Interviewee: Dessie Smith Prescott
Interviewer: Leland Hawes
March 30, 1990
Dessie Smith Prescott has been described by her good friend Marjorie Kinnan
Rawlings as a "rural sophisticate." Born and raised in rural Florida, Ms. Prescott has
been an avid huntsman/fisherman all her life. Hawes's special interest in the interview
is Ms. Prescott's relationship with Ms. Rawlings; Hawes and Prescott both have served
on the board of the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Society.
She was born August 4, 1906, in Island Grove. She began hunting with her
uncle at age four, retrieving fallen game from the thick palmettos that the dogs could
not. She also helped him put in an orchard. After her parents died, she went to live
with an aunt first, and then with her brother in Baltimore. She worked as a waitress,
and her tips enabled her to return to Florida for a month in the winter to hunt and fish.
She found some land near Sparr and, with some help, built a large log cabin. She was
nineteen when she began the project. During the days of the Florida land boom, she
then took a job in Tampa and then in Orlando, where she was a "bird dog" for a real
estate broker; she spotted prospective land buyers. She was fortunate to have taken
all of her savings out of the bank the week before it closed.
Ms. Prescott then went to Philadelphia (her brother had moved there), where she
learned to fly old jenny biplanes. Ms. Prescott had the third pilot's license issued to a
woman in the United States. She joined a barnstorming troupe that sold plane rides.
Flying in Tampa and Daytona Beach in particular is mentioned. She quit flying because
of the poor maintenance on the planes.
Ms. Smith's first husband, John C. Vinson, was a doctor, and it was through him
that she became acquainted with Robert E. L. Chancey, then mayor of Tampa.
Chancey and his wife were hunting and fishing enthusiasts, and they often visited the
Ms. Prescott explains how she met Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. When the
Rawlings moved to Florida, they were unfamiliar with rural life, and Ms. Prescott helped
them adapt to the Florida wilderness. She describes the origin of Greek salad, a story
that was part of the success of Ms. Rawlings's husband as a writer. She recounts the
"Hyacinth Drift" boat trip she made with Ms. Rawlings, a trip detailed by Ms. Rawlings in
her book Cross Creek. Ms. Prescott relates the story of Ms. Rawlings's housekeeper,
'Geechee. She also discusses moonshining in rural Florida.
During World War II, Ms. Prescott served in the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps
and then the Women's Air Corps. She was a recruiter first, and then she was sent to
Officer Training School in Fort Des Moines, Iowa. As an officer, she was ultimately
assigned to Central Flying Training Command in San Antonio, Texas "desert duty" -
where the army was training bombardiers. She was placed in charge of Special
Services. Among other things, she developed short courses in practical skills to keep
the men occupied and content.
After the war she returned to Florida and searched for another site for a
hunting/fishing camp. She settled on land along the Withlacoochee River near Inglis.
She built cottages, a motel, and a dining room the "Bull Shooting Room." Ms.
Prescott continued to guide hunting and fishing trips.
She and her second husband (now deceased) built another camp in the
Adirondacks. They have hunted and fished in Wyoming, Alaska, and Africa. She has
sold the Withlacoochee camp and bought another near Crystal River that she calls
Wahoo Ranch. To close the interview, she describes a hunting trip to Canada and
Alaska that she is planning.
H: This is an oral history interview with Dessie Smith Prescott in Ocala, Florida.
This is Leland Hawes. Today is Friday, March 30, 1990. I would like to start out
by asking you when you were born.
P: I was born August 4, 1906.
H: What were your parents' names?
P: W. R. Smith and Sally Smith.
H: Where were you born?
P: Island Grove, Florida.
H: That is in Alachua County.
P: That is in Alachua County, the southern edge.
H: At that time I guess there were not many people around in Island Grove.
P: It was bigger than it is now.
H: How many people, would you guess?
P: Oh, I would say seventy-five or a hundred were there then, and it is probably
twenty-five to less than fifty now.
H: What is your first memory. What is your first recollection?
P: Well, my uncle that loved to fish and hunt has said up to his death that I was the
best retriever he ever owned. At the age of four I followed him into the woods
quail hunting. He usually went in a wagon with me and the dogs, and when the
palmettos were too thick for the dogs to go in, I would go in and get his crippled
H: What was he hunting, usually?
P: Quail. Of course, they hunted turkey and deer and duck there, too. We kind of
ate off the land.
H: So this was for eating purposes.
P: Darn right, as well as fun.
H: What was your uncle's name?
P: Ben Morrison.
H: So you became interested in hunting early on, then.
P: Yes. There was a ditch that had been dug for drainage purposes across my
grandfather's old field, and the ditch had drained the pond down into the swamp,
which made the island that the town got its name from. It was cut off by a creek
that came out of the river above the Cross Creek outlet. The creek cut by there,
cutting off about several thousand acres, and then it ran back in to the Orange
Lake Run down between Citra and Orange Springs.
H: So what about this ditch?
P: Well, one of the sides of the ditch was high enough to walk on. Of course, the
middle of the ditch was where the bigger fish were. I would go down there and
cut a cane pole.
H: So you would actually cut your pole.
H: Was that out of bamboo or something?
P: No. I would cut anything that was long and keen and fairly light, and I would rig it
up. Every once in a while I would hang a tremendous fish. In later life I decided
it undoubtedly had to be a big mud fish. He would take my line and maybe my
pole away from me.
H: So you think the mud fish were stealing your line and pole. Was that your main
enjoyment as a little girl?
P: Yes. I had no one to play with my own age.
H: You did not have any brothers or sisters?
P: I had two brothers that were much older.
H: There were no other kids in the neighborhood your age?
P: Not near enough to walk. That was our main transportation back then, that or a
H: So the horse and buggy was the main way of getting around.
P: It was the only way, that or a wagon, or a surrey if you happened to have one or
H: How many horses did you all have?
P: There on the farm we had only one poor old horse. Later, I went to live with my
uncle. He was caretaker for the Wisahicken Grove. It was a big grove operation
owned by people that lived in Philadelphia. Then my uncle and I started on
weekends building a grove for him he had bought a piece of property farther
over on the prairie. This was all owned by Meadows Prairie. That is on the road
that goes across from [Highway] 200 to Salt Springs. That went by the two
H: How big was the grove that you were putting in with your uncle?
P: Well, we started with deadening the trees.
H: You deadened the trees?
P: Yes. You did a clear [cleared the land].
H: Are you talking about the oak trees, scrub, or whatever was there?
P: Well, it was oak, magnolia, bay, and hickory, as well as numerous palmettos.
Now, the bays, palmettos, and magnolias did not seem to sap the ground as
much as the oak trees. My uncle seemed to know that; how he learned it, I do
not know. He was very careful [to keep what trees he could] because they kept
the frost from getting to the young [fruit] trees. There seems to be a law of
nature that operates that you could plant an orange tree under a big live oak that
had been deadened, and it would gradually lose its limbs, yet the limbs in falling
very seldom ever hit a planted tree.
H: So the little orange trees managed to survive under the oak trees.
P: That is exactly right.
H: And they were protected from the cold, as well.
P: That is right.
H: Then as it got bigger, the oak was dying.
P: The oak was dying when we planted the orange trees.
H: Now, how did you deaden the oaks?
P: By girdling it with an ax all the way around, a band approximately four inches
[wide] where the bark is completely cut away.
H: How old were you when you were helping him do things like this?
P: Well, I would say from the age of five or six on up.
H: How did you come to live with this uncle?
P: Well, my father died.
H: He must have died when you were pretty young, then.
P: I was two and a half.
H: I see.
P: My mother had me and my next brother to take care of. My older brother was
out on his own already.
H: So she needed help.
P: Yes. My aunt was, at that particular phase of her life, a religious fanatic, and
they had no children. She figured she would go to hell if she did not feed me!
H: I see.
P: That is true.
H: So she had a conscience-ridden approach to taking care of you.
P: That is right. Then Mother died when I was twelve.
H: I see.
P: So then I was a complete orphan.
H: So you have been pretty much on your own for a good chunck of your life, then.
P: That is right.
H: Were you still there in Island Grove?
P: No. They lived down in Sparr, out on the Wisahicken Road.
H: Sparr is still in Alachua County, isn't it?
P: No, it is in Marion County.
H: But it would have been just a little south of the line.
P: Yes, a few miles.
H: What about school?
P: Well, originally we walked. There was a hollow log on the way, and I would take
my shoes off which my aunt tried to make me wear and hide them in the hollow
log so they would not get wet. I would go barefoot both to and from school. We
had about a two and one-half mile walk.
H: Did the school teacher let you get by with that?
P: Oh, yes. Very few [children] had shoes to wear.
H: Was it a one-room school?
P: Yes, there were eight grades in one room. There was a total of probably twenty-
H: What was the name of the school?
H: Pine School.
H: Did you go through all eight grades there?
P: No. About the fourth or fifth grade they put in bus service and consolidated the
schools, and we were taken to Citra then.
H: So you went to a bigger school then?
H: Was there much about school that interested you?
H: I guess that was time for playing games.
P: And getting into fights!
H: I guess you could hold your own.
P: I was pretty good.
H: Did you ever give any little boys black eyes?
P: Yes, big boys, too! See, we had pupils in there that were eighteen and nineteen
H: Oh, I did not realize that.
P: Yes. See, back in those days ...
H: It took a little while to get through.
P: Most of them were farmers or ranchers and had to work on the farm part of the
year when it was necessary.
H: So they could not put in a full school year, and they probably did not pass their
grades very well.
P: That is right. Back in those days you were not passed unless you earned it. I'll
H: So you stayed pretty much in that area all that time.
P: Well, up until I was fifteen.
H: What happened when you turned fifteen?
P: I had a brother in Baltimore, [and I went to live with him].
H: Was this your oldest brother?
P: Yes. He was out of the army and had married; he had a wife and a little kid. He
thought it would be a good idea for me come up and live with them.
H: Did you like the idea?
P: Oh, yes. Anything that was new I liked.
H: Did it also get you out from under that aunt?
P: Yes! The [turning point] was when she did not want me to play basketball. I
insisted on playing basketball, and she said, "You are going to get crippled, and
you will not be able to rake the yards" and do this and do that and the other.
Sure enough, I twisted an ankle. This kid-friend of mine owned an old Ford
skeeter let me tell you what a skeeter is.
H: I do not know.
P: Well, it was an old Model T that had been stripped down. There was a motor,
steering wheel, and wheels, and that was all. The seat that we sat on was
usually a field orange crate. It was placed across the framework over the gas
tank. He brought me home after I twisted my ankle. It was swollen pretty good.
I had my shoe off, in my hand. My aunt met us at the door because the car, of
course, had no muffler or anything like that on it, and we announced ourselves
with that. She met me with this big ha-ha laugh. Unconsciously, I slung my shoe
at her [laughter].
H: Very unconsciously, I am sure.
P: I hit her, because I had been playing basketball and baseball.
H: And she did not appreciate it [laughter].
P: No, so I decided I had better change my range.
H: So that is when you went to Baltimore.
P: That is when I went to Baltimore.
H: How did you and Baltimore get along? Was it too big a city?
P: No. I managed to find the park once in a while. I went to work. My brother was
going to school trying to finish his education, and he had a wife and a child, so I
did not feel like sponging off them. I got a job as a bus girl at a little restaurant.
The brother of the owner of the old grove that my uncle had looked after lived in
Baltimore, and he actually got me the job. This owner was a friend of his. I
started as a bus girl and later worked my way up to waitress.
H: How long did you stay up there?
P: Almost indefinitely, for a year or so. Then I got to be a good enough waitress
that I could come to Florida and fish and hunt for a month in the winter.
H: So you were able to earn enough to come home.
P: Yes, to come back and forth.
H: I guess your tips were pretty good.
P: Well, I was fast on my feet and friendly, and that is all it takes to be a good
H: Did you rotate between Island Grove or Citra and Baltimore, then, for some
P: Yes. Never having owned a home that I felt a part of, I had a burning desire to
own my home.
H: Where were you able to get one?
P: Well, I think that is a real interesting story. The piece of land I wanted adjoined
my uncle's property on the other side of this little lake [Meows Lake] that was
part of the prairie.
H: Was that in Sparr?
P: Yes. In looking on the tax rolls, I found that it was owned by a person in
Jacksonville. I went to Jacksonville and tried to look up this person, and I found
that he had been dead for about six months to a year. Finally, I found the bank
in Jacksonville that was handling his estate, so I went to the bank to find out
about his heirs. The bank lawyer told me that while this man had paid taxes on
the land for twenty-two years, he did not own it. He had never proved anything
or foreclosed and gotten a title or recorded his deed. The guy that had given him
the deed originally was still the legal owner of it. After a good while, I found this
old nigger living at an abandoned turpentine still out near Palatka.
H: He was the owner?
P: He was still the legal owner of it. I tried to buy it from him, but he said that he did
not own it. He had sold it to this guy. In the meantime, I had picked up a quick-
claim deed. Finally, after much arguing, I got him to take $100 and put his "X" on
the deed. So I acquired the eighteen acres that adjoined my uncle's property on
H: Was it cleared land, or was it woods?
P: It was virgin woods. I always wanted a log cabin, so I decided that was it. I went
to this little jerkwater sawmill out near Citra and asked them if I could buy some
ten-inch cypress poles. The Gothie brothers if you want to use that name,
because they are very prominent asked, "Who are you buying your sawed
lumber from?" I said, "I would be glad to buy it from you if you have that kind of
lumber." He said he would cut it for me. Then he said, "I'll tell you what. We will
give you ten-inch cypress logs out of the cutting that we are now doing we are
not cutting ten-inch stuff; we are cutting over that if you will buy your sawed
lumber from us."
I got an old man who had formerly been in the logging business that still had
three oxen left from his old team. The oxen seemed to do better in water and
mud than horses and mules. I hired him and his three oxen for five dollars a day
to bring the cypress out of the swamp to the mill where we could get it cut. I
went in the swamp up to my neck and marked all the trees I wanted. It was the
first time I ever realized that a tree could be straight on three sides and crooked
on the fourth side. I had to walk all the way around the tree to be sure to get a
prime one. We took them as tall as we possibly could, because I had decided to
use the tops for my outbuildings, and the extreme tops to make quarter rounds
out of for chinking. We managed to get this cypress out to the mill.
H: What was it you said you were making for chinking?
P: Quarter round. You would take the tips of the trees that were about so big and
split them into four pieces.
H: So you could stick them in between the logs.
P: That is right. They would fit right in because the contour of the logs was such
that you could nail them right in. Then put your insulation in between and your
cement on the outside.
H: I see. You would cement it as the final insulation.
P: On the outside only. On the inner buildings I just left the quarter round in the
cracks, because it was practically airtight.
H: About how old were you when you did this?
P: I was nineteen when I started it. It took me three years of working and saving my
money to be able to come down for a month or so in the winter and do it.
H: So you would do it each year when you came?
P: Yes. I got a pair of carpenters to start with, and I stood and watched them pull
out one log. We were scalping them and fitting them and I told them they had
better take their tools [and leave]. I was paying them a fair salary at that time,
because I could not stand the pressure. I went and got two young men, one who
never studied in school. He always whittled, and he made beautiful little
alligators and frogs and things. I got him what tools he thought he needed, and
then I got him a burly boy that was a friend of a neighbor. The two of them built
one of the most beautiful log cabins I have ever seen.
H: How many rooms did your log cabin have?
P: The main house had three bedrooms and a 36' x 30' living room and dining
H: So they were combined.
P: Yes, the dining room and kitchen, not the living room. In other words, there were
H: Was 36' x 30' the size of the living room?
P: Yes, and the same with the dining/kitchen.
H: Were the three bedrooms [upstairs]? Was this a one-story house or two?
P: One story.
H: So that was a good-sized house.
P: Yes, it was.
H: You were nineteen years when you started. How old were when you were able
to move in?
P: I later moved to Tampa. I built it in stages. In other words, I got the foundation
up, and then I put the logs up and chinked them with shingles. I had hand-rafted
shingles from timbers that had sunk in the Oklawaha [River], and this old man
made my shingles for me. I chinked the logs while they were drying so they
would not sag, and I got the roof on. We built it in stages like that. I made
shutters for the windows out of big, wide boards so it could be entirely closed up
when I was away. That was even before I even put my windows in.
H: Were you able to move in and occupy it as a home?
P: It was over three years before I could.
H: What caused you to move to Tampa?
P: I went there to get a good job.
H: About what year would that have been?
P: I am eighty-three now. Let me figure back. I was about twenty years old.
H: So that would have been about 1926?
P: Yes, just about. No, it was a little earlier than that.
H: That would have about the time the boom was really going strong in Tampa.
P: It was going strong. Then I shifted to real estate over in Orlando.
H: How quick was that?
P: Well, almost during the time when I saw who was making the money.
H: I see. So you really did not stay in Tampa long in that go-around.
P: No, not long.
H: Did you sell some real estate when you went to Orlando?
P: Well, I was more or less a bird dog. I was very inexperienced.
H: But you were to find the prospects.
P: Yes, and bring them in.
H: How did you find them?
P: Through some advertising and a lot of talking at the chamber of commerce and
the benches on Lake Eola.
H: So you found prospects around town ..
P: That were looking for property.
H: And you said, "I know just the right thing."
H: Who was your boss? Where did you direct them?
P: To this company that I was connected with, and then the salesperson would take
over from there.
H: Did you get a commission, too?
H: Were you able to earn a living that way?
P: Oh, yes. They would buy anything back in those days. You talk about a buyer's
market that was it.
H: Were they what is commonly known as "suckers"?
P: Well, not really. They would be well heeled by now if they had held on to their
acreage that they bought.
H: But they were buying at a small percentage, like 10 percent down or something
P: Yes. Including myself. I bought three different properties that I thought were big
buys. I later walked away from them.
H: When the bust came along.
P: Yes. You could not even get anybody to live in the houses, let alone pay
H: By any chance were you married at any stage of this game?
P: About the tail end of it I married, but it did not work out very well.
H: That was the tail end of the real estate venture?
H: I see. How long did you stay in real estate over in Orlando? A year or two?
H: What happened after that?
P: Well, I was spending all that I had saved. Incidentally, this might be interesting,
too. I had decided to buy a new car before I went north to try to find a job. I
went to the bank that I had my money in to get right around $1,000 or $1,200
out, and they would not let me have my money.
H: They would not let you have your savings?
P: They would not let me have my savings. They said I had to notify them twenty-
four hours ahead before they would release that amount of my savings. I had
nearly $8,000 in the bank. I said, "Well, I will be back here tomorrow at this time,
and I want all my money."
H: So you were going to take it out.
P: The next day I went back at that time and got all of my money. Then I went to
the post office and put $5,000 in the postal savings, which was all you could put
in at that time. That same week the bank failed to open.
H: So you got your money out just in time before the bank went bust.
P: That is right. Incidentally, I think about 20 percent was all anyone got on what
they had [deposited in that bank].
H: That is probably right. That seemed to be about all anyone could get out of
these busted banks. So you picked a good time to pull it out.
P: Oh, boy! If they had let me have the $1,200, I would have left it in there.
H: And you would have lost the rest.
P: That is right.
H: Were you able to buy your car?
P: Oh, yes.
H: What did you buy? Was it a new car?
P: Yes. I think it was a Chevrolet.
H: Did you get in the car and drive north?
P: Well, not right away. I bought a tag and put it on the back: "Don't laugh, big boy.
This is paid for" [laughter]. All of these friends of mine had these big
H: So this was kind of an early-day bumper sticker, then.
P: That was.
H: You were still living in Orlando when all this was going on?
P: Yes. Then I went north.
H: Did you go to Baltimore again?
P: No, I went to Philadelphia. My brother had moved to Philadelphia in the
meantime, and I took an apartment there and got a job.
H: What kind of job this time?
P: Selling automobiles. I had decided to take up flying, so I used most of my
$5,000 for my flying lessons.
H: So you took flying lessons in Philadelphia?
P: Well, at Rydell Field in Camden, New Jersey, across the [Delaware] River.
H: What kind of plane did you learn to fly in?
P: An old jenny that threw castor oil in your face!
H: Did you learn to solo pretty quickly?
P: Fairly so.
H: Where did you fly?
P: I will never forget the first time I ever went up. I was afraid to come down!
H: This was when you were soloing?
P: It took a lot of nerve.
H: So you finally did.
S: Oh, sure. We were going to run out of gas if we did not.
H: Where did you fly after that?
P: Well, I messed around on barnstorming for a while. Then I came to Florida.
H: Were these barnstorming trips with these troupes that went around putting on
exhibitions at various places?
P: Yes. They would take you up for two dollars and hoped you got back.
[laughter] Later we got up to five dollars, so it was big business then.
H: Did you ever do any stunts?
P: Oh, you had to once in a while, but I never went in for that.
H: Did you ever have to use a parachute?
P: No, I did not. I wanted to later. After I came back to Florida, the maintenance on
the planes that they were using was so poor that I got smart and quit flying, and
quit riding, too, for a while.
H: So you decided it was not the safest thing to do, then.
P: Well, the maintenance was lousy, and they were cheap, old, worn-out planes,
nothing to start with.
H: Were you considered kind of a daring woman for your time?
P: Oh, I guess a very foolish woman for my time [laughter].
H: Did people ask you how in the world you had the nerve to do things like that?
P: Why, I even got letters from people telling me that I was being sacrilegious, that
only God and the angels flew, and all that kind of stuff. They told me that the
devil was inspiring me. Oh, you would be surprised.
H: So people thought you were really treading into outer space.
P: Yes, and had no business there.
H: This is a part of your career I had never heard about. How long would you say
P: Oh, probably a year and a half.
H: I see. That was the period when Amelia Earhart was going strong.
P: She was not even heard of.
H: She had not even started yet.
P: I had #3 license.
H: Number three license where?
P: For women.
H: Did you have to get your license from Washington?
H: Was there a particular agency that gave them out at that time?
P: Aviation agency.
H: Were women expected to dress in a particular way when they flew? Did you
have to wear riding britches and stuff like that?
P: Well, it was much more convenient to, because you had to climb in the planes.
There were no doors on them, and you had to climb up and in, and then do the
same thing coming out. So you always had on pants of some kind.
H: A lot of women seemed to wear leggings or puttees or boots or something like
P: No. You are thinking of a riding habit.
P: No, we did not go into that much because it was too cramped on your leg. You
flew more with your feet than with your hands back in those days.
H: Did these barnstorming outfits travel from town to town?
P: Yes. We covered fairs and anyplace there was some excitement where people
would gather and where the planes could land.
H: Were they mainly rural locations?
P: Well, semi. Small towns. Or beaches. I flew off of Daytona for a little while.
H: Were you flying in Florida as well as up the country?
P: I moved back to Florida and flew down here until I got scared of the planes.
Then I quit.
H: Do you remember the names of any of the outfits that you flew for?
P: They did not have outfits unless it was the Wild Dogs or some silly thing.
H: How many people were usually involved in an operation like that?
P: Well, that depended on how many had planes. It was anywhere from two to ten.
H: Each flyer had to own his own plane?
P: Oh, no.
H: How many planes were available?
P: A couple. There would be from two to ten people. You would have to sell the
passenger and take the money, and then someone would have to take them up.
Then he [the pilot] would have to have help down on the ground, so it took about
three people to handle each part, I mean, the physical part of it. You had to
crank them then.
H: Who had to do the cranking?
P: Whoever was handy and was physically able.
H: The pilot did not have to crank his own plane?
P: No, he was sitting in the seat if you were carrying passengers.
H: I see. So you flew around Daytona Beach?
P: A little bit.
H: Did you fly around any other Florida towns that you can remember?
P: Well, Tampa.
H: Did you fly out of Drew Field [in Tampa]?
P: No. My bird dog got rattlesnake bit in Drew Field before Drew Field was Drew
H: Well, I heard about planes hitting stumps in Drew Field about that time.
P: Oh, yes, out on Davis Island.
H: Well, that would have been a little later.
P: No, it was before.
H: Peter O'Knight was not started as an airport until 1935.
P: Peter O'Knight was started as an airport but was not recognized as such. We
had a guy by the name of Frankie Say in a little hangar down there.
H: That was out on the tip of Davis Island. This would have been before there was
any renovation or anything like that?
P: Oh, yes. This was in the late 1920s.
H: I know there were no houses out there, so this would have basically been along
a sandy strip, then.
P: Yes. Then he put up a shed to do the maintenance.
H: And did not do a very good job at that.
P: Well, nobody did. They did not have the tools or the knowhow.
H: Were people paying five dollars a flight to go up?
P: Mostly that was what they were paying. They wanted to fly out around the points
there and up the river.
H: Now, are you talking about Gadsden Point where McDill Air Force Base
eventually went in?
P: Yes, and over on the mainland, around the 22nd Street causeway.
H: Right, and then up the Hillsborough River.
P: Yes, those were the main points of interest.
H: Would you fly around for fifteen or twenty minutes?
P: No more than fifteen for five dollars. You could not afford to.
H: How high would you guess your altitude was at that point?
P: Oh, you would get up over 3,000 feet. Even over town I think you did not have to
get to any particular altitude as long as you did not interfere with anything. This
was in the 1920s.
H: Were these planes biplanes, with the two wings?
P: Some were one [wing] and some were the other. The single-wing planes were
just coming in.
H: I guess most of them were holdovers from World War I.
H: And the old jenny had two wings. Flying had a lot of glamour about it at that
point, and I guess a lot of people were intrigued by the novelty of it, too.
P: That is right.
H: This was probably the first flight for a lot of people.
P: Undoubtedly. If some of them got into a bit of trouble, it was probably their last
one, too. [laughter]
H: Were they scared?
P: Sure. We all were.
H: Did you ever have to lead any of them off the plane?
P: I had some wet seats. [laughter]
H: Did that provide you with a pretty good income for a while?
P: No. I usually had to scrounge around on another job. I am one of the few
people that if I wanted to do something, I would figure the cost, the time, the
energy, and all that, and if it did not hurt anyone else and I wanted to do it that
badly, I would go ahead and arrange to do it. It might take several years, like my
house building did.
H: You started to tell me that while you were flying in Tampa, you usually scrounged
around doing something else, too, for income.
P: Yes. I leased an apartment building, and an aunt of mine had come in from
Minnesota she had been living out there and I had here on the little
H: Where was the apartment building? Somewhere in the Hyde Park section?
P: It was in the Hyde Park section [of Tampa] Morningside Apartments.
H: I remember the name. Were you married at this point?
H: I see. The Depression was beginning to come on about this time, was it not?
P: It was on up the country. It had been on so long down here, before I left here in
early 1927, that I was kind of used to it.
H: Then I guess the stock market crashed hit the rest of the country.
P: Yes. That was in 1929.
H: So you were making a go of it in the depths of a depression, basically.
P: Oh, yes. I always ate regularly.
H: When did you get to know the mayor of Tampa, R. E. L. [Robert Edward Lee]
P: That was much later. My uncle that had raised me was ill, and the doctor up
there had recommended a specialist in Tampa, Dr. John Clifford Vinson, who
was a urologist. Our local doctor at Fort McCoy, Dr. Lisk, had recommended
that he needed an operation, and this man was the best one he knew. I took my
uncle down, and he verified the diagnosis and operated. I stayed down there
with him and attended him after his operation. I got to know the doctor quite
One evening he asked if I had had dinner, so he suggested that we go to
Columbia and have a bite a supper. I did, and from that we started going
together. Then after my uncle went back up home, why, I would bring the doctor
up for long weekends. I was still working on my log cabin.
H: Now, when you took the doctor up for long weekends, ...
P: We would stay there with my uncle and aunt.
H: Would he go up there to hunt and fish?
P: Oh, yes. Both of us were crazy about hunting and fishing. Then after we got a
little more involved, he decided the log cabin was a good thing and that he would
enjoy that. So we were married, and we used the camp. By that time we were
able to finish and furnish the cabin. Then we used it for entertainment. Back in
those days doctors could not advertise, but they could invite other doctors that
might refer patients to them.
H: So that was a way they got business, then.
P: That is right. He had been out of business in Tampa for a number of years
because he and his wife had separated and divorced. He had joined A. [Alfred]
I. DuPont in a world cruise as the ship's doctor and had been on that for a couple
of years. So he had to reestablish himself when he came back to Tampa to get
his contacts for referrals. He would even operate in Arcadia, Fort Myers, and
different places, making it more convenient for the patients to be in their own
neighborhoods while recuperating.
H: Where was his office in Tampa at that time?
P: First National Bank building.
H: Would he operate at Tampa General Hospital?
P: Yes, and also I remember on two occasions he even went to the old colored
hospital, Clara Frye, where he did some operations. I watched him. I was quite
interested in it.
H: I guess he probably had to do a lot of prostrate operations and things like that.
P: Yes, prostrate, kidney, and bladder. He had quite a few with cancers that
involved the bladder. I used to drive him and either wait for him, visit someone,
or something like that while he was operating. He could sleep very well in the
car, so he would sleep while we were driving back to Tampa. That way he would
be ready for business the next morning.
H: This was when he would be operating in another city.
P: Yes, that is right.
H: When you said you had watched the operations, were you basically just an
observer, or did you help?
P: Just an observer.
H: You were not helping out as a nurse or anything like that?
P: No. If it were an unusual case that he thought I would be interested in, I would
dress for the operating room and watch it. The stench was awful when they
were burning the cancers out. It was horrible.
H: I did not realize they used a burning technique in those days.
P: Yes, he did. He was one of the early ones.
H: It was not just cutting.
P: I remember one woman had a cancer that looked like a cauliflower that had been
beaten up. The shape of it was somewhat the same as a cauliflower.
H: So it was an internal growth.
P: Yes. Between the odor of the cancer and the odor of the burning flesh, it was
pretty awful, so I did not go to many. I then specialized in watching them take
stones out of kidneys, which was very interesting.
H: I guess so.
P: Some of the patients had a whole handful.
H: Kidney stones were really clogging it up, then. What years would you guess
those were? The early 1930s?
H: Was it through Dr. Vinson that you got to know Mayor Chancey?
P: Yes. The fact of the matter is they liked to fish and hunt, too, so we invited them
up to the camp every so often.
H: So they would come up on weekends?
H: I never knew Mrs. Chancey's name. I know he was known as Bob Chancey.
What was her name?
H: They had a son named Billy who ran a filling station near the Times when I was
P: That is right. By the way, Billy is still going strong. He has had cancer. He is
retired, and he plays a little golf.
H: Did the Chanceys look upon this as a break from the routine of the troubles of
running the city?
P: Oh, sure.
H: Now, you once told me about going fishing with people like Edwin Thomas and
some of the other people in the city administration.
P: Well, Edwin Thomas was R. L. [Chancey's] nephew.
H: I did not know that.
P: Yes. He had a nice cabin-type boat that had a sail as well as auxiliary [power],
and we went out on that once in a while. I had a small boat with an outboard
motor, and that was our basic fishing boat. Our basic fishing was for bass.
H: Where did you go?
P: There are lakes all over south Florida, including Lake Okeechobee and the
H: The one from the Caloosahatchee River near Fort Myers up towards [Lake
P: Yes. [We also went] up at my place from there right through the scrub, the
Oklawaha River, the St. Johns River.
H: So you were all over.
P: Yes. Well, it was more interesting to go to different places than the same place,
because we were just as interested in sightseeing as we were in catching fish,
although we usually managed to get them wherever we went.
H: When you went out on a fishing trip, did you start out early in the morning, at five
or six in the morning?
P: Sometimes, depending on how badly we wanted to fish.
H: When along in there did you meet Marjorie [Kinnan] Rawlings?
P: I met Marjorie back when I first started my camp in the 1930s.
H: She had just moved down with Charles?
H: How did you happen to meet her?
P: Well, this old friend of mine who was an old bachelor from Virginia that I had
known pretty well all my life he was also a friend of my uncle's had met her.
Now, how he met her, I do not know. But he realized that they were in bad
financial shape. They had bought this grove and put their money in that, and the
price of fruit had gone to thirty cents a box.
H: Those were hard times in the citrus business.
P: They had to pay fifteen cents to get them picked and hauled to the packing
house that was at Island Grove. He told me, "Dessie, they do not know anything
about living off the land, having a garden, and all that. Times are hard, and I
would like for you to go over and meet them and show them the facts of life."
H: This was the bachelor asking you to go over and help them out.
P: Yes. So he drove me over. Charles [Rawlings] was not at home, but Marge
was. He introduced me, and we hit it off pretty well. From that I asked her to go
hunting. When we went hunting, I found that she was flinching very badly, so I
swapped guns with her. I had a little L. C. Smith double barrel .20 gauge. That
turned out to be a very good gun, by the way.
H: Was this a gun that did not hit [recoil against] her quite as badly?
P: Well, I traded guns with her. I gave her mine, and she shot at the next batch of
quails; she got two. I got kicked so hard trying to use her gun I had a headache
the balance of the day. I did not draw a feather.
H: So her gun was kicking pretty badly.
P: Her gun did not fit her at all. The stock was about an inch and a half too long,
and the barrel had been cut down to twenty-four inches. Boy, it kicked like a
H: Had that been her first hunting trip ever?
P: No, she had been hunting before, but this gun kicked her so hard she would
flinch, and then she would miss whatever she was shooting at.
H: I see.
P: I had taught her to shoot squirrels. They had a pecan tree at the end of the
house where they later put the drive under, and the squirrels used to come from
that hammock across the way and steal the pecans. Once they got in the tree,
you could not seem them on account of the [Spanish] moss, it had so much
moss in it. On this particular case (I do not know whether you want this or not),
she and Charles had had a big fuss, and he and Clarence Stout had gone to the
barn. In the meantime, a squirrel ran across the yard and up the tree. So Marge
went in and got my gun that I had left with her. She was sitting inside the door
waiting for the squirrel to come across the yard with a nut. It was not screened
at that time. Charles started coming back to the house, and as he cleared the
corner, he saw the end of this barrel sticking out. [laughter] He left and stayed
quite a good long while.
H: He figured she was hunting for something else.
P: [He must have thought] she was waiting for him! [laughter]
H: I guess they had their problems about that time.
P: Yes. Now, to me the saddest thing about their whole life was that their popularity
and everything occurred almost simultaneously.
H: Are you saying that both of them were beginning to be successful at about the
[Break in the tape]
H: Let us resume with your telling about Charles Rawlings's going to Tarpon
P: Okay. He had asked me about somebody that could get him an entree down
there into the sponge crowd. My then-husband [Dr. John Cliff Vinson] had
treated a lot of them for bends and other diseases, and he knew them very well.
Charles wanted to be introduced by somebody that carried a little weight to get
him a trip out on the sponge boats. So I wired him to come on down but to bring
plenty of snake bite remedy. He did; he came by bus.
H: This was Charles.
P: This was Charles. We picked him up and went over to Tarpon Springs as soon
as Cliff's office hours were over. We went to Tarpon Springs and went to Louis
Pappas's place. It was a hole in the wall with a little bar, and the facilities were
out back. You had to walk a foot log in wet weather to get to them. Cliff asked
Louis to fix up a nice appetizer and things because we were going to invite these
sponge boys to have a drink. Louis said, "The only thing I have is twelve bottles
of home brew and a case of orange pop." Cliff said, "You can cook us up a good
meal and fix us something to nibble on in the meantime." He said, "Oh, no,
Doctor. I have no money, and my credit is no good." Cliff gave him twenty
dollars to go out and get the food to prepare for us, and we held the fort down
while he was gone.
H: This was about five o'clock in the afternoon?
P: Yes. Back in those days you could hardly carry the amount of food that you
could buy for twenty dollars, and [here came Louis with all that food]. He started
in making the appetizers by breaking the lettuce. He had some leftover potato
salad from his lunch (he had had hot dogs and potato salad for his lunch). He
put the potato salad in the middle of this big platter of lettuce leaves, and then he
added all these things that he had annexed radishes, cucumbers, onions,
tomatoes, anchovies, shrimp, feta cheese, the ripe and green olives. This was
being stacked on a fourteen-inch platter, and it was about nine inches high when
he got through with it.
As these divers that Cliff knew drifted in, we gave them a drink of orange pop -
spiked and we told them to have some cheese or olives or whatever. They
reached over and helped themselves from the platter. In the meantime, Louis
had started cooking the lamb that he was famous for. This went on until about
one-thirty in the morning.
Finally the champion of the fleet, whose name was Steve John, came in. Cliff
had treated both him and his wife previously, so he asked Steve John over and
asked him about his wife. "She is fine. She is fine." He asked, "Do you have
any bambinos yet?" Steve said, "No, sir, Doctor. Me no good. Me no good."
Cliff, being the egotist that he was, said, "It is not your fault. It is your wife's fault.
You send her to me, and I will fix her so she can have your bambino, provided
you take my friend here out to the sponge banks." He had his own boat, see.
We had a drink, and we kept on talking about it. Cliff made the proposition
again, and he said, "Doctor, you can do that?" Cliff said, "Oh, yes. It is her fault.
It is probably something minor." Finally they shook hands on it, that he would
take Charles out to the sponge banks on his trip, and he would send his wife
over to Cliff in his office in Tampa for an examination and treatment.
That was agreed on, so we took Charles back to Tampa. I brought him back the
next day because the boat was sailing the next day. They were gone six weeks.
Then he called us from Tarpon Springs when they got back in and asked us to
come over for supper. He gave Louis some money to go get the supper. He
had invited the boat crew for this supper, too, and we carried the snake bite
[remedy] over. We all had quite a party.
H: This was all during Prohibition.
P: Yes. Then Charles, in writing the article, described this food, including the birth
of the Greek salad that he had witnessed.
H: As far as you know, that was the beginning of the Greek salad.
P: That was the birth of the Greek salad.
H: That is what made Pappas and his restaurant famous.
P: That is right. Charles included that because on the boat they had eaten mostly
cheese, olives, bread, and coffee during all this six weeks. The divers did not
want to eat any meat because their breath then would fog their glass. So
Charles put all this, including the making of the food and all that, in his article.
Consequently, when he got it finished, Cliff had suggested that he send it to the
Atlantic Monthly, because at that time the Atlantic Monthly magazine was the
adventure magazine. Charles wrote it up and sent it with the pictures he had
gotten some beautiful pictures. [The water was so clear in] some of the areas
that the divers were working on that you could even see them gathering the
sponge through the water. He had a beautiful catalog of all the activities. Cliff
read the article and said, "This is an Atlantic Monthly article, so you send it to
them." Well, he finished it and sent it to them.
In about two weeks I was up there, and he showed me the letter that he had
gotten back, plus the manuscript. They said that it was a very good article, but
they could not use it at that time. Well, Charles was, of course, very
disappointed. When Cliff got up there that weekend he said, "That article was
read by some little old twenty-dollar-a-week copy reader. He does not even
know good literature. You send this to the editor." If I remember right, the
editor's name was Lambright at that time.
H: He would have been the editor of the Tribune.
P: No, no. This was up the country, too. Whoever was the editor, Cliff said, "You
send that to him. Write him a letter and tell him that I, Dr. J. C. Vinson of Tampa,
Florida, had insisted that you submit this to him personally for his approval."
Well, Charles did not have anything better to do, so he wrote it back up and sent
to this guy personally and wrote the letter. The guy wired him, "Beautiful article.
We are accepting it. Anything else that you have on the subject, we would be
glad to look at." He was accepted by the Atlantic Monthly.
The week following that he got a wire from the Saturday Evening Post, and they
wanted any information that he had on the sponge fleets. He started out
including a lot of these recipes and descriptions of the food that we were eating
in the articles, as well as what they ate on the boat and all that stuff. So it made
beautiful articles. He had pictures, too, to back it up. The Saturday Evening
Post accepted his article and paid him $13,000 for it. So he was off and running.
H: So it appeared in the Saturday Evening Post rather than in the Atlantic Monthly.
P: It appeared in both, but it was enough different in the descriptions and
photographs that both were almost simultaneously the feature articles.
H: So that $13,000 really got them out of the hole.
P: Oh, man. Marge's South Moon Under, in the meantime, had been selected for
the Book of the Month Club, and she was starting to get big write-ups and
notices on it. Almost instantaneously the two of them became very popular.
Each one thought they were the genius and that the other one ought to dance
when they whistled.
[That went on] to such an extent that [it came up again] at least twenty years
later when I went to Newfoundland and saw Charles. He was living in Maine,
and I stopped over while visiting some friends in Maine. I called him, and we
agreed to meet at this restaurant that served beautiful lobster out over the water.
I annexed a bottle of Captain Cook's 151-proof rum that Charles liked very well.
I took the 151-proof Captain Cook and some limes, and we sat there
overlooking the water working on this rum and making daiquiris out of them. Of
course, we discussed Marge.
H: They had been long divorced by then.
P: Oh, yes, and he had remarried a couple of times. And Marge was remarried by
then. Anyway, he told me, "Dessie, if I had known that Marge had the potentials
of the greatness that she has shown, I would have subjected myself to her."
H: I gather he considered it an ordeal.
P: Yes. [laughter]
H: Did that come about in 1953 when they both began to hit it [alcohol] strong?
P: Just about.
H: Because that is about when the divorce came about, as I recall.
P: Yes, but this was previous to that. They carried on for I would say nearly a year
after they were having "confuberties" over their each one's being the prima
donna. In fact, I think Marge made up her mind on the river trip that we made.
H: In her reference to the river trip she talks about how she was so down in the
dumps when she started out.
P: That is right.
H: So I assumed that it had something to do with her marriage difficulties at that
H: So that river trip, the Hyacinth Drift, as she called it, was a way to get away from
her troubles at home.
P: That is right.
H: I remember your giving a description from one of the annual meetings of the
[Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings] Society, and it sounded like you were really roughing
it out there.
P: Oh, we were sleeping on cots under a mosquito net. We had a tent, but we
never stretched it the whole trip. We were [out there for] ten days. We had
beautiful weather. We had a sack of pine splinters and a side of home-cured
bacon and a home-cured ham, a few canned goods, and the makings for corn
bread and biscuits. Of course, we had coffee and tea. We had a couple of
Dutch ovens. I had a .22 rifle that I got a duck with. Then, of course, we caught
numerous fish. I did; Marge did not do much fishing. Her job was to cook and
clean the dishes, and my job was to handle the boat and make and break camp.
I went fishing after setting up what little camp we needed while she was cooking
whatever we had to cook that night.
H: So you broke the camp and did all the boat handling.
H: Tell me about the episode with the rich folks on the dock [laughter]. That was a
funny one. How did that happen?
P: Well, we had used up most of our gas, which was two five-gallon cans and a
two-gallon can, in coming from Fort Christmas, [Florida] to Sanford, so we were
going to have to re-gas there. That was our first opportunity from where we had
left from. We had intended to get in the cove and have a bath and put on clean
clothes before getting into Sanford.
H: Now, when you say "getting in the cove and putting on clean clothes," you mean
just skinny-dip and take a bath.
P: Oh, yes. But we forgot it was Sunday, and the fishermen were all out. Every
time we found a cove and started to shuck off, here would come a fishing boat.
We had to go into Sanford, and I had had to chink the boat some the evening
H: You had a leak or two?
P: Yes, the boat was leaking. I tore up the shirt that I had on, and, using some tar I
had with me in a can, I chinked the boat. I leaned it up on the oars and chinked
it in order to stop the leaks. I had gotten some tar on me. I had on a pair of
dungarees and another shirt. I had my pistol on one side of my belt and my knife
on the other.
The only place that had stairs leading up to the dock, which was about ten or
twelve feet high, over in Sanford was right next to this gorgeous yacht. The
attendants there were in uniform. As I undid my belt to take my pistol and knife
off, the owner of the yacht was looking down at us. He was about ten feet above
us, just gazing down at us with this very quizzical expression on his face. When I
saw him, I asked, "Is it safe to go ashore in this man's town without your
artillery?" [laughter] He, in this very cautious English accent, said, "That all
depends on how badly you are wanted." I said, "Well, the reward was not too
high when we started out, but maybe they have raised the ante now."
I got up there on the dock with my two five-gallon cans, and there was no filling
station in sight. I asked where the nearest filling station was, and he said, "Oh, it
is several blocks uptown." I looked kind of quizzical myself, I guess, and he said,
"I have a limousine here, and I will be glad for you to use it to go get some petrol.
I have the tanks coming down, but that is later in the day."
About that time, apparently, his wife stepped out in this gorgeous white dress
with a pink hat, pink shoes, and long, white gloves. She turned to him and said,
"You know I have to get to church immediately." Well, of course, that fusses him
a little bit, so he turned to me and said, "The car will be back in ten minutes and
be at your disposal."
In ten minutes it was back, because Sanford, being a small town, you could go
all over it in ten minutes. He sent this uniformed driver in this limousine with
Marge and me. She had on a pair of big-legged pajamas with big red roses
about the size of your hand. She had annexed a little bit of the tar, too, so we
are not very choice-looking morsels. We got in there with our two five-gallon
cans, and he drove us downtown. We got the gas and bought a paper, and we
got back and switched around. Of course, we thanked him profusely. Then he
moved up to the bow of the boat, which was heading the way we were going,
and he was waving just as far as he could see us. I said to Marge, "The poor
son of a bitch wishes he was going with us!" [laughter]
H: He probably did wish he were going with you.
P: I am sure he did. That was where she had quoted me after having identified me.
That was why she wanted me to testify when the census taker was suing her for
$100,000 after having been identified with a little strong language. Then when I
was just out of service ...
H: You had been in the WACs [Women's Army Corps]?
P: I was in the air corps then.
H: I guess they call them the WAFs [Women's Air Force]?
P: No, the regular air corps, not the WAFs. She wanted to make the point that it
had not injured my health or embarrassed me so much as this census taker was
claiming. The judge read this passage in the chapter, and he asked, "Is that
your usual way of talking about people?" I said, "Well, when it suits whoever I
am talking about, . ." [laughter] So he cleared the deck, everybody laughed so.
Then Marge was found guilty of invasion of privacy.
H: Well, I know she was eventually, but I thought she was let off at first.
P: Oh, this was way long. This thing had been going on for five and a half years
when I was testifying. See, I was in the service.
H: So this was a later trial, then.
P: This was the final trial.
H: So you say she was found guilty of invasion of privacy.
P: Invasion of privacy, and the damages awarded were one dollar. We proved that
this old gal had held a job all this time and had gained thirty-nine pounds. So
she could not have been very sick.
H: There has been an implication in the book on the libel trial that one of the things
that got the census taker upset was that Marge was a closer friend to you than
she was to her. Had that ever occurred to you? Do you think that was a factor
P: I am sure it was, but we were not closer because of any particular effort on my
part. By that time, Marge had been taken up by the university crowd, and I had
been entirely out of the picture for a long time. I was working in Tampa and was
H: So you were out of circulation in Cross Creek.
[Break in the tape]
H: At this point, Ms. Prescott has discussed some details of her divorce that she
decided would not be apropos on the tape. We will continue the conversation
now and talk about an experience she had working in city hall in Tampa while
working in the tax department back in the 1930s. This was after your marriage
was over, was it not?
H: You were working in the tax collector's office.
P: I was out making a check on a new restaurant that was supposed to open down
on the waterfront [in west Tampa] for a new housing project. There were a lot of
weeds and things growing up along the edges. I was walking on a path that went
through these, and the next thing I knew, I felt an awful pain in my leg. I looked
down, and a big tom cat had me by the shin. I had to tromp him off with my
other foot. He ran off into where they had been dumping a lot of stuff on the
edge of the river.
I called on the radio to get a policeman. The car that answered had the world's
best pistol shot in it; he had just won the national mid-winter pistol matches, a
man by the name of Stando. I told him to be sure if we found the cat to shoot it
in the fanny because I wanted to send the head off to be analyzed [for rabies].
We got down into the dump, and pretty soon we bounced the cat, and he did
shoot it in the fanny. I took the cat and went on back down to the health
department. Well, there were no facilities in Tampa to analyze the cat for rabies,
so they helped me wrap it, and we sent it to the state laboratory in Jacksonville.
My boss, who was a very timid man, insisted that immediately I go and start
taking treatments for rabies and not wait. I said, "No, I want to wait a little while
to be sure," because I understood that the treatment was rather severe. He
asked, "Why do you want to wait?" I said, "I want to go around and bite a few
people I know!" He jumped about three feet! The results were positive, so I had
to take nineteen of the treatments. But I never got around to biting anybody.
H: You said that you had to take the shots in your side?
P: The side of your belly and your buttocks.
H: When we were having lunch, we were also talking about when you took Marge
Rawlings out fox hunting. You talked about the moonlight nights. Please
P: Well, we usually did it on moonlight nights. We were on horseback. Of course,
even on moonlight nights with good eyesight, you did not see all the grape vines
and spider webs that you end up going through. We went out hunting until
probably about daylight.
H: So you were out all night.
P: Yes. Well, it was usually about eight or nine o'clock before we got started.
When we were fox hunting, we never knew when we would end up.
H: Did you ever catch or shoot any foxes? What did you do with them?
P: We usually just got the dogs off after they had treed or holed one and let the fox
go for another good race. We had had our fun and found out which dogs were
H: Where did you go?
P: Over on the edge of the prairie, the meadows and Black Sink Prairie in the north
end of Marion County.
H: Would you say you went half a dozen times or more?
P: Oh, yes. We did not go to night clubs or things like that. We made our own fun.
H: When you talked about the snake medicine before, were there places you could
find moonshine around Marion and Alachua counties at that point?
P: We had it delivered in ten-gallon kegs. They were new kegs that were charred
inside. Then we aged it ourselves.
H: What do you mean by "aged it yourself"?
P: Well, anything that was fresh moonshine and put in charred kegs, in six months
it was very good liquor.
H: So you kept it six months, then.
P: Yes. We would kick it every time we went by the keg to agitate it a little bit.
Usually you would lay them on their sides, so you would probably turn it a little
H: So that would give it a little jostle, then.
P: Yes, and make it absorb more of the charred inside. They used white oak as the
wood for the kegs.
H: Would that be delivered from somewhere out in the woods?
H: Did you know some of the participants?
P: Oh, yes. We all had the same bootlegger, who was excellent. He made it out of
the spring-fed water that ran into the Oklawaha River. He was very clean with
H: You did not find any stray rats or roaches?
P: True. He kept screens on them. That is a big item, by the way.
H: I am sure it would be.
P: Back in those days, even the squirrels would get into the mash; they would fall
in. As a rule, they just poked them out and cooked them right up. Of course,
they were sterile by then. [laughter]
H: How much did the moonshine cost?
P: I think it was thirty dollars for ten gallons, three dollars a gallon. That's right.
H: One of the books on Marjorie Rawlings says that she had a little spot alongside
her fireplace that was kind of a little liquor cabinet tucked away. That was her
favorite spot, I guess.
P: Well, she did most of her aging, though, back in the closet in her back bedroom,
which was not used very regularly.
H: Did she ever have any problems with exploding bottles?
P: It was always in kegs.
H: Oh, I see.
P: Then we would draw it out into maybe a smaller keg. If we wanted it in bottles,
we bottled it then. But that was always after it had completely fermented.
H: I see. When you were referring to home brew, were you talking about whiskey or
H: How was the home brew made? In the bath tub?
P: No, it was made in earthen containers or five-gallon glass jugs, and then bottled
when it was still working so that it was charged when opened. That is when the
explosions occurred. If it got too much pressure, it would blow the caps off or the
sides out of the bottles.
H: Did you ever hear of any casualties on account of these explosions?
P: Well, I was afraid to go down in the cellar of my brother's house for a long time
because of explosions. Glass would fly. It was frightening. There was a lot of
H: I guess just about everybody that had a taste for anything strong had to rely on
things like that.
P: They had to make it themselves. That's right.
H: So a lot of people were making it, then.
P: Oh, yes. And homemade wines, too.
H: Did they use homegrown grapes?
P: Any kind blackberry mostly here. At that time there were not very many grapes
in the state.
H: What about scuppernong?
P: Yes. I still think that is the best-flavored grape there is.
H: You said that in World War II you served in the air force.
P: Well, I was in the WAAC and the WAC.
H: That was the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps.
P: Then we were discharged out of the WAAC, and the ones that were
recommended then were taken into the regular army. At that time, the WAAC
had no pensions, hospitalization, or anything.
H: That was the first group, when it was strictly an auxiliary.
P: That is right.
H: And there were no side benefits at all.
P: None at all. You got fifty dollars a month pay.
H: That was in the early months of the war, was it not? Maybe the first year or two?
P: Yes, the first year.
H: How did you happen to go into the service?
P: Well, I had two brothers that were in World War I, and I figured this was mine.
H: And your marriage was over by then.
P: I was single at the time. I took a leave of absence from my job, sold my stock,
and leased my farm.
H: What was the job you left to go into the WAAC?
P: City license inspector in Tampa.
H: So that was the job in Tampa, then?
H: You also said you took a lease on your land?
P: I had a hog farm out of Tampa off of Bearss Avenue and Florida Avenue. I
leased that and sold my stock.
H: How big a hog farm did you have?
P: I had eighty acres.
H: Do you know that that is full of subdivisions now?
P: I know. There are beautiful houses all over there. But the Lowell house that I
lived in is still there.
H: That is where you were living when you worked downtown at city hall?
P: Well, I had it and stayed out there. I had to have a legal residence in town.
H: Oh, that is right. They did require you to be within the city limits.
P: So I had an address in town, too.
H: Were you raising the hogs out there, or was somebody doing it for you?
P: Well, I had help, of course, but it was my deal.
H: Did you have to fool with them to any extent?
P: Well, I helped vaccinate them and things of that type when that time rolled
H: When you say helped vaccinate, do you mean hold them down, or give them the
P: Both hold them and shoot them. [laughter]
H: How many hogs did you have?
P: The most I had at any one time was four hundred.
H: So you were really out in the country at that point.
P: Yes, it was the boondocks.
H: Were you able to make a pretty good side income from your hogs?
P: No. We hit the lowest cycle price-wise that has ever been known. For five years
three and a half cents [per pound] was tops in the hog market. I butchered out a
whole bunch of them and sold a lot of young hogs for barbecues and things of
that type. The Latin population would rather have a hog for Thanksgiving and
Christmas than a turkey.
H: Of course, pork was a staple for a good many of the Cuban people in Tampa.
H: Particularly at Christmastime, with their Noches Buenas. So that would be very
much a delicacy.
P: Oh, we sold hundreds of them.
H: At three and a half cents a pound?
P: Well, I got a little more if I sold them individually. That was the wholesale price,
three and a half cents.
H: So you had to lease that farm when you took off for the service, and you said
you sold your stock. Were you referring to the hog stock?
P: Yes, the livestock.
H: At first I thought you meant stock from the stock market.
P: No, I did not have any.
H: Was that about 1941 or 1942 when you went in?
P: I went in in early 1942, before they got the corps organized.
H: I see. So you were one of the first in, then.
P: I was in the third class.
H: Where did they send you?
P: I was in Daytona for a while. Then I was selected to go to Officers Training
School in Fort Des Moines, Iowa.
H: And you came out a second lieutenant?
H: How long was the officers training course at that point?
P: Three months.
H: Did you ever have to fire a rifle in that part of it?
P: Oh, no.
H: They did not want the women firing weapons at that point.
P: No. After that, though, they were fixing to organize an anti-aircraft battalion of
women, and I volunteered for that because at that time I was a fair wing shot.
H: When you volunteered, did they accept you?
P: No. I was on standby, and then the do-gooders and politicians decided we
should not do it.
H: They did not want the women to soil their fingers on something like that.
H: So what did you do instead?
P: Instead of that, when I was assigned I asked for cooks and bakers or ambulance
duty. I was a pretty good bush mechanic and I thought a fair cook. They sent
me to administrative school for basic training. From there I went on to Officers
H: So you never got your hands into pies?
P: I never got into any dough! [laughter]
H: In the administrative part of it, did they have you looking after records and things
of that nature?
P: Yes, and checking morning reports.
H: Where were you stationed then?
P: In Daytona. I went from Daytona to Fort Des Moines, Iowa.
H: After you became an officer, what did they have you doing then?
P: Well, I was sent back to Daytona and was a company officer until the air corps
requested a group to see if they wanted to have their own corps. I was in the
first fifty that went to San Antonio, Texas. I stayed with the Central Flying
Training Command, then, until the end of the war.
H: So that is where you got your "desert" duty.
H: When you talked about these God-forsaken bases that were stuck out in the
middle of the desert in Texas and Oklahoma, were they little training sites? Was
that the idea?
P: Yes. The main one out there was a coordinating bombardier base. In other
words, it was the first time that these pilots would be flying in formation. The
accidents were plentiful.
H: Were they bumping into each other?
H: When did you get into the Special Services? Was that later on?
P: Oh, that was about 1943. I was on recruiting for the air corps for two years after
going with them. Then they reassigned us.
H: When you were recruiting for the air corps, was that for the women members of
the air corps or for men and women?
P: Men and women. We were giving the air cadets their MAT tests in the field
before they were transported to hospitals and training centers.
H: What were MAT tests?
P: Military Intelligence Tests. It took an hour and a half of uninterrupted tests
before we would send them in as applicants. It was cheaper to give it to them in
the different areas where we were assigned than it was to send them in for the
test until we knew that mentally and physically at least mentally they were
H: To be air cadets?
P: Yes, that plus technical personnel for the hospitals and what have you.
Incidentally, a very funny thing happened out in Arkansas when I was out there
recruiting. I got a letter from this girl who said her sister had had two years of
nurse's training but had gone back to the farm and was living out there on her
parents. She was physically able, and this sister wanted her to get into some
branch of the service. I went out there to see her, and I had to go through two
gates to get to her home. I knocked at this rather nice house. Finally her mother
came to the door, and I asked for the daughter. She said, "She is out in the
barn." I went out to the barn, and she was trimming a horse's hoofs. She had a
horse with its foot on a block, and she had a chisel and hammer going around
the edges of his hoof, taking off the overhang. I told her that I was with the
WACs and that I understood she had two years of nurse's training. I said that we
needed people with that background very badly at the time, and would she
consider coming in for a physical. She said, without quitting her chipping on the
horse's hoof, "Well, I have been hearing a lot of stories about them there
WACs." I said, "Yes, that is true; maybe some of them were true. But all my life
I have been hearing about the farmer's daughter. How many of those are true?"
[laughter] Needless to say, the young man that was with me took off back to the
car about that time. Finally, after a couple more exchanges, I decided that
mentally she was not qualified [laughter].
H: She had a few mental objections to the WACS.
P: "Them there WACs," and I told her about the farmer's daughter.
H: So after you had been in recruiting for a couple years, then they changed things?
P: We closed the program down. We had gotten down to sixteen-year-old cadets,
so they closed it down. I was reevaluated. That is when I asked for the salt
H: Explain what you meant by the salt mines.
P: Well, it was a desolate, undeveloped area of Texas and Oklahoma. That had
been the only activity out there, outside of a few jack rabbits. The towns were
very small. These mines were all closed down at that time because other areas
with a better grade of salt that was easier to mine had been found.
H: So it was not just a descriptive term that was said in jest, then.
P: No, it was true.
H: This is where the bases were, also?
P: A lot of them were so far out. They had to be on account of the accidents. They
did not want planes falling on people and killing them.
H: They did not want these planes over the cities because there were so many
P: That is right.
H: That is kind of like the "one-a-day in Tampa Bay" routine where these planes
were falling in the bay during the war.
P: Yes, that is right.
H: Tell us about your taking over Special Services at the base where everything
was so "God-forsaken that nothing was going on" until you got there.
P: Well, the officer in charge was a major, and he had a moving back pain. Every
time they would get ready to operate, why, the pain would move to some other
place. Then they would have to go through all the tests again. This base was
isolated and not considered a choice spot at all. Morrell had not done a thing in
reference to any entertainment programs or something for the troops to do.
Being such an isolated place, there was nothing for them do to when they were
off duty except drink beer in the service club that was hotter than that place you
do not want to go to. I initiated several educational programs, including electric,
plumbing, minor carpentry, and things of that nature for the boys to do in their off
time. We worked twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week, so somebody
was always off duty, somebody was sleeping, and somebody was working.
The boys ate up these little short courses. We would have just enough to enable
them to change a switch and a light bulb or maybe fix a plug-in or something of
that type, to change a ball in a toilet, and maybe put a lock and key in a door or
something of that type. I just made it possible for them to learn what these
different tools were used for. They really loved it. They could go as much as
they wanted to. I got the old maintenance men on the post to teach these
H: Tell us about the electric fan situation.
P: Well, we had no air conditioning in the projection room in the theater, which was
one of our projects. Special Services in the military included the service clubs,
the libraries, and parts of the PX, so it was quite versatile. Any entertainment
that we had had to be brought in, being isolated the way we were. I got a couple
of old floors that had been used for wrestling training and put them together to
make a little dance floor. These black-tarred roofed and sided houses even at
night in the desert were terribly hot. As I said, air conditioning as such was
unknown then. The only air conditioning that I knew of on the post was in the
theater, and it was a bunch of excelsior with the drip hose over it and a suction
fan inside drawing the air in. We were able to lower the temperature in the
theater twenty degrees from the outside.
I counted fourteen fans that were visible in the office of this engineer. They
told me they did not have any fans and could not spare any. I told him that if I
did not have a fan for the projection room of the theater by noon the next day, I
would go to the post commander and tell that he had fourteen fans going in his
office and that I thought he could spare at least one. Well, at 10:00 the next day
I had a fan.
H: When you got out of the war, what did you do when you came back?
P: Well, I took six months off and went hunting and fishing. I started looking for a
place for a hunting and fishing camp. I had decided I was so far behind that
unless I made a business out of it I would never catch up.
H: So you made a business out of what was basically a hobby until then.
P: That I did, after I found the camp.
H: What about your old log cabin in the woods in Sparr? What happened to that?
P: It had burned in the meantime. It was burned.
H: So it was arson?
P: Yes. I was in Tampa at the time, and the person was never caught.
H: I see. But you have a good idea who did it?
P: I am positive.
H: Do you think there was some maliciousness involved there?
P: Cliff [my ex-husband].
H: So it was part of the aftermath, then. Well, that is a shame. When you started
to look for a camp after the war, where did you look?
P: Well, I made an offer on the "four corners" of the Suwanee where [U.S. Highway]
19 [intersects with Florida 26, near Four Sides Bridge]. The agent that had the
property listed wanted $36,000, and all I had was $26,000. He insisted they
would not take it. It was an estate. I insisted on his making the offer, and by
golly, they took it, and he bought it out from under me, with a friend. The friend
later stole it from him.
H: So justice was done.
P: Yes. The four corners included Fanning Springs and 1,300 acres of land.
H: So you had to look elsewhere then.
P: I was going to put in a couple of landing barges and run trips down the Suwanee
to where they had dug for gold down there, and then have a shore dinner down
there, with swamp cabbage, fish, and what have you, and then bring them back.
It was twenty-six miles from the bridge to the gulf.
H: That is the bridge across the Suwanee at Fanning Springs?
P: Yes. I was going to put in a motel and restaurant at the spring and the highway
and have my boat attendants play banjo and guitar. You ask anybody in the
United States what the most romantic river is in the United States, and they
invariably say the Suwanee. Then I wanted to run an early supper deal down the
river and have a camp down there and serve fish, hush puppies, and swamp
cabbage. I also wanted recordings of Stephen Foster on the barges.
H: But none of that worked out, though.
P: No, he bought it from under me. I started looking again, and I found this location
on the Withlacoochee River at Highway 19.
H: Was that the one at Crystal River?
P: Well, not the one I am in now, no. I developed it from the woods.
H: Where was the one on the Withlacoochee at Highway 19 that you found at that
P: That was on the southeast side of the river at 19 at Inglis.
H: So that is where the cross-state canal goes now?
P: Just above that. I later bought the piece of land between me and the cross-state
H: Were you able to open a camp there?
P: Oh, yes. I operated it for sixteen years.
H: Now, was that both hunting and fishing?
P: Yes. I had thirty-six head of dogs there at one time. We used dogs for deer.
H: Bird dogs?
P: Well, not all bird dogs. We had deer dogs, coon dogs, cat dogs, hog dogs, and
H: Each one a specialty.
P: That is right.
H: You were talking about hog dogs. Those are wild hogs?
P: Yes. I had two hog claims, one dating back to when I lived in Marion County and
had hogs that had gone wild, and the other one I had bought up in Levy County,
so I had two claims there that backed into each other.
H: When you use the term "hog claim," does that mean just land that hogs are on or
P: No. It means that you own hogs over a period of years that had gone wild and
that you had a registered mark with the court house, so any hog that was over
weaned size that was unmarked you could take and put your mark on it or kill it.
H: So that was a legal statement just like branding a cow.
P: That is right.
H: What kind of physical facility did you have at this camp?
P: Well, I had cottages, and then later I built a motel. I had a dining room that we
called the Bull-Shooting Room. It usually was thick and fast [laughter].
H: What was the name of the motel?
P: The Withlacoochee River Lodge.
H: Were you able to do all right financially on it?
P: Oh, yes. It was having your fun and getting paid for it.
H: When you talk about having fun, were you out there leading some of these
P: Oh, yes, I guided both in the boat [and in the woods]. I had a license for up to
sixty-eight-foot boats for hire and also a guide's license for hunting which came
in while I was in the business.
H: So that is when they started licensing guides. Were your customers people from
around the state or up the country or a combination?
P: Up the country, mostly. I advertised in Field and Stream and Sports Afield to get
my [customers]. They were the ones that loved the quail and deer hunting with
H: We are going to interject a section on Marjorie Rawlings and her interest in
learning about the countryside and going out into this big scrub.
P: Marge had made contact with the Feddy family. There was a Long, by the way,
that did live over in there. The name has come back to me. She had gone over
and boarded with these people [and spent time] listening to their tales, meeting
their neighbors and hearing their tales. She had even gone on some bear hunts
with them. She sat around the campfire at night and absorbed as much of the
local lore as she could.
H: I guess for a woman that had been pretty much a city girl up until then, why, this
was quite a change.
P: Yes, and made a great impression on her.
H: You have to conclude that she was really able to absorb pretty well.
P: Well, she made numerous notes, too.
H: Speaking of making numerous notes, did she make any notes when she was on
the Hyacinth trip with you?
P: Very few. She was too busy looking.
H: The reason I asked that is because I reread that chapter [in South Moon Under]
the other night, and she quotes you as saying various things, so I just assumed
that she probably had a good power of recollection.
P: She did. To my knowledge, she did not make any notes on the whole trip. She
was busy in the evening cooking while I was fishing after I had made camp -
such as it was. Camp consisted of sticking two oars up and hanging a mosquito
net over it, plus unfolding the cots.
H: She said something in the book about how the cots lacked a board or something
to hold them up together at the ends.
P: That was right in one of them. I took a picket from an old abandoned camp at
the mouth of the St. Johns out at Puzzle Lake and whittled a couple of notches in
it to hold the cot together.
H: She also said that her map reading kind of suffered, because she had the wrong
lake when she was going through Puzzle Lake.
P: That is true. The map that we had was [very old]. There was a ferry that had
been there for fifteen years and was not even on the map!
H: So the ferry had come in since the map had been [published].
P: The ferry had come in fifteen years before we bought the map. The map was
thirty-some-odd years old. The ferry went across on the back road that you took
H: I gathered from what she said that the drought situation must have changed the
contours of the river and the bayous around there.
H: So you were taking false starts.
P: No. I do not know why, because I had never done anything like that, but when
we got in places that we did not know where the outlets were, I would kick some
dirt and trash out of the boat into the water, and I watched it after it got down a
ways to see which way the drift of the water [was going]--not necessarily the wind
that was on the surface. That would hold the lightweight stuff.
H: Her explanation in the book is that you relied on hyacinths to see which way they
P: Well, the underwater was what I was interested in finding where it was going.
The hyacinths were blown by the wind, so I did not depend on them at all.
H: So she over exaggerated that part of it.
P: Yes, she simplified it.
H: In your reading of Cross Creek, did you get the impression that she pretty well
stuck to the way things were at that point as far as the community was
P: Definitely, because that was why she was sued.
H: It was just too close to the truth.
P: It was the truth.
H: You were asked to testify in the libel trial in 1946 or 1947. That was when you
had the judge all broken up by saying that you had used the term "SOB,"
depending on who it was applied to. Did you see much of Marjorie after that?
P: Oh, yes. We were, let us say, very close until the divorce episode.
H: Well, the divorce would have been earlier.
P: No, that was her divorce. Mine was later.
H: But yours was still before the libel trial, was it not?
P: Oh, yes.
H: That is what I was referring to, around 1946 or 1947, after the war, when you
came back and had your hunting camp.
P: This was right after; I was still on terminal leave from the service. See, I had
ninety days terminal leave.
H: And that is when you were asked to testify?
P: That is when I testified.
H: Were you in uniform when you testified?
H: But after that, between then and the time she died, were you able to get together
P: No, our paths did not cross very much. She lived in St. Augustine, and I lived in
H: After the war?
P: Well, not really. After the war I started my fishing and hunting camp, and I was
very busy on that for a number of years to get it going. I ran that for about
H: That is the one near Inglis?
P: Yes, it is.
H: And she was in St. Augustine and/or upstate New York by that time, I guess.
P: Yes, that is right.
H: So she was living pretty much full-time in St. Augustine or Crescent Beach by
then, I guess.
P: Yes, or up the country. She lived in North Carolina for a while.
H: Was that in the 1930s, when she met F. Scott Fitzgerald and some other authors
P: I imagine it was, because it was after my divorce.
H: It was somewhere along in there [the late 1950s] when you remarried?
P: Yes. The husband and his first wife were my customers. I knew all the kids, and
they were even calling me Aunt Dessie. She died very suddenly with a heart
attack. Then in order to acquire the little ten-year-old gal, I had to marry her
H: So you liked the daughter as well as the father?
P: Yes. Now they live across the way from me, and we are very good friends.
H: So she is your stepdaughter.
H: What is her name?
P: Amy Gilbert. Jim Gilbert is her husband. They are in the printing business in
H: I see. Now, was this husband's name Prescott?
H: What was his name?
P: William Howard Prescott.
H: He is now deceased?
H: Was it when you married him that you made the move from Inglis to Crystal
P: No, it was after I had been out of the business. I closed the camp because hired
help was not doing a good job. I closed it and used it for my own entertainment
in the winters when we came down and had a lot of company.
H: Come down from where?
P: His home was in Cleveland.
H: Oh, so you actually went to Cleveland in the summertime.
P: Yes. In fact, when we married I just walked away from the camp, you might say,
on account of this little ten-year-old gal.
H: What year was that?
P: 1958 or 1959.
H: So you were rotating between Ohio and Florida for a while.
P: That is right.
H: How many years did that go on?
P: Oh, until about 1975. Years have passed so fast I cannot keep track of them.
H: Did you all move back permanently then, or had he passed on by then?
P: No. We then built a camp in the Adirondacks, and then we traveled and hunted
wherever we were interested Alaska, Africa, wherever.
H: So you have hunted in Africa as well.
P: Oh, yes.
H: I had no idea that you were a world traveler to that extent.
P: Well, as I said, we did everything we wanted to do as long as we were able to
pay for it.
H: What had been his occupation?
P: He was in the iron ore business.
H: Then I gather he was well fixed.
P: Well, at least comfortable enough to pay for what we were doing. Then I sold my
camp and invested in Exxon and Gulf oil. I got a cash deal out of my camp, and
that gave me a good income plus stock dividends.
H: So you have come a long way since the waitress days in Baltimore, then.
P: Darn right.
H: After you built the camp in the Adirondacks, did you all move from Cleveland to
H: What brought you back to Florida again?
P: Oh, we had never severed our connections. While still living in our house on the
river, after I had sold the camp, I bought this place on the backwaters of the
Withlacoochee. I bought it myself. He had the house up the country, and this
was my house down here.
H: Is this the one near Crystal River?
H: So that brought you a new beachhead in Florida, then.
H: How long have you lived there?
P: About ten years. It is known as the Wahoo Ranch.
H: And you are still going hunting and fishing.
H: How often?
P: Oh, about a dozen times a year hunting, and whenever I want to go fishing.
H: What are you likely to be hunting these days?
P: Well, I am even hunting quail again, and antelope, deer, turkey.
H: The antelope, I assume, are on some of your trips.
P: Yes, Wyoming, mostly.
H: So you do go to Wyoming on your trips.
P: Oh, yes. I have been out there nineteen different times hunting.
H: You go fishing about any time you take a notion?
P: Yes, and that is pretty often.
H: A couple times a week or more?
P: Yes, about that.
H: So you are still an outdoors woman in every sense.
H: This summer you are going on a trip to Alaska?
P: Yes, in an inland passage.
H: And then to Canada?
P: Well, I will be going to Canada earlier, and Chicago and up there. I think I will
probably cut across to New Brunswick and spend a little time up there hunting. It
is beautiful country. And I do like the lobsters.
H: It is good territory for that.
P: Yes, it is.
H: You were on the original board of the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Society, were
P: I do not think so. Idella [Parker] put me on this whatever it is a few years back.
H: Had you read most of her books?
P: I read the ones that I was interested in, which were the Florida books. I tried to
read some of the others, but I could not get the feel of them, so I did not finish
some of them.
H: Well, I think most people agree that those other ones were not her better books,
P: No, they were not.
H: When would you guess was the last time you saw her before she died
[December 14, 1953, in St. Augustine]?
P: Oh, probably two years before she died.
H: Do you remember what the circumstances were?
P: We had dinner over in Gainesville.
H: Was it an in-between spot where you could get together?
H: So it just worked out that way.
H: Was she in noticeably poor health at that point, or did she look all right?
P: Oh, she was having some problems, because she had lost some weight.
H: Did you know Idella Parker during that period at Cross Creek?
P: Oh, yes, part of the time. Again, I did not see much of her [Marjorie] because I
was going one way and she was going the other. During the time that I saw
quite a lot of her was about when I finally found 'Geechee [her cleaning girl] for
her. Incidentally, that is an awfully good story, too.
H: Oh, you found 'Geechee?
P: Yes, after Marge broke her neck. She wanted 'Geechee to take care of her, and
the last accounts we had of 'Geechee -
H: This was after 'Geechee had disappeared earlier.
P: Yes. Well, Marge she had fired 'Geechee and her husband [Leroy], whom she
had gotten out of jail [in Raiford. He was there] on a murder [manslaughter] rap.
He was trying to snatch the screen door open. After he and Marge had been
arguing, he wanted the truck. It was her only vehicle at that time, and she did
not let him have it. He reached to snatch the door open. I happened to be
hanging a curtain because she was going to have a party that night, and I was
staying over for it. My husband, the doctor, had gone over to our home. I told
him to bring me some clothes so I could finish up in Marjorie's house. I had
taken my pistol out our car and had it lying on the table. When he started the
door open, I grabbed my pistol and rushed out. We ordered him off of the place,
and I backed it up with the pistol.
H: That is when 'Geechee left.
P: 'Geechee left with him that afternoon.
H: But later on she wanted 'Geechee to come back.
P: Yes. I looked for her for nearly a week. All we knew was that her last-known
place was Plant City. I went to all the honky-tonks down there, and all I knew
was the name 'Geechee and that she had a scar across her face where
somebody had slashed her with a razor. I went in these honky-tonks and asked
these colored people if they knew of a girl by the name of 'Geechee that had a
big scar across her face. After several days of looking, one fellow asked, "What
do you want her for?" I said, "Well, the lady that she formerly worked for has
broken her neck and has to be in a cast for an indefinite period. She wants
'Geechee to look after her, so it is a good job for her." He said, "Well, you come
here tomorrow at 1:00, and maybe I will have found her for you."
Well, at 1:00 the next day I was there. I followed two colored men through two
groves, and we drove up at this big old dilapidated house. He said, "I think she
here." I hollered, "'Geechee!" and out she came running. Then I told her that
Marge had a broken neck and that she wanted her to come work for her, and
she said she would.
So I made arrangements. Marge was staying with me down in my apartment in
Tampa, and I had been taking care of her since she had gotten out of the
hospital. As soon as she was able to travel, which was another week or ten days
before she could leave the doctor down there, I took Marge, and then we went by
and picked up 'Geechee, and I took them up to Cross Creek.
H: So everything worked out all right that time. At least for a while.
P: Yes. Then a year or so later 'Geechee started hitting the bottle, and she and
H: So that was the end of that.
H: Well, I guess that is a good quitting point. I think we can let you go before it
starts raining [laughter].