Lacoochee – Fly on the wall



A Fly on the Wall


My sister and cousins ranged from four to twelve years older than me. I was always “there” but no one paid any attention to me. I had the freedom to move about among the adults and young people without being considered a threat. I heard a lot, pondered some and stored other things in my memory for future reference. The persona of my childhood was clearly a fly on the wall.

In the 1930’s and early 1940’s most residents of Lacoochee, with the exception of the Cummer company quarters, did not have electricity. There were few radios so people read and talked.

Since I was invisible, I seldom asked questions and relied upon my instincts and experience to interpret what I heard. One instance that comes to mind is the mill’s “caw” whistle which blew at 7:45 in the morning and 12:45 at noon to let the workers know it was time to come to work. I always assumed it had something to do with crows. Later I realized it was actually a “call” whistle. I wondered then what other misconceptions my family’s southern pronunciation might have created.

When I learned to read a whole new world was opened to me. I read Captain Marvel comics and the newspaper. Almost every week the Dade City Banner would mention that a lady had become betrothed. It sounded bad and I wondered why no one made an effort to stop it. It happened frequently and only to women. I considered asking Captain Marvel to join me in a campaign to wipe out betrothing.

When I was three my Uncle Johnnie (Johnnie Morgan, the barber) gave my parents three acres adjacent to his farm on HWY 301 north of Trilacoochee. My dad built a house and we moved to “the woods.” It was one mile to town and a half mile farther to the mill. We did not have a car at the time so we walked.

My grandmother and another uncle had farms in the area so we had frequent family gatherings. My mother worked at the crate mill during WW2 and my dad worked at the shipyard in Tampa. When Mother left for work I would walk through the woods to Grandmother’s house. Soon as I got to her house we would go down to the cow stall and she would milk Daisy. I had a special cup and always got the first cup of warm milk straight from Daisy. Several days each week I would churn butter.

After the war my dad went back to the planing mill and Mother worked at Brabham’s Grocery. When I started school I rode Mr. Price’s bus (a Dodge panel van painted yellow) to school and went to Brabham’s in the afternoon. After a sandwich at the store I would look for new comic books at Abe’s Drug Store then go to Uncle Johnnie’s barber shop. The barber shop clients usually had answers for all the world’s problems. Since Lacoochee was my world, I forgot most of what I heard.

Some afternoons I would join friends from school playing hide and seek throughout the company quarters. No one objected to us running through yards and climbing on garage roofs. In the section where my uncle and aunt (Jim and Ruby Head) lived there were garages in the rear corner of the lot. Four garages shared a common roof. The roofs sloped down to about six feet off the ground creating a shed for wash tubs. We would use a sheet of kindling to slide down and off the roof.

Uncle Jim’s birddog, Skinny, spent most days downtown under the bench in front of the saloon. When the quittin’ whistle blew at 5:00 Skinny would run home. I would run back to Brabham’s when the whistle blew to be there when my dad arrived and we would all go home together.

At one time the Lacoochee school went from grades One through Nine. By the time I completed Sixth grade all higher grade students were being bussed to Dade City.

In 1949 my parents bought a lot on Howard Avenue in Dade City and had our house moved. My life was never the same.

J. W. and Kathyrn at home in Lacoochee

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