Remembering the past:
This narrative below was written as a stream of consciousness piece and should be read as if you are the speaker. It should be read on its own, separate from the video. It seemed the best way to share my experiences as a child as I sat and reminisced, enjoy.
You could say my relatives were really old fashion. I remember going places with my mom. She would take me to South Carolina often for breaks and vacations. I remember one time we slept through a hurricane as it came right over us. We were in a trailer at Myrtle Beach. First time I had ever been through the eye of a hurricane. Everything went from whipping and noisy to an erie silence, then back to raging all around us in the night. I slept in the middle of the floor and could see the silhouettes of pine trees bending back and around through the rain stained windows of the single wide. My Uncle Bill and Aunt Ruby owned the trailer there. They lived not far away in Andrews, South Carolina. The home of Chubby Checker.
I remember my Aunt Beth working a puzzle or playing solitaire when bored. We kids would run amuck and eventually get told to go outside and play. I remember one time my cousin Dyan and myself got up real early on a Saturday morning. We went outside at Grandma Ruth’s, the house where our mothers grew up together. They were two of seven, although Uncle David died before we were born and Uncle Arnold died when I was five. Dyan and I locked ourselves out of the house and ate apples right out of grandma’s apple trees. There were pears too, ripe enough to eat. Yep, we had ourselves a regular breakfast right there in the morning while everybody was sleeping.
I remember the dirt circle drive that went around Grandma’s house too. There were pecan trees lined around it. It was a beautiful house, red brick as most were in South Carolina back then. Mom said, “Daddy built that house with a seventh grade education.” Sometimes when we were all bored, the cousins and I would play hide and go seek. I remember Charlene telling me one time I sounded so loud crunching the magnolia leaves underneath my feet. I was trying to sneak up on her. I also remember a game we used to play. I think the older cousins made it up to keep us from bothering them so much. We would pick a color of a car and count how many times those cars with our color passed by. Christie, Dyan and myself would sit there for hours, well, minutes at least.
Grandma Ruth had Alzheimer’s and eventually my mom stepped up and took her in. She always said she would never allow anyone to put her in a nursing home. Grandma was sweet and I really didn’t understand. Mom was like that though. Dad left when I was five and mom would constantly find people to rent the extra room in the house. Later in life she would allow my friends to stay or rent the room if they were having problems or needed help. Heck, she gave me the master bedroom as she had dad put an addition on the back of the house. It was an older home in a neighborhood called, Heritage Hills. I remember getting stung by a bee once when I fiddled with a sign on my street. It was covered in ivy on a red brick marker, it read, “Lexington Square.” I think all those signs had mostly been gone by the time I found that one; I think I was only twelve or so.
I remember wading in the retention pond down by Ft. King Middle School. I found a gopher turtle one day, put in in a bushel crate and brought it back to mom. Of course she wouldn’t let me keep it. We kids in the neighborhood rode bikes and explored every inch of our part of town. There were wood patches and pathways, mostly gone now too. I would walk the fence path alongside the cemetery. Sometimes I would jump the fence and visit Uncle Arnold's grave. Now I go to visit my mom, dad and Arnold's grave too.
Then there’s dad side of the family. Mom was real good about keeping positive relations with dad’s side. He had left by the time I was five. I was close to my dad’s relatives, especially my Grand Marie. My mom made sure to visit his Aunt Gladys in Gainesville and I got to know my cousins too. We would visit dad on holidays and birthdays, or he would come over and bring Dot and Aunt Beth. Aunt Beth was married to Uncle Arnold previously, my mom’s brother. However, after Arnold died, she stayed in Ocala and worked for my dad. She was also one of my mom’s best friends. Later my step dad, Sam the barber would go with us to my dad’s parties too. He had known dad for many years when the optometrist shop and barber shop sat next to each other in the Publix shopping plaza. Back then, that was the hub of Ocala. The Publix bakery was separate from the grocery. My friend Kevin told me about their amazing raspberry twists. There was Woolworth’s, a toy store, and Loritos Pizza. Sam’s barber and the pizza place are still there today.
Dad was a racecar driver, doctor and a help to many people. He had a reputation for giving a lot of free eye exams to those who could not afford it. I have heard so many people thank me and speak highly of him for how he helped them. Someone told me once that was one reason why he had been married three times and had his girlfriends. He always wanted to feel needed. I am not sure, but I do know that he was always kind and understanding to me. When he would spend time with me, he always made sure to teach me things about questions I would have. He told me wild stories of his past, drinking too much when younger, going to military school, crashing airplanes in the ocean, staying awake during surgery on his knuckles, his time in the Navy, and experiences out on the race track at the Daytona 24 Hours.
I remember going through the tunnel in the turn of the track at Daytona as a kid. Sitting on top of Uncle Larry’s barrowed Winnebago watching the cars stream by at night. It was cold during those March evenings. I remember wearing a ball cap pulled down low, sitting in a lawn chair with my denim jacket buttoned up. I went down below and there was mom and dad sleeping next each other. I think it was a bit confusing as I was growing up. He was still visiting and traveling with her sometimes. They stayed separated until I was 16, then their divorce was final. Mom always told me it was to help him financially. They remained friends throughout my life.
Dad told me my great grandparents owned an orange grove in Ocklawaha. I have never been able to confirm that. He did help me get my first job at an orange packing plant there in 1984. Dad knew everybody. From what I have found Dad’s relatives come from Wales and my mom’s relatives from London. Grandfather Hughes started out in South Carolina, as did my mom and her family. I never met my grandfathers as they both died before I was born.
Mom always told me the Webster side of her family was related to Noah Webster, my Aunt Lynda told me recently, we were more closely related to Daniel, Noah's cousin. Mom also told me that my great great grandmother was a Native American. I saw a picture of her growing up, my Aunt Lynda has it and will be mailing me a copy.
I was raised by parents much older than most. My dad was enlisted during WWII, however, still in training when the war ended. I think that is one reason my memory of family is so spotty. I don’t have my parents with me anymore, never met my grandfathers, and most of my aunts and uncles are gone now. I had a blessed life with them all. It always brings me to tears to think about it. I truly know the term “bittersweet.”
Our Thanksgivings and Christmases were filled with my mom’s cooking and many family members stopping by. I remember pallets on the floor for us kids and going hunting with my Uncle Bill and his beagles. I remember my dad’s greasy rigatoni, flat Check Cola, and awesome collard greens. I remember my dad's friend Don Rogers and spending time in the National Forest at his house. I remember tire swings, playing football in the front yard, fishing with dad and Jerry McGowan in the Gulf of Mexico. Dad’s friend Whitaker tricking my dad into taking a big swig of moonshine once and his son Richie teaching me to catch mullet with a cast net.
I remember drive in theaters, getting in trouble at school, being able to buy beer and having great friends. I look back and see a family that in many cases had very southern roots and despite my differences, I see a family who loved me and who made sure my life was the best it could be. I miss them.
Process work for book and video collage: