Sometimes You CAN Go Home Again

A few days after election day, Hubby and I flew off to Florida where we were greeted with McCain-Palin signs in most of the yards all around the county I grew up in, except one. I should have taken a picture of that one sign in the tiny little town of Alachua (pr. Ala-chu-way) that announced an Obama supporter. I wondered what life was like for that family whoever they were. Hopefully not too bad, because I remember being taught that there were two subjects you never discussed in public, religion and politics.

The next day we set off in our rented car to visit and photograph the old homes, now in great disrepair– one almost falling down–because those houses are such great examples of early Florida homes–the Cracker houses, built up off the ground, hallways all the way through the center with rooms positioned on either side, so that they were called “Shotgun” houses. You could stand at the front door and shoot a shotgun straight through the center of the house and the pellets could hit the tree in the backyard, or vice versa.

It turned out to be a great day of exploring and getting lost on sandy–at times muddy–back roads that I never knew were there when I was a child. I noticed most of the little shanties were gone, now replaced by beautiful large and modern homes. Apparently, someone was making money that never seemed to be there to make when I was growing up.

Then we found ourselves in Lake City where we decided to see if we could find a public library that allowed the public to go online so we could find the phone number for my rheumatologist and set up an appointment for treatment as soon as we returned rather than wait. Things looked different and yet the same.

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This is the old gazebo in the public park in the middle of what used to be the main area of town. That’s the old courthouse behind it. Now I know I’ve grown a lot since I used to play here on long Christmas shopping days with the family, but I could swear it’s been moved and downsized. I remember steps leading up to the platform, and built-in benches all around the inside so people could sit and listen to the bands or politicians that went there to get the public’s attention. I went for a search of it’s history, but nowhere did I find an accounting of any moves or changes.

And of course since I was usually only there during the Christmas season, it was always bustling with people–Santa was deposited there from a firetruck or helicopter at least once before the big day. When I saw him a couple of times, I always told him what I wanted and he always managed to get it wrong–almost but not quite–he brought me a babydoll stroller instead of a pillow-laden buggy to make my dolly comfortable instead of something she kept falling out of.

After parking our rented car in a pullout parking area on the main street where people were beginning to congregate with folding chairs, we decided the town was small enough to walk around in. The Lake City I left in 1958 had changed a lot, and internet connection at the library was a big one. Voila! Lake City has definitely progressed to the 21st century it looked like. I was especially clueless about why people would sit curbside, or teens gather in twos and threes on street corners, since I was consumed with my photojournaling quest!I remember when these storefronts bore names like Radio Shack where I bought my first record player, and DIANA’s where you could buy moderately priced clothes for junior sizes.

Across the street near here was an old Belk-Hudson store (later Belk Lindsey) where once upon a time when we shopped there, the clerks took the money for purchases,  placed it in a canister much like those you only see in drive-thru banks now, and I would watch the canister climb upward and around corners through glass tubes until it reached the cashier’s office upstairs. The cashier would take out the money and count it, then replace it with the proper change due plus a receipt for the item(s) purchased. Then the canister would make the same circuitous route in reverse, the clerk would hand us the change, the receipt and the purchase, all tucked into a store-marked bag.

For many years I was a little sad when I went there, without really understanding why; I think because every time I was in that store and needed a drink from the water fountain, I would be reminded of things that didn’t seem quite right to me. There were two water fountains, both marked with designated use signs. One stated WHITE ONLY, the other COLORED.

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Nearly always I find small town store fronts extremely interesting, and my old home town’s was no different! If you look closely you’ll see–right there in the corner–the jean-clad legs of a real person, a Black-American woman and I hope you don’t have to ask why I point that fact out–as she was dressing up the window front of what seemed to be a lingerie store with sparkly Christmas decor. I asked permission to photograph her, so she not only put on a great big smile but did a little jig for the camera too. Too bad I didn’t take time to adjust the camera settings to better capture it.

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Here’s the public library we found, and that’s Hubby getting a computer assignment. That bookrack all the way to the back in the center of the picture is a whole shelf of local interest books that I enjoyed browsing while Hubby checked our email and got the telephone number he needed. Though it’s too dark to see in this photo, there was a great array of ethnic faces around the computers. So different from the Lake City I left in 1958!

I also found an older librarian to ask about the history of the library after searching my memory as hard as I could but finding no memory any public library facility. (The only free access to books that I knew of was the one wall in one of our classrooms at Mason school–about twice as many books as on the bookrack at the back here–and they were filled with books to service all 12 grades. You can imagine their limit, I’m sure, but I remember finding PEYTON PLACE there when I was in the 9th grade or so.) She said this one was built in 1961 as far as she could remember, perhaps at another location and moved to the present location sometime in the interim. She turned out not to a native after all and not overly curious herself. I guess I’m spoiled here in SLC.

After we hoofed it back to the main street where we’d left our car, we found out why people had been setting up folding chairs along the sidewalks. This was the day the high school, Columbia High, was having their homecoming parade. Since our car was hemmed in with all the floats and people marching by, we were forced to wait and watch the big parade.

Now keep in  mind that, if my parents hadn’t decided to leave the farm in 1958 to move to Gainesville where Daddy would open his own Sunoco Gas Service Station franchise, this would have been the high school I would have graduated from. The schools in northern Florida were still segregated then. Even in 1960 as I was graduating from Gainesville High School, about 35 miles to the south, there was still only talk about integrating the schools.

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This is the members one of the local dancing schools strutting their stuff down the parade route.

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These are members of the high school marching band.

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Even the grownups can sit alongside each other and coexist on this old firetruck. Makes your heart almost go pitypat, doesn’t it? I thought back to the public drinking fountain I’d used while we were in the library. Not a designating use sign anywhere. Anybody who was thirsty was free to drink their fill.

So even though being forced to wait to leave town until the parade was nearly over, and getting caught in the traffic of parents picking up kids afterwards that made me miss the opportunity of visiting my old Mason School and taking memory shots of it, I was glad I had been a forced-witness of this momentous occasion during this momentous time in history, just three days after our country elected our first black American president. Once again I’m beginning to feel at times that, yes, this really is a wonderful world!

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6 thoughts on “Sometimes You CAN Go Home Again

  1. What a simply wonderful entry. Magic……..reflecting the times. Thank you.

    I met my first odd sign in Alabama…….I wanted water and the sign said colored. I had no idea what that was about at all, so as I bent to drink and everyone started yelling, I was truly amazed. What? I couldn’t have water? It was for Who? I drank anyway, ran for my bus, and everyone was so upset.

  2. Great, great post, Alice! I really enjoyed it so much.
    What a time it was back then with the separate drinking fountains, bathrooms, etc. Actually, I was never subjected to this, having grown up in Massachusetts, but I’ve read and heard enough about the south during the 50’s and 60’s. And oh yes…..how far we’ve come to elect a President that happens not to be white.
    Also wanted to say, I SO enjoyed talking with you over lunch the day you were. I really loved hearing about you growing up in that area, what it was like then, etc.
    Hope you’re feeling much better now. And wishing you and Hubby a very Happy Thanksgiving tomorrow!

  3. Hi Alice

    Just viewed the video of the cat and the crow! Amazing!!

    Thanks for your comment on my blog. That was nice of you to think of me when you were in Florida.

    I’ll be going down to Delray Beach – in two weeks. It’s on the East coast.

    I see you visited Terri and Ray while you were down south. She visited me when she was here visiting family. What a lady!

    You have got a great blog, I’ll be looking in on your doings.

    Hope you are feeling better and had a great Thanksgiving!

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