worked. It would do good.
Can you think of any other home remedies that might have been used?
You know, you would always put a of cloth wet with mustard plaster if
you was threatening with they call it bronchitis now, and pneumonia. Always had
those mustard plasters. And also cornmeal were used a lot, too.
Cornmeal and onions. Cut up the onions and thicken it down with cornmeal and
put that into for bronchitis.
Most families then did not call doctors very often.
No. The most I ever remember of doctors, I know when my baby sister and baby
brother was coming along, and I know now that it was getting close to the time
for mother to deliver, the doctor would come and he would bring a black satchel.
We thought for a long time that is what he was going to leave the baby with.
When he come, he would leave the baby. We were kept in the dark then about
those kinds of things, pretty much, about the birthing. We were always carried
over to our neighbors at that time. I remember well our brother who was the last
one. We were staying at our neighbors, the Coleyfalers, [who] lived near us.
They would keep us, and they would change children in families when needed
be. So, we always come there, and they come over and told us that we had a
baby brother. My sister Thetis, I wanted to walk fast and she did not want to walk
that fast, and she would sit down on the grass and cry because she did not want
me to leave her. Anyway, we were always a very happy family. Very.
P: You mentioned about your church, the Primitive Baptist Church.
P: The Primitive Baptists were the strongest rural domination in Hamilton and
Suwannee and Lafayette Counties for many years, and they were very strict.
M: Very strict. They were very strict in who was a member of their church. You did
not just walk up and say I want to join your church. No, you let someone and they
would question you and decide and then vote whether or not they would accept
you. The third Sunday in September was always the annual meeting. That is the
day that the brothers would wash the brothers' feet, and the sisters would wash
the sisters' feet. I know we children when we were growing up, we used to say
that next year, we were going to put soot in mother and father's stockings. We
never did, but we would talk about it. I always had a lot of respect for it, even as a
child. We were taught to sit still. But I can [remember] to this day, and it is a
beautiful memory, when they would have the communion, they had the pans and
the basins and the water and the towels. A brother that was seated beside a
brother, he would wash his feet, and then the other one would wash their feet.
And the same way with the sisters. When they were finished with the foot
washing, why, they would pick up their hymnal book. It was never printed music.
It was all just printed songbook. They would start to sing. As each one finished,
they would join into the singing. When the last one was through, finished with
their foot washing, they would all arise and say, bless be the tide that binds. Then
they would not say a word. From the time they started communion until they got
on the outside of the church, a word was never spoken. That was dedication to
that particular time. It never dawned on me not to accept it and respect, but I can
look back now and I can see the beauty of it. Of course, I had to get much older
to be able to understand that. All of us, all of we children, as I said, all grew up
and were baptized in the Brewer Lake Baptist Church. I was fifteen when I was
baptized, and at that time, I committed my life to Christ, to help to serve others.
That has been my mission, and still is.
The Primitive Baptist Church also excommunicated members fairly often.
Oh yes. At that time, the missionary Baptist church would too. But, oh yes, they
would excommunicate you if you did not toe the line. And they never took up a
collection in their church. The brothers would get together outside. I know
Grandpa Starling was the preacher over there, in our family. He lived in
Suwannee County, and we lived in Lafayette. I remember father used to a certain
time of the month, a certain day, he would go down and take his boat and go
across the river and pick up Grandpa Starling. He would stay at our house
Saturday night and Sunday night, and Monday morning, why, father would take
him back across the river. But they never paid their pastors. I do not guess they
do to this day. I do not know whether they do. If they had any particular expense
or a reason, why, they would make a little collection on outside of the church
among themselves. But money was never the main influence in the Primitive
Baptist Church, when I was growing up. I do not know how it is now.
How old were you when you started the school?
I guess I must have been about five or six, along in that age. I do not remember
whether I was five or six, but I knew also before I ever went my ABCs and I could
read to a degree. I could write my name. We were taught at home, and our book
work always had to come first, our homework. We always understood that if we
misbehaved in school and got punished that we would get punished when we got
home. That was quite an influence for me to behave. I did get called before the
principal one time when I was sixteen, about my last year in school, come to
think of it. We were playing ball. Anna Mae Adamson, one of the turpentine
people's daughter, we were playing ball and I was batting. I do not remember
now who was pitching, but anyway, Anna Mae and I just disagreed on something
and she called me a liar. When she did, I biffed her right quick. Of course, we
had to go before the principal. That was the only time I ever was called for
misconduct. But I can look back now, and it is a wonder. Madison Smith, I do
not know whether you ever knew Madison or not, but he was the principal. I was
sixteen years old, so I did not have to go to school if I did not want to. That is
what I could say. I knew better than that when I got home. Yes, that ring around
the rosy and ball and the foot racing, that was what we did for exercise during
P: Was it a one-room schoolhouse?
M: No. In fact, I have got a picture of the old schoolhouse. It was two stories. There
was one big room that the first through the fourth grade were in, and then the fifth
and sixth and seventh grade were in a room. I do not remember whether they
taught more than ninth. I know they did not more than the tenth grade. Of course,
that school has been long done away with now. They bus them to Mayo. But
since I have been back in Live Oak, I guess it was in 1996 where they had
homecoming at the old school, Brewer Lakes School. We had over 250 that had
attended school there. I was next to the oldest one. Mary Johnson was two days
older than I was. She was born on the seventh, and I was born on the ninth, so
she got the honor of being the oldest one. But there were 250, and it was a
delightful good time. I would go up and look at their name tags and say, you will
not know me, but I knew your father and mother, or your grandmother and your
grandfather. Then they had a picnic. They are planning one for next year. They
are going to have another homecoming next year.
P: You mentioned about going to town whenever your family and taking products to
trade or to sell.
P: How often did you go to town?
M: This was Park, the mill. We lived about seven miles from there. We
lived about a mile and a quarter from the little village of Day. We called it
Daytown. He would take whatever he had. At the time of the year in the fall and
winter, he would butcher a port and cut it up into medium size or so pieces. We
saved newspapers. They loved to read, but every paper was saved. You did not
waste anything on the farm. The Sears and Roebuck catalogue had more
services that one. But he used to take the meat in. He would cut it up, lay it out
there, and then cover it all with a sheet, and then drive the wagon in to
Park and sell them out there where the people lived, sell this meat directly to
them. We had pecan trees, and we used to sell pecans and our vegetables out of
the garden. We had an abundance of that. Watermelons and sugarcane.
Sugarcane was grinded, but he always would cut sugarcane and put it in a ditch
then and cover it all with hay and then soil to have seed for the next year. Also,
he always fixed one for us to have to chew sugarcane. That was mostly our
candy. You would peel you off a stick of sugarcane and chew it. It was good
exercise for your teeth, and that was nice and sweet and juicy, and messy when
you was little and get it all on you. I used to go with my father, and I enjoyed it.
He would let me hold the money. I would sit in the wagon, and he would let me
hold the money. Then when we got home, why, I would help him to count it out. I
can see us today how we would stack up the nickels and the quarters and the
dimes, and then he would roll each one up. That was to buy our food. When they
bought flour, they did not buy flour by the five-pound bag. They bought it buy the
barrel. Flour by the barrel and sugar by the barrel and coffee by the fifty-pound
bag, because they were great coffee drinkers. But it was the green coffee. It was
not the roasted and the ground kind. It was the green coffee, and you used to
have to roast it in your oven, in the stove. That was mother's job. They never did
trust because that had to be roasted just a certain way. I do not
remember ever having roasted coffee, but I can sure remember it being done.
We had a cook stove, and it was always my job to be sure the wood was in. If I
did not get it in, I was the one who had to go out to the woodpile in the dark,
because you got up before daylight to get your breakfast and do your chores
before you went to school.
How about crime?
At that time, I do not recall ever having a great deal of crime in our community. Of
course, we were small. I remember one time, in kind of hush-hush conversations
away from the children and we were not allowed to listen to that discussion, that
one of the men folks got accused of stealing his neighbor's meat. There was
quite a to-do about that. I think my father caught one of his neighbors stealing
corn one time out of his crib. His name was McClave. I never will forget it. Father
made him put it back, brought him back and told him he had to put it back. He
caught him in the act of it, and then father asked him why he was stealing it?
Why didn't he grow it? He said he did not have anywhere to grow it. Father says,
the woods are out there. Nobody would stop you, so I think you should plant you
some corn. He says, I will tell you what I will do. You clear the land, and I will
take my plow and I will go plow it up for you so you can plant it. Of course, he
never did, other than his own reprimand. That was all there was to it. But we
children always thought of Mr. McClave then as a stealer. You know, he was a
thief, he would steal. But we did not say that out very loud because that was not
the proper thing to do.
In rural North Florida, it was not uncommon for there to be hog stealing.
Oh yes. I remember growing up one time, we had some Williams. One was
known as the hog stealer, and one was the preacher and one was the singer.
One of the daughters of one of them come to visit my oldest sister, Lois. I asked
her, which one of the Willams is your father? Lois right quick hushed me. She
said, now, you should not ask people that kind of question. I was about to ask her
was he the hog stealer or the singer? But I guess she knew me pretty well, so
she hushed me up before I got the chance to ask her which one of the Williams
her father was.
Was there any age in which the girls in your family were permitted to date?
Not until when I turned sixteen. We went together as a crowd. Gordon Smith
and I from our childhood days and the schools coming up, we were always kind
of partial to each other. But it was after I was sixteen, though, before I really felt
like I was dating. I was just one of the crowd. But Gordon and I, I guess if our
lives had not separated, we went different ways, someday we would have
probably gotten married. We talked about when we got old, we was going to get
married. But Gordon and I fell out. Then he dated my sister Thetis, and so we
could still be together. We would go down in the woods and pick violets. Sunday
afternoon, we would get together a group of us, and we would go down in the
woods in front of the house there and pick violets. One of the times when Gordon
and I were he was there to see us, and there were probably eight or
ten of us. My sister could sing, Thetis. She had a pretty good voice like my
mother. would come up. She and Mary started to sing "In the Garden."
We all piped in. To this day, when I hear "In the Garden" or it is sung at funerals,
I go back to that little group in the woods and relive it.
P: When there were weddings, what was done to the bride and groom after the
service? What type of kidding was done to the bride and groom?
M: Oh, they serenaded them. Boy, that was the first time I ever shot a gun. When
one of the Parkersons got married, we knew where they were staying, so we all
gathered up and went to serenade them. One of them had this gun which was a
very dangerous to have, now I know, but at the time we did not think anything
about it. His name was J. P. Morgan. I said, J. P., let me have that. I shot
straight up in the air, but I shot it. I was five years old the first time I ever shot a
gun. Father had a rifle and a shotgun, and they stayed on the wall. One day
when nobody in the house but me, I pushed the chair over and got on top of the
machine and got the rifle off of the wall. I had it in the yard playing with it when
Father came up. He never raised his voice or hit us or anything like that, but he
would sit us down right in front of him and talk to us. He had the bluest of blue
eyes. I had have much rather him give me a paddle and let me go, but he found
me playing with that rifle. So, he sat down there beside me and he told me about
the dangers. You know, first place, it was wrong to take it off the wall, and the
second place, it was dangerous to not know what I was doing with one. He said, I
want you to know the reaction of what happens when you shoot a gun, so he
went in the house and got a cartridge and came back and he loaded it. Showed
me how to hold it and how to shoot it, and I shot it. It kicked me back, and I fell
back on the ground. That was my first experience of shooting a gun. Later in life,
I got to where I was pretty good at it, for practice. I never did shoot anybody.
Did you hunt with a gun?
No. Father never hunted except when he needed food. He would hunt for meat in
the wintertime, or for food. He would hunt for rabbits. He never liked to hunt for
deer. To him, a deer was an animal set apart. But we always had meat. Every
fall, he would always go down to Fish Eating Creek, on the Gulf. He would go
down and we would be with him sometimes, and he would catch and salt down a
barrel of mullet. You know, salt them down to keep them, a barrel of mullet. That
was part of our winter food. We would have to put them in overnight, put them in
and let them soak because they were very salty. You would have to let them get
the salt out, and you would have to scale them and then cut them up. I hated to
do that, but that usually was one of my jobs to do. But it was food. There was one
thing sure: we never went hungry as children. When we would come in from
school, there was always food there available. When the time come to do the
canning, there was a side room to the smokehouse where the meat was cured
that shelves were on and fruit jars. Those jars were always filled with vegetables
and fruit. When we would come in from school, we had to help to do it but we
were perfectly free to go out and get a jar of peaches or whatever or a jar of jelly.
And if we wanted anything to eat, that was the best eating in the world. Come
home for a baked sweet potato and a piece of fried bacon or fried pork. So, we
always had food. Always did.
Did you have a spring house?
No. That room beside the smokehouse was the nearest spring house that we
had. We did not have a spring, except a well for water. We lived a mile and a
quarter from Cork Spring. That is where Father would go with us down. Cork
Spring ran a short distance before it went into the river, and he would take us
down in the wagon. Of course, we did not have bathing suits. We would get
some of the old clothes we had to put on. We never were allowed to go in the
nude, never thought about it, I do not suppose, never was a question. But he
would go in where the water went into the river. He would always go and sit there
and wait because he never would want us to go in the springs by ourselves. He
would always wait for us there in case one of us got into trouble. He was always
there. Did you ever see a field of peanuts when they were growing? Peanuts are
planted close together, and a twenty-acre field of peanuts is a lot of peanuts. So
when it come time to weed those, because you had to keep the grass and the
weeds out of them, that to me was one of the most monotonous things. Anyway,
he would say when we get to the field of peanuts weeded, we will go camping.
He loved to camp. Mother did not. She would get everything ready, and we would
go down on the river to Cork Springs and camp. We would maybe go in to spend
the night and the day and the next night camping. That was our reward for
helping to hoe the peanuts. But then later come on and they had equipment to
where they had a little plow to pull with the horse that would weed out the
middles of that, the peanuts, and so that relieved us of having to do all the hoeing
of the peanuts. That was a great day.
Did the girls in your family learn to sew?
Yes. We all had to learn to sew to a degree, and all of us did. My sister Thetis
was excellent. I could sew. It was not one of the things that I particularly cared
too much about, but I could do it. I did do it. For a long, long time after I got to
where I could, I made all my own clothes, until I got to where I could go to work
and buy ready-made clothes. But yes, we all sewed. Mother made all of our
clothes, all of our quilts. We never bought quilts. We made homemade quilts. I do
not ever recall not having sheets on the bed. As far back as I can remember, I
never remember that we did not have sheets because I knew that those sheets
had to be changed. Laundry was another thing. We had an iron pot to boil the
clothes in and three wash tubs on a bench. You would have to fill up those tubs
with water from the pump. The first time that Thet and I got old enough that we
decided we was old enough to do the laundry, mother was gone somewhere, so
we decided we would do the laundry. Mother came and inspected it and told us
we would have to take it down and do it over. We would have to rinse it over. We
did not get them clean enough. That was my first experience with that. I learned
after that, that it had to be done right.
When did you decide that it was time for you to leave home?
I believe I was seventeen or eighteen. Mother's half-brother was a Baptist
minister, and he lived down this side of Clearwater a little ways. He told Mother to
let Thetis and I come down and stay with them, and we could do work there. He
was working in a plant where they were manufacturing boxes. Of course, his
ministry did not pay enough and deliver on his family. They found a job for us to
do in stacking the slats a certain way and start putting them _, so we
worked there for a while but he decided that was not the place for two young
girls. Time went on, though, and in Clearwater they had, I called them
department store then, dime store like, and so we both got a job there. When we
got a job in the store, we got a room. The people that hired us let us have a
room. They lived upstairs over the store, so they let us have a bedroom to stay
in, to live it, so Thet and I worked there. It was when I was down there then that I
always had long hair, and Mother never would agree for us to cut our hair, but it
was such a nuisance to keep that long hair clean. So, it was in Clearwater that
Thet and I went and got our hair cut. Aunt Maggie was a Johnson, and some of
them come down to visit and went back and told Mother that we had cut our hair.
I guess that was the first time I ever defied my mother. She wrote us a letter and
told us to come home, that we had to come home and stay until our hair grew
out. So, we wrote her a letter and told her, no, we were not coming home, not for
that. We did come home later. Then the opening came up. They were out an
agent for the depot. They wrote me and asked me if I wanted the job, and so I
took it. [End of Side 1.] So, I was the agent at the depot and handled the
Express and the tickets and the records. I never could write much, and you know,
railroad people are the world's worst about writing. Of course, I wanted to write
like the rest of them, so I learned to scribble more. I worked there until I met my
first husband, Hoyt McCall, and we got married and went to Miami. That was the
end of my living in that part of the world. I lived then in Miami eight years and
then went to the Fort Myers area and was there until 1995.
What year did you move to the Fort Myers area?
1933. I was in Miami eight years.
P: The economic conditions in Fort Myers and southwest Florida and all of Florida
at that time were not so healthy.
M: Oh yes. I remember when the Depression came on. I am telling you. We did not
go hungry. We would have, but, again, the folks back up home, there was a
family by the name of Blanton that were all kinfolks. Some of them were in South
Florida in the same area where we were. They would go back up the state, up to
Lafayette and Day and so forth, and they would take us back food, a side of
bacon and a great big bag of meal and sweet potatoes by the bushel. There was
many a time that we had some cornbread and a piece of bacon or a sweet potato
that we lived on, and syrup. They would send us syrup by the gallon. That was in
Miami, down in 1929, when things were really, really rough. That was right after
the real estate boom fell apart. There was just no work, and there was just no
food. No money to buy food. We would work where we could. I worked in a dime
store for a little while. I do not remember, but it was not very, very much.
P: What type of work did your husband do when he could find work?
M: My McCall husband was a law enforcement officer. Back then though, they did
not pay deputy sheriffs very much. But it did help. By the time you had the other
things, why, if we had not had some help from home, we would not have eaten
as well as we did. I felt so sad for people who had children. In fact, we would
share with them, what we had, the people that we knew in our community. You
know, the upbringing you did, if your neighbor needed something, you shared
what you had, regardless. If they needed something, you divided. I grew up that
way. To this day, I do not like to know that people do not have something to eat.
P: When you moved to Lee County, was your husband still working in law
M: No. After twenty years, bless his heart, he was a good man but he was an
alcoholic. He would not drink all the time. He would go a long period of time, and
he would take a drink. But if he ever took one, then he would just stay on it until
he was just completed out of it. But he was a good officer. He was an excellent
law enforcement officer. When he had reached a certain point of his state of
drunkenness, they would just say you go home and stay there until you get over
it. Sometimes, it would take him a week to hit the bottom and get back again.
During the meantime, we adopted my sister's daughter by her first marriage, the
daughter of the marriage that did not last. It could not, and she had a daughter.
But they stayed with us for the greater part of the time but the last three months
before Terry was born. At that time, the man she married, they were living
together. He was a nice looking person and a good appearance, but he was a
gambler. He would get a job in a grocery store, but when he would get his
paycheck, he would go and gamble. He never provided food. They lived with us
until Terry was born, and then Mother got sick. No, they lived with us until Terry
was past her third birthday. Mother was ill, and she went back up the state. I lost
a little boy at four and a half months. I never conceived after that. But Terry came
along right about that time, right after I had lost my child, so I always felt that God
gave her to both of us. I walked the hall while she was coming in this world, and I
carried her to her mother. She was born in a little private hospital. I gave her her
first bottle. I took her home from the hospital. I put the first diaper on her. Of
course, I said they lived with us until after she was three. The summer she was
six, she put her on the bus in Live Oak. She rode the bus to Fort Myers. My sister
put her name and address and who she was to see and so forth and pinned it to
Terry's petticoat. She was very insulted that she had to be tagged. But anyway,
she came in the summer, and then the Christmas she was eight, she came at
Christmas. It ended up she stayed with her mother to go to school, but other than
that, she lived with us. When Sister became ill with cancer, she was one of few
people back in the 1940s that survived cancer. This was in Live Oak, but she
was in Jacksonville for the treatment of cancer, in the Riverside Hospital. They
gave her all the radium that they could, and the cancer went into remission. But it
left her with one kidney dead and the other one damaged, so she has never been
very well. When she was fourteen, Sister had to have an operation, and they
gave her four months to live. They did not think she was going to live. My
husband being in law enforcement, of course, this was in the We knew
all the judges and the circuit judge that came over there always ate with us when
he was there, so he saw us bring Terry up with us. When we found out that Sister
might not be with us, we got busy and adopted Terry. Not that my sister did not
give her child away. She but we did it to protect Terry, in case that my
sister died, and the father she had never seen she was four months old come
and says I have come for my fourteen-year-old daughter. We would not have had
any protection. That is why we adopted Terry. It was not that Sister gave her
child away, and we have always shared. If there has ever been one moment of
regret or jealousy or dislike about it, I have never felt it and I do not think Sister
has. She was always ours, and she called us both Mother, always did. From her
infancy, she called us both Mother. In fact, says I have two mothers.
She always did. Bless her heart, she was gifted with music, with voice. When she
graduated from high school, we sent her to Florida State, up to Tallahassee. But
she went in for audition, and they told her that she had a good voice but it was
not a strong voice and it never would [be], and she would have to work very hard
and make many sacrifices if she ever really accomplished anything. Her
roommate was about that same decision, so when they left the audition, they sat
down on the dormitory steps and decided, well, if they are not going to do
anything with their singing, they would go buy a pack of cigarettes and smoke.
So, they went and bought a pack of cigarettes and started smoking. By that time,
though, after twenty years of marriage with my first husband, I had adopted Terry
and he promised me that he would not drink after we became responsible for her.
But the Christmas of 1944, he started drinking in November and he never
stopped until almost the first of the year. I sent Terry back to Live Oak to her
mother because of his condition. He was not abusive, but it was just something
that was not easy to live with. So, on January 1, 1945, at breakfast I told him that
our marriage was over, that I could not take it anymore. I could not say I did not
love him, but I did not respect him and I could not live with him without
We parted ways that day. We remained friends, but I did not see him
but twice after that until he died. Later, I married Francis Kalmo one of the most
wonderful people that ever lived. He was sixteen years older than me, and he
thought if I wanted a piece of the moon, John Glenn should go get it. He spoiled
rotten, and I loved every minute of it, but I never took advantage of him because I
loved him too much and respected him. He was in Naples at that time, at
Campbell's general store. Naples at that time did not have a bank, no sidewalks,
no city water. Registration vote was 750 people.
P: Everglades City had a bank, but Naples did not.
M: That is right. Of course, the winter people came in the winter, and Francis would
supply them with their needs, including cashing their checks and furnishing them
with money. One Thursday, Francis said to me...but we were married on a
Sunday, and Monday afternoon, I went to the store and it was full of people, and
they were busy as they could be. I said to him, I knew that his policy was that all
his help wore white aprons, and if they got a spot on it, they pulled it off and got
another one. I said to him, where are your aprons? He said, back in the room
there on the shelf. I went and got an apron, put it on, and went to work. If I
wanted to work at the store, I did, and if I did not, I did not have to. He wanted me
to do other things, and so I was playing bridge and going to a women's club and
doing whatever I wanted to do, but I would always go back and work. But he did
his own book work, and I said to him one day, what can I do to help you? And he
said, if I would get the mail and sort it out, pay the bills and find out when
everything was supposed to be paid, because his policy in life was never buy
anything you could not pay for and pay every bill when it was due. That was his
way of living. So, it ended up that I took over the mail, and I started writing all the
checks. I would pay all the bills, and he kept the books. That policy with us [went]
right on the rest of the time. Life with Francis Kalmo was a beautiful thirty-two
years of my life. We were good friends. We were wonderful companions. We
were good business partners, because he made me a part of the business. He
said he was going to retire and go back to Fort Myers and did in 1950. We built a
beautiful home in Fort Myers right close to Edison Estate. His father was born in
O'Brien, Florida, but his father moved to Fort White and was in the phosphate
business. In 1902, he sold his business and went to Fort Myers. At that time,
there was no bridge, no road, no nothing. They went in by boat when Francis
was twelve years old, so he grew up in Fort Myers. But his father bought twenty
acres of land out east of Fort Myers, about five miles out, and it had timber on it.
They sold off the timber but used the bases for the foundation for the house he
built, a two-story house because they had a big family. They built this two-story
house on this land, but it had of course then no plumbing, no electricity. His
father died in 1928. He bought out the rest of the family's interest in the old home
place, and he took care of his mother as long as she lived. So, he had the old
home place. He would go out there and work. He loved palms, and he loved
citrus. He kept the grounds looking nice around the old house, but it just stood
there. His single sister lived there as long as she was able to, and then we took
care of her after she had to have care. He was out there. We sold the place and
moved into our lovely home in Fort Myers. I was having a ball. I was having the
best time. I was going to parties, and I was giving parties. I was not really doing
anything very constructive but it was fun. He was working out there, but he was
losing weight. I could not understand that, so I prevailed upon him to go to the
doctor. The doctor was a good friend of ours, Dr. Ernest Balsimer. The next
morning, he went on a Tuesday, and on a Wednesday, I went in. His nurse Lois
said, what is the matter with you? You do not look like you are sick. I said I am
not, but I want to talk to Ernest. Ernest was a good doctor and a good friend, but
he was kind of rough spoken. He said, what in the hell are you doing here this
morning? He said, you are not sick. I said no, I am not sick, but I want to know
what is the matter with Francis. He said, he does not like where he lives, but he
does not want you to know it. I said, oh my goodness, alive. He said, he is not
getting his rest. Across the street was the and right next to us the
pediatrician. They would go to the hospital every night and come back, and the
doctor across the street had live-in help. Over here then, they would turn on the
radio and they would be cards and visit until 12:00, 1:00. Of course, Francis
would come in and go to bed, and then they would turn that on. He would wake
up and could not go back to sleep. Of course, I slept through it all. It did not
bother me. Anyway, I went to the store and bought a fryer and went to the house
and cooked, made a picnic lunch, and went out to where he was working before
[it was] time for him to come in. I said to him, I want to come out and have a
picnic with you. We walked around after we had eaten, and he talked about it. He
had not done anything to the old house, and working on the yard, so he said he
was going to clean it up, put it on the market to sell. But I worked for the
department of agriculture for eight years, working with the farmers during the war
period. Four years of that period, we were their county agent. I was not a county
agent, but I kept the office open. My contribution to the war was that five nights a
week for two years, we had committee meetings. The county agent's office was a
rationing division for all the agriculture, fertilizer equipment and whatever. It was
quite an interesting two years, but it was good. I enjoyed. Having grew up on a
farm and working with the farmers, we walked out and there were forty acres to
the side of there, had a For Sale sign on it. I said to him, Francis, let's buy that
forty acres and fence it and put in some good pasture and buy some real good
quality cows and pure bred bull. I said, let's just raise a few good quality beef. It
will give us something to be interesting in. He said it is a good idea, but we better
figure on the expenses of maintaining two places, because we felt that then we
were secure in our being retired. We had enough to live on. It would not do
today, but back then it seemed enough. Anyway, I said to him, let's buy that land.
If you would give him little more than a red wagon, he was so happy over the
thought. And I said, and let's remodel and redo the old home place and move out
here. He said, that would mean you would have to sell your house. I said yes, but
that is all right. So, I got in the car and went to Miss Kate ,_ who was a
realtor and a classmate of his through high school. We knew Miss Kate, a
wonderful lady. I told her that we wanted to put the house on the market for sale,
and I listed it for her and then went home and fell across the bed and cried, but
that is the only time I cried about it because I knew that it was to his best
interests. Anyway, we listed it, and there was a family by the name of John
Ferguson. Did you know John ? Well, John and Cossie bought our
house. This was in February, but they did not want to move until June because
their daughters were in school. They wanted to finish school in Fernadina Beach.
That gave us time to remodel the old Campbell home. As I said, it was two-story.
We spent from then through 1951 and the first of 1952, happy as two people
could be, remodeling that old home place. It was sixteen rooms, and we put a
nice four-column colonial front on it. He being a merchant, he loved quality,
whatever it was. He had some and I had some furniture left, and we had our
furniture from the house that fit in, most of it, because of the kind of furniture we
bought. In fact, I have got some of it to this day. But the things we had to do to
replace and to furnish, we did it with antiques and reproductions. We turned that
place into a show place. We lived there from 1952. Of course, in 1971, he started
having strokes. He lived until March of 1979, but he did not want me to live there
after he was gone. But then getting back to it, in 1952, my mother died and I
began to study my life and what I was doing with it and realized that I sure was
not doing very much to help anybody but myself. I happened to pick up the paper
and saw where Ms. Crow taught real estate. I signed in and was among one of
her first pupils. I went down and talked with her and just signed in and started
school. Six weeks from then, I took the Roper's examination and passed it. I had
not studied in all these years, really studied, and I burned a lot of midnight lights
that six weeks. The morning I had to go to Orlando to take my examination to get
my license, I did not sleep too well. I was restless. I was kind of nervous about it
all. But when I got ready to leave the room, I knelt beside my bed and prayed to
God for guidance to keep me calm and to help me do my best and that if I
passed that examination, that 10 percent off the top of everything I made would
go for his honor and glory. I went on and took my examination and I passed it,
and I went to work in 1953. When I got my license, Francis said I want you to go
talk to Ms. Kate. I started working with Ms. Kate, and she laid the foundation for
my real estate work and profession, my life. To me, real estate was a gift from
God in more ways than one. In the first place, I did not have to worry about
where my next bread and butter was coming from, which left me my mind free to
pursue studying and doing work. He asked me to work with Ms. Kate, and so I
got started. I went in the last of 1952 into the office to study and to get
acquainted and study the listings and how to find them and where to go, but I did
not start to work until January of 1953. In February, a friend of ours had called
me who had a little hardware [store] there and said that he had a new partner
coming in, that he was a single man and he wanted just a small house, so did I
want to find it for him. I said sure, I was delighted, and we went out and found a
little house north of Fort Myers. He lacked $4,000 having enough money to pay
cash for it, and the seller wanted cash. So, I wrote the contract subject to
securing a $4,000 mortgage. I was so thrilled over that, but then I began to worry.
I did not have the slightest idea how to go get a mortgage. That had not been
part of my [schooling], actually going out and getting a mortgage. In the middle of
the night, I was restless enough that Francis says, honey, what is the matter?
You are not sleeping. I said, Francis, I have got to get a $4,000 mortgage if that
sale goes through, and I do not have the slightest idea where to go to get the
money. He was very quiet and he said, well, why don't we take the mortgage.
And I said fine, so I financed my own first sale. The next morning, I went and told
Ms. Kate. I said, Ms. Kate, I got the contract and we got the money for the
mortgage, but how do you get a mortgage? She told me to go see at First
Federal Bank, one of my dearest friends. He said, you take your contract and you
go to the Lee County Bank, the First National Bank and to First Federal, and you
tell them what you want. You tell them that you are learning, that you are looking
for information, but how do you go about it? So, I made the round and talked with
the different finance people on how to finance, how to get a mortgage and so
forth. That was the beginning of that. Real estate, to me, it provided an
opportunity to do two things. I loved it, but it was also a way of life. It gave me an
opportunity to do the thing that I was dedicated to do, and that was help other
people. To me, it was the greatest. I learned though. To make money
in real estate, you bought land, land. I roosted houses, but I sold
homes. Anyway, it was in 1960 that I had six young people in college, and I
never knew who they were, Edison Junior College. 10 percent of what I made
either went to my church or to my college or to need somebody. That is one
promise I never broke, and it is one promise no one I have ever let pay me back
a dime of it because it was not mine. I know I put my nephew through to his
doctorate degree. He has tried several times to pay me back some way, and I
say you just put someone else in school. That is not mine. It is not yours either, I
told him. I got so involved in real estate, though. Of course, Francis and I had
worked together, and we were business partners. Suddenly, it dawned on me
one day that I was actually in violation of the law, that here I was using Francis
Campbell. He was working right along with me. He was going with to sell, and he
was going with me to show. I said to him, you know, it suddenly dawned on me
that we are breaking the law. I said, why don't you and go and get your license.
He went down to Ms. Crow, and so he took the course. When it come time to
take the examination, to go in and get his examination, he came home with a
salesman's license. I said, honey, you have to study, you got to take the same
examination. Why didn't you get a broker's license? I said if we built up a
business and anything happened to me, he would be out a business. He said,
that is all right. Without you, I would not want to be in the business anyway. He
said, and furthermore, that broker's license cost $5 more. He was Scotch. He
wanted value for what he bought, but he was the most generous person.
Anyway, he got into the real estate business. Then after he started having the
strokes, I realized that he no longer was capable of giving the right information. I
told him, and he said too, so we turned his license in. But if the phone rang and I
was not there, he would forget about that, and if somebody was wanting to know
about it, he would start giving them the information. I knew that was not right, so
what I did was close my office and I went into business with my good friend Nina
Hines. Nina and I were in business the rest of our time together. But real estate,
to me, was a beautiful way of life. I loved it. After Francis was gone, he did not
want me to stay there. I bought a condo in Harvey Towers, downtown right there
by the Yacht Club. I bought that before he died, because he was in the hospital
eighty-one days and that was good for me. I could use that to stay. But I put it on
the market, and the house sold. I moved the first of December. I just like one
month having my sixteen years on the hospital board when I moved out of the
district, so they wrote and asked the governor if he would allow me to serve on
the rest of that month, until the first of the year, because my He
declined to approve it, so when I moved out of the district, of course, I had to
resign from the board. So, like one month, being there sixteen years. But that
was all right. Then after Francis was gone, he died in March as I said. After he
started having the strokes, I spent most of my time with him. But when Russ
Milner and Margaret, retired from the Navy, the Corps of Engineers, from
Guam-they had been in Guam for seventeen years-they came to Fort Myers
looking for a place to retire. They bought a little place out on Orange River. It was
next door to Francis' nephew's place. Francis and I went over to meet the new
people to get acquainted with them, and we became good friends. The four of us,
for nineteen years, were very close friends. We visited back and forth and went
out together and shared life together. Margaret died with a massive heart attack
in July of 1978, and Francis died from strokes in March of 1979. After Francis
was gone, I of course was a little more thin than I am now. I had lost quite a bit of
weight. Russ called me up and he said, Vera, we have been friends for all these
years. He said, I am just afraid you are not eating right. He said, we have been
going out to eat, the four of us, all this time. He said, I do not see any reason why
we cannot go out and eat. I said, well, I do not either, but you and I know both if
we start going out to eat that somebody is going to start talking. He said, let
them, they got a good subject. So we started going out to eat, and we never did
stop. I really did not think that I would ever get married again because I really had
no reason to. But I began to discover that if Russ was not in my life, it would be
kind of lonely. He was so good about helping me, anything he could help me
with. When I went into the condo, like I bought a crystal chandelier, and he said
to me one day, if you leave the key where I can get it, I will go and see about
hanging up your chandelier. I gave him the key, and when I came home from
work that day, he had that crystal chandelier all over the floor, scattered all over
the place. We worked to put that together. I was a member of the Yacht Club, but
he was not. I would say come on, let's go to the Yacht Club. He went with me a
time or two and with other people, but he was the old school. One day, I said
come on, let's go to the Yacht Club and eat, and he said no, I am not going to the
Yacht Club with you to eat. I said why? He said, everybody knows that I am not a
member and that you are paying the bill, and I am not going to have it. I said all
right, then join the Yacht Club. And he did. We were married, though. Still, we
had not talked about when we were going to get married, but the daughter Terry
that I adopted was dying with cancer. Francis had died in 1979, and this was in
1980. In 1978, they had to take out her voice box. She could no longer speak. He
was dying with strokes, and she was dying with cancer, so it was kind of a rough
time in my life. But my faith said it is all right, it will be, it is God's will some way. I
do not understand it, but that is all right. Anyway, Russ was very fond of Terry,
and so was Terry of Russ. Mother's Day, he called me up. I was at her place
down at Bonita. He said, I want you to come have dinner with me. I said oh, it is
Mother's Day, I cannot leave Terry. Terry could not talk, but she picked up her
tablet and started to write and said, mother, go on. Her sister was there with her.
So I did, and after we had our dinner...he was a good cook. It was at his house.
When he was in Guam, he made music with the radio, not a TV but a radio and
record player and so forth, so that was on the patio. He went out and turned on
the music and he said, let's have coffee on the patio. He said, time come when
we need to talk. He said, you have kept me at arm's length, and now we are
going to have to talk about this. He said, I love you very much, but you never
would let me tell you. I said, no, I just did not want to be told. I said, but I realize
too that I sure would miss you if you were not around. Anyway, he said I want
you to go and tell Terry that when she is gone, and we knew it was close, that
she is not leaving you alone. I told him, this is something I got to think about, so I
went back over to my condo. The next morning at the break of dawn, I got up and
went down to Bonita and went in, and they said, what brings you here this early?
I said I just wanted to come on down. Of course, they said, what about last night?
Terry wrote, tell us about last night. So, I told them what Russ had said. Terry
picked up her tablet and wrote, mother dear, please say yes; then I can go in
peace. I went over and picked up the phone, and I called Russ. He is a late
sleeper. I was not. It was a little after 7:00 in the morning by this time. The phone
rang and he said where are you at this hour? I said I am at Bonita, and I said the
girls wanted to know what we talked about last night, so I told them. I said, and
the girls say for me to say yes. Russ said yes, but what do you say, is what I
want to know. And I say yes, too. That was just shortly before she died in June.
We had not set a date when we were going to get married, but I went up the
state in August to look. We talked about a house and looking at houses and
building houses, but I went up the state to see my family. Jim, her son, wanted
me to look for some real estate for her while I was up there. The realtor that I was
working with told me that he had a house for sale that just looked something out
of House Beautiful, that he would like for me to see it because [with my] being in
real estate, he knew I would appreciate it. We went over, and when I walked in
that house, that was the most peaceful house. It was everything that I had ever
dreamed about, more than I'd ever been able to put together in my own mind. I
looked the house over and walked around. I had not told my sister that we had
talked about getting married, that we planned on getting married, because she
just assumed that I would stay single. That is understandable, not any reflection
on her because that would not be right. I walked around and looked at it, and I
said this is the most peaceful house that I have ever been in. It was brick colonial
on five acres of land, four bedrooms and three baths. I said, I am going to call
Russ and tell him about this house. She said, what has Russ got to do with it? I
said, Russ and I are going to be married. When? I said, I do not know, we have
not decided yet. But I went and called him when I got back to the house, so he
flew up on Friday, flew into Tallahassee, and we met him. So, he looked at the
house. He was an engineer, and a good one, of the Corps of Engineers in the
Navy for seventeen years. Anyway, he came up and we looked at the house and
the property, but we did not decide about it at that time. We went on back to Fort
Myers on a Sunday. We talked about it during the week, so we decided that we
would not be able to find anything for the price. I think it was $160,000 that they
wanted for it, and there was not a thing in the world to do to it. It was just as
perfect as a place you could find. The people who owned it were young, and their
son was going into high school and they wanted to go to Gainesville so that he
could have high school and college. That is why they were selling it. We decided
that we would buy it, and I called the realtor and told him to go ahead and draw
up the contract and to draw it up in both of our names, William Russell Milner
and Vera M. Campbell, and I want it divided on one-half interest. We came on
up and signed the contract, and then we said to the young lady-she was a little
Italian lady, tiny like this, had great big eyes-we would like to go back out,
because he had a house full of furniture and I had a condo of furniture, just to
figure out what we were going to do and what we could keep and so forth. She
said to me though, I have drawings of the plans of the house, so I will give them
to you. But we were walking around, and thank goodness on the way back, the
bedrooms were all at one end, I was coming along the living room here and there
were little banisters along. Her name was Marie. I said, Marie, I just want you to
know that before we close the sale of the house that Russ and I will be married.
She threw up her hands like this and says oh, thank God, I was
afraid two old people that was not married was going to live in my house. We
bought the house, and we lived there and we loved it. But went into some health
problems. He had a operation. North Florida Regional picked up
staff, and they operated on him. We decided that driving to
Gainesville from February until June every week was just a little much. During
the meantime, we had bought a condo in Point Do you know Joe
Porter, the builder/contractor in Fort Myers? Well, he did a lot of building, and he
was the builder of that. He built the first one. They had forty-four units in it. He
had this one condo, this one apartment that had not sold. He told Nina, who was
my realtor friend, that if Russ and I would buy that and could pay cash for it that
he would knock $40,000 off of the price of the condo so he could take that money
and start the next building, which he did. So, we bought it for an investment.. But
after Russ got sick, we decided that, no, we would not sell it, we would move it.
We came down two or three times, but I came back in June and put in carpeting
and did all that. I called Russ up and asked him about something. He told me to
be sure to watch for all that, being sure that it was right. I said, by the way, I just
ended up today spending $10,000. What did you spend $10,000 for? Whatever it
was is fine, but what in the world did you spend? Then I went over, carpeting and
this and this. Anyway, we had a good time. Life was beautiful for us, but his
health began to fail. By the way, another funny story about it. We lived in Lee
County. They published the ages of the people getting married in the News
Press. He was eighty, and I was seventy-four. He found out that in Charlotte
County they did not publish the people's age that got married. Do you know Lois
and Barney Baron, big people that sold all their acres to La Belle?
Well, Lois and I became friends in 1934, and we are still friends. We had asked
Lois and Barney to stand with us. It was the third marriage for both of us. I told
him, this is the last one. I was not married in church in either one, but this one,
we are going to be married in church. Nobody there but the preacher and two
witnesses. Anyway, we asked Lois and Barney to stand with us. They lived in
Hendry County. Then after the wedding, we went to Key West, which is Monroe
County, for our honeymoon. Here we lived in Lee County, bought the license in
Charlotte County, married in Hendry County, and went to Monroe for our
honeymoon and then moved to Suwannee County, all within a little over a
month's time. Life is so beautiful. But I am in this part of the state because Russ
died, and that left me alone. We had almost thirteen years [which were]
wonderful. We both knew our life was short, and we were going to have a good
time, and we did. He wanted me to go back to Asia because that is where he
spent a great deal of his life, and we went over there for three weeks. We went to
Alaska. We took four different cruises. He was a Purdue graduate, and the Big
Ten had a cruise in 1983. We went on that cruise. That is when we met
President Steve Berry and his wife Jane-he still is president-and Purdue
people. Anyway, we were married on sixth of August, but in October, we went to
Purdue. We drove up there because Russ wanted me to know Purdue. He loved
Purdue. He felt that he owed so much to Purdue. We went up there in October,
and when he was there, he joined the president's council in both of our names.
That is why I am a member of the president's council. If somebody asks me what
year I was in Purdue, I say I married the At that time, we met the
Barons then, and we became good friends, and we still are. Next Tuesday, I am
going to fly up there as the guest of President and Mrs. Berry for the president's
council homecoming. But this trip, I am going to bid my farewell to Purdue. The
Berrys, they are contracted, but they prevailed upon them to stay two more
years. Next year, they will be moving out, and new ones will be moving in getting
ready for the next century. They will be too busy, so they wanted me to come this
year. They wanted me to come last year, but I was not able to go with this back
of mine. So, I am going up Tuesday for the rest of the week with them, and then I
will be flying back here Sunday night. Monday morning, I will pick up my car and
drive back to The Village, in time to be there to celebrate the election.
P: Vera, you have certainly lived an amazing life, and you tell the story extremely
well. You have a fantastic memory.
M: I love life. It is a great gift. People do not realize what a wonderful gift life is. But I
learned a long time ago that people are about as content as they make up their
mind to be.
P: You have a very positive attitude.
M: Very positive, and my sister, bless her heart, she is prone to be more negative. I
have tried, without speaking out and saying so, but I can always say but, you
know, you could have been so and so and so or you could have been so much
better. The other day, I think I aggravated her or something had come up. I said,
my goodness, look, it is so much better than it could have been. Look
at all the good things that could come from this. She said, sis, if you were
standing on Brinker Hill and you would say well thank God it is not
so far down there. And so, yes, I love life. I love life because it is a gift from
God, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. The Spirit, if
someone says to me, drive all the way down to Fort Myers by yourself. No, I am
never alone. I know that the Guardian Angel is with me. I do not say that I do not
make mistakes and run into sometimes bad luck, just like it is for this operation. I
had three, and they had three ways to go. One was success, one was paralysis
for life, and one was death. I told Dr. Kennedy-thank God for Kennedy, he is a
good Christian man-I am not afraid to die, but I am afraid to live like this. I said, if
my master has more work to do and you do your work, I will be all right, and, of
course, the operation was a success. I considered it a success because they
said I would begin to walk some in six months, and I walked out of the hospital.
The pastor there at the church came down to see me, and when he went back,
some of them said, how is Vera? He said, she was the only happy face I saw.
But North Florida Regional is not where I wanted to go nor wanted to be, but my
stay there, though, I got a lot of I was all right. But I had a golden
opportunity there that I had never had or never would again. It was a black lady
that come in to help me. Just the looks of her face was just a solid, no emotion,
no expressions at all. When I asked her something, she was rather abrupt in her
reply. I said to her, what is your name? She said Julia, and she kind of looked at
me like what business is it of yours? I said, do you have any children? She said
yes. I said, boys or girls? And she said, two boys and two girls. I said oh, how
wonderful. I said, you know, I bet you when you go home and those children run
to meet you and they see you with a happy smiling face and reach out and give
them a hug that they are four happy children. And with that, she smiled. You
know she turned out to be one of the most delightful people. There was another
little girl-she was black, too-she said to me, I believe you are Christian. I said oh
yes, I am Christian. I said, I love Jesus. So she said, I do, too. A little while, it was
not long, [she] come back. She said, I have just a few minutes, let's talk about
Jesus, and I said fine. So every little bit when she had the chance, she would
come back in. I would do most of the listening, but I talked. It was a wonderful
good relationship. Yes, but the pride of my life, my Terry had one son, our Terry,
let me say, has one son. He is married to a wonderful wife and mother. They
have four sons. The oldest one is sixteen, fourteen, twelve, and ten. They are the
pride of my life, and I stay in [touch]. Have to by phone because they are in
Huntington Beach, California. But they all come to see us. Sister's ninetieth
birthday was last year, so I gave a big party in celebration for her ninetieth
birthday. Had her two children and their children and their children's
children. It was twenty-three of us, of mother, children, brothers, sisters, that had
the weekend together.
P: It is obvious that you are not only happy, but you make those around you happy,
M: That is my mission, if I can. But we had 225 people that came to her reception.
We had it in the activity room. There was 225 people, and there in The Village, it
is a very pretty little spot. It is a very Christian life that you live there. It is a
different world. I miss Fort Myers, but I am certainly at peace. I have no regrets. I
am needed there. As long as Sister lives, I will be there. If I were not there, she
would have to be in a nursing home or an assistant living. She could not do it on
her own. I am perfectly at peace. If something happens, if she goes first, if she
makes her journey, I guess common sense would say that is where I should stay,
but I will cross that bridge when I get to it. I do not know, and it does not bother
me. Whatever it is, however it is, it will be fine.
P: That is great.
M: But I do thank you so much.
P: It has been wonderful to visit with you.
M: I wish everyone would know the peace. One of the greatest was that when I
realized in saying the master's prayer, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive
those who trespass against us, the day I realized that whenever I had no ill will
and no hard feeling or nothing that I wanted to hold against my fellow man, that
then I had a right to ask my Savior and my Jesus to forgive me of my
shortcomings. I just wish everybody could realize that. It is the most wonderful
peace on Earth. I know. And as long as I am here, I am sure I will enjoy it, but
when the time comes, I am ready.
And you truly reflect what you believe.
Thank you. I do, I fully believe it. [End of Interview.]