ONE DAY IN LACOOCHEE, FLORIDA
By J.W. Hunnicutt
The call whistle at the mill just blew so it must be 7:45. I will just sit
here on Aunt Ruby's front porch for a while then go over to the
school and skate.
James Turner said they might tear up the board walks and put
cement walks all over town next year. That will be better. Those
little walks at school are not wide enough for many to skate at the
I hope Margaret Ann Baldwin will not be there. She thinks the
walk between the lunch room and sixth grade is her private
There's the last whistle. If I take a short cut through the
cemetery, I can get there before anyone else. I'd better walk around
Mrs. Jensen's grave. My sister said if you ask Mrs. Jensen what she
is doing she will say, "Nothing."
Momma said all the graves along the front fence are our family.
Here's my sister, Evelyn's, grave. She died before I was born. Most
of the graves are covered with clam shells. I guess that keeps the
rain from washing them away. Mrs. Jensen's grave has a granite
slab and iron fence around it. She must have been rich. James said
that Mr. Jensen sleeps in a casket every night.
Momma said my great-great grandmother, Tobitha Goff Brown,
planted those two big camphor trees in the cemetery. I might climb
one on the way back.
There's Mrs. Baldwin and Margaret Ann gong to town. Good! I can claim the lunchroom walk as mine today.
Nobody else is here yet. I can practice going downhill backwards without running into anyone. Oh no, here comes Grethel Johns. She's the best skater at school and she also likes the lunchroom walk. "Hey, Grethel, the lunchroom walk is mine today. When James and Leroy get here we are going to have a race around the whole school and girls aren't allowed."
James Turner is my best friend. He lives near the school and he skates every day.
I rode in with Daddy today. We live about a mile out of town next to my uncles' farms. It sure would be nice to live in town and get to skate whenever you want to and go to Abe's drug store to get a chop suey every day. I've got fifteen cents today so I can get a chop suey and a funny book after lunch. I see a penny under the monkey bars. I can get some bubble gum too.
I can eat lunch at Aunt Ruby's or go down to Brabham's Grocery. Momma will make me a sandwich with whatever I choose from the meat counter. I think I will go to the store. The ice man comes early to fill the drink case so the Nehi strawberry should be really cold by lunch time. I will take my lunch over to the depot and watch the Silver Meteor come through. Mr. Rhodes, the depot agent and Old Man Price will probably be playing checkers. Old Man Price drives my school bus and he stays at the depot between runs. He usually goes there during the summer too.
I was at the depot last year when Mr. Carlson was killed by a train. The wheels ran over his head. He was the first dead man I ever saw.
I guess James and Leroy aren't coming after all. "Hey, Grethel, want to race? I'll give you a head start!"
There's the lunch whistle. Most of the men who work at the mill walk home for lunch. Aunt Ruby is Daddy's sister. He brings his lunch to her house and eats on the front porch. After lunch Uncle Jim always sits in the swing on the porch and tells a story. Several other men from the neighborhood usually stop for this event. Jim Head is known throughout the area for his colorful stories laced with mild cussing.
I think I will eat at Aunt Ruby's, hear the story and then go to the depot and Brabham's Grocery.
I made the right choice. Aunt Ruby baked a chocolate marshmallow cake this morning. The marshmallows are baked in the cake and when the cake is done they are like pockets of sweet goo. This is my favorite cake.
"Hey, Mrs. Head, that chocolate cake sure looks good. Buster, are you spending the day in town?" That's Mary Alice Jones. She lives across the street from Aunt Ruby. I don't know about other towns, but in Lacoochee people take short cuts. Not just through yards but through houses. When the Joneses and others go to town they come in through Aunt Ruby's front door, pass through the dining room and kitchen and go out the back door. They cross the stile to the Milton's yard and town is just across the railroad tracks in front of their house.
Downtown consists of the Post Office, Uncle Johnnie Morgan's barber shop, Brabham's Grocery, Abraham's Drug Store, the Saloon, May's Dry Goods, O'Quinn's Grocery and Smith's General Store. The stores are all in a row on the north side of the paved road. The Seaboard Railroad and Atlantic Coastline Railroad depots are on the south side of the paved road across from the stores. The railroads intersect between the depots making a big "X" right in the middle of town.
The Vivian Theater, a two story wooden structure, is in the eastern apex of the "X" and the "Bungalow", a house used by the mill owners when they are in town, is in the western apex. There are three distinct housing areas for the mill workers with board walks and picket fences. The mill provides electricity for the company houses for lighting only. Everyone has an ice box and uses an oil or wood burning stove to cook. The company houses also have running water and inside bathrooms.
All of the streets in the residential areas are sand. The paved road in town goes to the mill which is the largest cypress mill in the world. Frequently a rail car or flatbed truck will carry a single large cypress log. A hotel, commissary, doctor's office and gas station are located near the mill.
After two slices of cake I was ready to go to town. The Silver Meteor had already passed by, but I hear a freight train coming now. Think I'll put this penny I found at school on the track and let the train flatten it. I've turned Lincoln's head toward the other rail so his head will be short and flat. James said it is against the law to put a penny on the track but I do not believe that. Here it comes! The penny fell off after the train ran over it. I see it on the cross-tie. It's shaped like an egg now. The flagman is waving from the caboose. I'll wait 'til he gets out sight before I pick up the penny.
"Hey, Momma, look at the penny I just flattened on the train track. No, I wasn't fooling around the tracks. I was on the loading dock a long time before the train even got close to the depot. Remember, I saw Mr. Carlson get killed last year and I know to be careful around trains. You know, I'm ten now."
"Abe, I will take this Captain Marvel funny book, but I can't have a chop suey today. I just had two big slices of cake at Aunt Ruby's." There's Skinny, Uncle Jim's bird dog sleeping under the bench in front of the saloon. He spends most of the day here. "Skinny," want to race home. We need to get there before the quittin' whistle blows."
Oh Boy! Aunt Ruby wrapped up some cake for me to take home. I will eat that tomorrow when Sonny and I go looking for turtles.
Momma and Mrs. Brabham are just closing the store. Looks like Momma's bringing some cold drinks home. I'll take one to have with my cake tomorrow. Maybe I'll leave my skates in the car in case I go to town again this week.
Sonny's at the cattle gap. From the way he is wagging his tail he must have caught something today. There's Chester Couey getting Uncle Johnnie's slop for their hogs. "Hey, Chester, want to do something tomorrow?"
I'll water the orange trees before supper. Maybe I will go over to the Putnam place tomorrow and try to find that jar of money they say Mr. Putnam buried near the well years ago. Chester and I might go down to the creek and make a fort out of dog fennels or look for arrowheads.
It's going to a good summer.