HISTORY OF PASCO COUNTY
Roy and Edith Foster of Lacoochee, Florida
By ARNO SURLS WEBSTER
This story is about former Lacoochee residents Roy and Edith Surls Foster. Aunt Edith was my dad’s oldest sister. She married Uncle Roy when she was 16 years old. It seems Aunt Edith was only 15 when their courtship began. Uncle Roy was already a Deputy Sheriff of Levy County at the time.
This caused a rift in the family because he was much older. It took many years before reconciliation was made. As I was growing up, I felt this strain on our family relationships, but did not understand.
Uncle Roy loved his young wife. He dressed her in the latest fashions and took her to all the official meetings that permitted women because he wanted to show her off. He bought her a new car every couple years, taught her to drive and let her be his chauffeur because she loved to drive so much.
Because of her love of the woods, Uncle Roy bought Aunt Edith two dogs and two guns; a small 22 pistol and a 410 shotgun. She was a superb shot and often brought home game for their dinner – deer, wild hogs, turkey, squirrels, quail; there was plenty of game in those days.
At first, they lived in Levy County, but when Cummer’s mill there burned, most of our family, including Uncle Roy and Aunt Edith, moved to Lacoochee where Uncle Roy was employed as Mr. Cummer’s personal forest ranger.
In Lacoochee, Uncle Roy and Aunt Edith lived over by the lumberyard. They always had two dogs – big, bad dogs. They kept their dogs in their fenced yard. When I went over to visit, I would holler at the gate. Aunt Edith would put the dogs in the house and take them to the back door. I would go up to the porch and as she let them out the back door, I would go in the front door. This procedure was reversed when I was ready to go home. But, I digress.
As I said, Uncle Roy was Mr. Cummer’s forest ranger. He was responsible to oversee the wildlife on Mr. Cummer’s properties and serve as hunting guide during Mr. Cummer and his guests’ visits to the area. My Aunt Edith was his aide. While Uncle Roy mitigated fire hazards, checked for poachers and property border disturbances, Aunt Edith would track deer, turkey and hogs to water holes and visit open areas to find flocks of quail and doves then report her findings to Uncle Roy.
During their rounds of the Cummer properties, both would kill rattlesnakes whenever they happened upon them, which was frequently. You may wonder why, but in those days, it was necessary to keep them thinned out. Walking down a trail, if you didn’t get him today, he may get you tomorrow. They both wore snake leggings and never stepped over a log, but stepped on top of it as they passed over, because if you threw your leg over the log, you may disturb a rattlesnake laying there waiting for prey.
I remember one story Uncle Roy used to tell: He went out one day to make his rounds. Right away, there was a big rattlesnake in the dirt road. He stopped, got out, killed the snake, took the rattles and went on his way. After finishing his day’s work, he set out for home. When he came to the place where he had killed the snake, there it was, striking in all directions. He had shot the snake’s jaw off but not its brain.
The Cummer mill officers who came from Jacksonville were called the “higher ups.” They liked to come down to Lacoochee and go hunting. They really liked to turkey hunt. On these trips, Aunt Edith would set the hunts based on her knowledge of the habits of the animals on Cummer’s property.
Turkeys roost in the same tree most every night. Beneath the tree was a clearing and in the mornings, the turkeys would fly down into this area and the toms would strut about for the hens before they went off to feed. Aunt Edith knew where all the roosting trees were and how many turkeys were in each rafter.
A few days before the hunt, she would choose one and make a blind at the edge of the clearing. In a few days, the turkeys would get used to it. Then, before the hunt, she would kill a turkey for each of the hunters expected, then dress and store them in her freezer. After the hunt, each hunter could take home a turkey regardless of his success in the field.
While Uncle Roy took the hunters out hunting, Aunt Edith would prepare a big turkey dinner for them to enjoy after they finished the hunt. If a big tom were killed, Aunt Edith would prepare the tail, wings and beard so that the hunter could have them mounted as trophies as they did in those days.
Aunt Edith and Uncle Roy enjoyed their life together.
The one sad spot was that they were never able to have children, though they both loved them. On many occasions, Aunt Edith took a child for a ride in her car or she and Uncle Roy would take someone to the picture show. Sometimes, she and Uncle Roy bought neighbor children shoes and clothes for school.
After Uncle Roy died, Aunt Edith lived alone for many years. She often spent time hunting and “living off the land,” sometimes for months, though she had a nice home and secure income — she just loved life in the woods.