Uncle Ernest Croft at Nellie's gate


Thanks Barb, I am eternally grateful that your Dad and your family did not want to live on the farm....We would have missed all those wonderful experiences if you had....I am also so thankful to Grandma Burdett for letting us live there the short time we did....Being older, and two girls with no older brothers to think of all kinds of "innovative" things to do, I can understand your reluctance to live in such a secluded place with all its inconveniences....If it had not been for the boys, I doubt us girls would have experienced many of the things we did....I cannot imagine us digging worms, struggling with the slippery, slimy things to get them on a hook or catching those prickly squirming grasshoppers who met the same fate as the worms, and then going to the fishing holes by ourselves;...or going swimming so many times with no adult within hollering distance.... or catching the mule and hitching her up and flying through the woods.... or using the barn for a hideout........or building an airplane....taking the long walks to the many ponds for a swim...or to the store ....It also seems I remember some of us climbing into the loft in the barn and sailing off into the large box of rug rags Grandma had left in the barn......I guess we would have been forced to walk the nearly two miles to go to school.......but would have missed out on so many fun, carefree things that we did while living there....had we not lived on the farm, we would also have missed the time spent with Aunt Billie & Uncle Ernest, who is still alive, and I believe as old as Methuselah,.....Mrs. Miller, Brother Myers, the evangelist and his wife.......So glad we didn't.....Thanks! Reatha 8-8-02

Just think, Darby would never have materialized if my father had decided to live there. You can thank him for all those great experiences. Now, who is going to chastise me for that remark?? lol luv BarbS 8-7-02

I have had the best time reliving events that made life so enjoyable while we were living in Darby. More stories have been told that have helped me to remember more things that happened while living there.....It was an innocent time and simple pleasures filled our lives. I cannot recall one store bought toy, (Virginia's chalk board excepted) but we did not need them...We were only limited by our ingenuity.. and we did put our imaginations to work..... Two to three weeks ago when I writing these memories, Dylan (Nellie/Wm>Alta Ruth Burdett>Reatha>Cheryl>Felicia>Dylan) must have heard me tell the rattlesnake story to someone on the phone. Since then, he has brought it up several times...The other day I was in the kitchen washing dishes and, as usual, he was talking constantly...He began to say, "There was a worm outside." I responded, "Oh, Yeah?" "Yeah", he said. "It was by the fence post, it was a big worm." He continued, "That wasn't a snake, it was a worm. Your brother told me."..."My brother did not tell you that! I responded. "Yes he did, he said it was a worm.".... After a long pause he said, "Was I there?" "No, you weren't there, it was a long time ago." I said.....He also has a vivid imagination. Reatha Albury 7-27-02

I think Camille's suggestion about making a visit to Darby at reunion time is just fantastic. I for one would love to see the place. After all, I nearly ended up living there. See what you can do. later luv BS 8-1-02

Count me in!!! Virginia 8-1-02

Wow! I am honored to have such a beautiful flower grace my page! Thanks Philip and Barb (and Virginia of course!) By the way I am loving the Darby Saga! I'd like to ask a few questions. When did you get your first refrigerator? Were there ever times when it was really cold, extremely hot, very rainy or very dry? I didn't know my dad went to Dade City to school. I guess I never realized he lived that close. Can I find Darby today? Maybe at reunion time we can set up a time to visit the area? Aunt Reatha drew the map, how about a layout of the house (floor plan type thing)? What was the worst accident or injury you remember? What were your Christmas' like? Okay, I'll stop for now (just because I need to get to sleep). You all are doing such a great job!
Love, Camille 7/30/02
See response under "Darby by Bill"


by Reatha Johns Albury

Darby, Florida, was a sleepy, little community in the 1940's. It consisted of a few farm families who raised cattle and some people who traveled the nearly thirty miles to work in Dade City. There were two churches, the Baptist Church and the Non-denominational Church; and the one-room school house.

At Darby Road and Highway 52, which was five or six miles from the main part of the community, there was a very small general store. Darby Road was a wide graded road that had it's beginning at Highway 52, and ran north about ten miles, crossing over a creek which had a bridge unlike any I had seen before. On top of the boards were planks laid like tracks, and one had to keep the vehicle on the planks. The Non-denominational church stood on the northwest corner of the first road to connect with Darby Road. A little farther, Miller Road to the east and Bellamy Road to the west intersected with Darby Road.

The school house stood on the southeast corner of Miller Road and Darby Road. The Sessums lived across the road from the school. The other two corners of this intersection were open fields which were bounded by wooded areas some distance to the north. The property on the northwest corner was inhabited by long horned cows that we called woods cows. Ernest Croft Road was about one mile north of the school house on Darby Road and ran to the west from it's intersection. The Baptist Church was on past Ernest Croft Road and almost to the end of Darby Road. We took Ernest Croft Road from Darby Road to go to the farm.

Our lives centered around the farm, the school and the Non-denominational Church. As a ten year old, as far as I was concerned, Darby had everything a kid needed to make her happy and fulfilled. It was a wonderful place to live.


Finally, we were nearing the end of the long, hot drive from Tampa. As we turned off of Darby Road onto Ernest Croft Road, we sensed we were nearing our destination. All of us were filled with anticipation as we drove the mile or so down the dirt road and around the curve. Kids love to move to a new place, whether the parents do or not. The large farmhouse was at the very end of the road, set back and enclosed in a fence.

As soon as Daddy drove through the gate and stopped the truck, we all scrambled out and began to explore our new home. There at the pasture fence was Jenny the mule, watching all this commotion. If she could have foreseen what was in store for her with those kids, she would have run away that very day. I had no idea of the adventures that awaited us in these sixty acres of playground. Being elementary school age, we were so happy there as we were free to be kids, and there were so many fun,interesting things to do on the farm and in the surrounding woods.

Our grandmother, Nellie Burdett, had bought the farm a few years earlier. She had lived there for a while, but was now living in north Florida, so she let my mom and dad move our family there. I doubt she ever knew, but this was the best present she could have given to us.


As you entered the farmhouse you went through one end of the screened porch which went all the way across the front of the house. Farm houses in those days were built narrow across the front and deep. In Florida they were built three or four feet off of the ground so air could get underneath to keep the house cooler.

Grandma's rug loom was on the front porch next to the wall of the house. We were instructed never to touch the loom. There was another screened porch which was on the west side of the house, and ran nearly the depth of the house with the kitchen at end of that porch. Leaving the front porch, you entered the large living-dining room which had a fireplace at one end. On the other side and across the back of the house were the bedrooms. With the living-dining room being completely surrounded by rooms or porches, it was a very dark room. The kerosene lamps sat on the mantle waiting to be lit in the evening.

In the large kitchen was a wood stove with a water closet on one side so dish water could heat while the meal was being cooked. There was a table where biscuits or cornbread could be stirred and other dishes put together. Alongside that was a cabinet for storing groceries. There was always a bucket of water for use in the kitchen.

Out from the house about fifteen feet to the southwest was a large, deep well. It had a four foot high wall around it with a support over the top from which the bucket hung from a rope which went over a pulley. There was always cold, refreshing water about twenty-five feet down in the well. Sometimes Mama would put the milk and butter in the bucket and lower it into the water to keep it fresh.

The farmhouse, with the screened porches, was just what was needed for our large family. But the enchanted places for us were the places where we played and found outlets for our imaginations. These were the large yard, barnlot with a two story barn, the pasture, the woods and the fishing holes. It didn't take long for us to begin to explore the farm. Going out to the barnlot, we started with the barn and loft. There were various tools in there, and Grandma had a large box of rags stored which she used in making her rugs. It also had a shed roof on the south side with a feed trough for the mule and a bridle and traces hanging on the wall. This was Jenny's place. What fun she was to provide for us in the days to come.

Poor Jenny, she always got caught and had to tolerate us kids playing with her. If one of us girls wanted to ride the mule, one of the boys would lead her under the grapefruit tree where we waited on the lowest limb, and then we would drop down on her back. Sometimes, two or three of us would get on her back and ride her around the yard or barnlot. When she got tired of it, she would turn her head and try to bite our legs. It didn't take her long to decide she didn't like all this nonsense. Mules are not just dumb, stupid animals. Jenny sensed when we were out to get her, and she would make us chase her around the large pasture to the east of the house before she would finally stop and let one of the boys come up to her and put the bridle on. One time Jim and I went out to catch her, and she ran to the far end of the pasture before we got close to her.As Jim started towards her to put the bridle on, Jenny backed up, raised her head high in the air, very agitated and making a mule noise.


About that time, Jim spotted a large rattlesnake by the fence. He told me to climb up and sit on the fence post and watch the snake until he could go to Uncle Ernest's house and get his gun. Uncle Ernest, who married Aunt Billie, lived three quarters of a mile to a mile from the farm. As I sat on the post with my eye on the snake, Jim ran to Uncle Ernest's house and came back with the gun. He shot and killed the rattler.

Many times, we would put the bridle and traces on the mule and hook the sled to the traces so we could go riding through the woods. One of the boys would grab the reins, hit her back with them, and off we would go.We would either stand, doing our best to keep our balance, or sit on the flat sled. The mule and sled were also used to gather firewood for the stove and fireplace.

Later, we ventured across the pasture to the fishing hole which we named the Sinkhole because that's what the boys told us it was. It must have been a spring as it was very deep and the water was clear and cold. We were cautioned not to go in the water of the Sinkhole. I never swam in the Sinkhole, however, I did wade in it close to the edge a few times. All of us did a lot of fishing there. I remember catching my very first fish in the Sinkhole. I was so proud and Daddy said it was a warmouth perch. The fish we caught in the Sinkhole was the main dish for many a supper.

Across another fence and through the woods there was a large pond. We spent many hot days cooling off by swimming in the pond. I remember one day several of us decided to go to the pond for a swim. We trudged down the path through the thick woods, and as we neared the pond we heard a noise like a car straining to free itself from being stuck. That seemed strange, as the only way we knew to get back there was to go through the front gate, then Jenny's pasture, and take the path through the woods. And we thought the woods back there went on forever. When we got beyond the trees, we saw a car spinning and struggling to move a small trailer back and forth near the pond. We were indignant! Who would be sneaking a trailer on Grandma's farm, we wondered? The nerve of them. Didn't they know this property belonged to someone? Well, we were going to inform them that this was Grandma's property, or at least the boys were. We stood there watching as this trespasser attempted to spot the trailer. When all the commotion finally stopped and the intruder got out of the car, we were stunned to see who it was. After the initial shock, we walked up and said, "Hi, Aunt Billie. What'cha doin?" She swore us to secrecy as she did not want Uncle Ernest to know where she was. I guess she thought no one would go way back there, but this was one of our favorite places to play.

Once when Grandma came for a visit, she and Mama were sitting at the dining room table talking with all the kids gathered around them listening. Mama told Jim to go do a chore, but he didn't move. She interrupted the conversation several times to tell him to go do this job. Finally, he started to get up to leave, but turned and said, "Now, don't you all say anything until I get back." I remember watching Grandma eat celery with her front teeth like a rabbit.


The day arrived for all of us to go to Darby School and enroll. That is all of us with the exception of Mart the oldest. He had to ride a bus into Dade City to school. The rest of us attended the one-room school house, which still stands on the corner of Darby Road (now Bellamy Brothers Boulevard) and Miller Road. Mrs. Daisy B. Miller was the teacher, and she taught six grades. When our family arrived the size of the school increased dramatically. There were six of us going to the one-room school, and I believe the total student population was between twenty and twenty four. Some grades had only two students.

Mrs. Miller was a wonder, and I name her among my favorite teachers. Not only did she teach all six grades, but she walked to school, got there early on cold days, filled the woodstove with wood and had a good fire going so the room would be warm for us. If the weather was hot, the windows on both sides of the schoolroom were opened to catch a breeze.

All of us took a bag lunch, including Mrs. Miller. At lunch time, she would sit on the top step of the front porch and talk with us as we ate our lunch. I remember sitting beside her on the step as she inquired of me and some of my brothers and sisters about Aunt Billie, where she was and what she was doing. This was before Aunt Billie married Uncle Ernest. Later, as we walked home, we laughed about her concern for Aunt Billie. We decided the reason for her interest was that she had an unmarried son just about Aunt Billie's age.


I don't know how she ever taught all those different grades the things we needed to learn. Reading, math, spelling, geography, history. But she had a system. While she had one grade up front working with them, the rest of us had work to do at our seats, and we had better be busy doing it, with no talking. Some were to copy assignments from the board, as others read from their books.

To the best of my memory, there were five or six kids in my grade. I remember one time when my class was on the bench up front being questioned about a geography assignment we were supposed to have read, another student and I could not answer any of the questions. She came down hard on us for not doing our work. I continued to protest that I had read the assigned pages. "Then why aren't you able to answer the questions?" she wanted to know. I couldn't explain it, as a certain nervous anxiety filled my stomach. Finally, she told me to bring my book and let her look at it. When she did, she discovered that the pages in my book and the other student's did not correspond with the pages of the other children's books. I still have nightmares of taking tests with no earthly idea of what the material I am being tested on is about.

Mrs. Miller did not put up with foolishness. One time out of frustration I muttered "confound it". She heard it and used it as an example to teach us not to use that kind of language. She wrote the word on the board, saying, "I don't even know how to spell it." Then I had to write one hundred times, "I will not say confound it." To this day, I do not understand what was so bad about saying confound it. Ever so often, Mrs. Miller would gather all of us around the piano to sing hymns as she played. I remember hearing "Send the Light" for the first time at one of these singing sessions. However, there was one time she was not too happy with hymn singing. But that is for a later.

The school health nurse would visit the school from time to time to give the kids immunization shots. We dreaded to see her come, but there was one poor, frail, little blond girl who couldn't face it. Every time the school nurse came and began giving shots, she would pass out, whether she was to get a shot that day or not.


There was a period of time that year that Mrs. Miller missed several days of school because her husband was in the Veteran's Hospital in Bay Pines. Substitute teachers were rare in those parts during the 1940's. Mrs. Sessums, who lived across the road from the school, filled in for Mrs. Miller. Poor Mrs. Sessums, she was a soft spoken, sweet woman, who could not control that bunch of kids. Some of the boys got into a fight on more than one occasion while she was substituting. No such thing happened when Mrs.Miller was there. She put the fear of Mrs. Miller in all of us, even the larger boys.

Which brings to mind another incident that happened at the school. We were instructed to never, ever go outside of the fence which surrounded the school yard until it was time to go home. One day, Gerry, who was in the first or second grade, got a bee in her bonnet over something Mrs. Miller said to her, and out the gate she went. Several times Mrs. Miller called, "Geraldine Johns you come back here!" Gerry just kept on going down the hot, sun drenched road, giving no indication that she heard Mrs. Miller. I feared I was going to get Gerry's switching because she would not mind. Gerry walked on home, which was nearly two miles.

At recess and after eating our lunch, we played outside in the school yard. One game I remember playing was "Olie, olie, over." There were two teams, one on each side of the school house. One of the kids would throw the ball over the school house, yelling, "Olie, olie, over", then everybody would start running and try to get to the other side without being tagged by a member of the other team. One time while we were outside playing I was in line at the water fountain when a boy pushed in front of me and began drinking water. So I did what any normal kid would do, I pushed him, and as luck (bad) would have it, his lip hit the fountain and began to bleed. Before long, Mrs. Miller became involved, and after some questioning, determined what I had done. The punishment was a good switching on the legs. Later after we had gone back inside, the girl in the row next to me noticed that my leg was bleeding. "Reatha's leg is bleeding," she reported to Mrs. Miller. This is the only time I remember a somewhat defensive Mrs. Miller. She rather sheepishly pointed out that I had a sore on my leg and that was why it was bleeding.

I'm sure it must have been a spring day when one's fancy turns to things of the heart. I had finished my work, and searching for something to fill the time I decided to write a letter to a boy in the class named Robert Sessums. I had had a crush on him for some time, although he was probably not aware of it. I poured out my heart, writing down all the feelings one of my age could have for someone who appeared so good looking. Feeling safe as Mrs. Miller was busy up front with another class, I was completely engrossed with the project. Throwing caution to the wind I wrote with abandon of my love for him. This was out of character for me as I was kind of shy. However, there was a reason I wrote with such freedom of expression. I signed Lucy Mae Peterson's name to the letter. Now Lucy Mae Peterson was even shyer than me. Never able to put much over on Mrs. Miller, somehow she got wind of the letter, called my name, and told me to bring it to her. Startled and with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, I slowly made my way to her desk and handed her the letter. She quickly scanned it and then stated that she was going to read it out to the class.


I was mortified! How could I endure such humiliation? To have my feelings laid bare for all to see? As she began to read, I could feel the blood rush to my cheeks and I turned weak as I wanted to sink through the floor. When finally the slow torture ended, she began to lecture the girl whose name I had put at the bottom. Saying something about a girl her age writing such a letter. I just sat there letting Lucy Mae take the tongue lashing, thankful I had escaped. But then to my horror, she began to protest vehemently that she had not written the letter. Mrs. Miller did not believe her, saying, "Your name is signed to it." "But, I didn't write it!" she declared. "Well, then who did?" Mrs. Miller wanted to know. "I don't know, but I didn't do it." she replied. There are always those helpful little tattletales who delight in ratting on others. "Reatha did," she said with great satisfaction. One thing you never wanted to experience was the wrath of Mrs. Miller. She reprimanded me not only for writing such a letter, but then to have the audacity to sign someone else's name! She went on and on, which seemed like forever, saying something about how you could go to jail for doing such a thing. Put the fear in me! I could just see myself languishing in jail forever, thinking about the awful thing I had done. From that horrible experience, I learned that if you write it, someone will read it. I don't believe I have signed someone else's name to anything since that dreadful day.

One day Mrs. Miller had an announcement. We all perked up, intent on hearing what she was saying. That afternoon if we finished all our work, we were going to the field across the road and have an Easter egg hunt. Oh, great, we could hardly wait for the time to go for the egg hunt. Some of the women in the community had colored and hid a lot of eggs and baked some goodies for us. Finally, it was time and we all marched in line across the road and hunted for the colorful eggs in the tall grass. This was so much fun, the most we had had in a long time. Finally, the end of the school year was near and we were going on a field trip. The bus came and loaded all of us on it and we made what seemed like a long ride.We came to a park which had a lake and a swimming pool. The water was clear and cool in the pool, not like the water in the ponds. We had a great time swimming and then had a picnic lunch. I have no idea who provided the lunch, but it was great. After a while we were allowed to swim some more, then it was time for the long bus ride back to the school.


It was a rare occasion for us to have company as we lived so far out. One day we heard the sound of a car coming down the road, which was unusual. Several of us kids gathered by the front fence, peering down the road, trying to figure out who was coming. We waited with anticipation for the car to come into the yard. When we saw that it was Aunt Isabelle and Uncle Dolphus, along with their kids, we were filled with excitement.

We never lacked for someone to play with as we always had a brother or sister, but to have company, now that was special. As the adults went into the house, the cousins stood around talking with each other. We had a lot to tell these cousins of all there was on the farm that was so much fun.

After we had eaten lunch and the grown-ups sat down to catch up on all the news, several of the older kids decided to go out in the woods to explore and show off. As we were standing around bragging about all the things we had on the farm, one of our city cousins decided he couldn't let all this bragging go on without a challenge. Curtis took out a plug of Uncle Dolphus' tobacco he had conveniently borrowed for just such a time. He shared the tobacco with the boys, and they stood around chewing and spitting, trying to look worldly wise. Finally, I decided I should try some so I could look that way too. Curtis, happy to oblige, tore off a piece and handed it to me. I put it in my mouth, trying to hide how bad it tasted and how it was burning the inside of my mouth. I chewed it for a few minutes, spitting along with the boys. But then I began to feel sick. I became so weak that I had to lie down under a tree until the rest of the kids were ready to go home. To get enough strength to walk home, the boys pulled some palmetto fronds and had me eat the tender ends. I have never had any desire to chew tobacco since. Although I did share some rabbit tobacco cigarettes with the boys from time to time.


Sundays were special as we all got dressed up with the best we had and went to church. It was a small non-denominational church and Brother Myers was the pastor. Grandma thought a lot of Brother Myers. He worked in Dade City, as did she, and he gave her a ride to and from work. He had to go a considerable distance out of his way to pick her up and take her home.

At church, we sang songs, listened to him preach and did a little socializing. Once when Grandma went to church with us, I remember watching her doze off and start snoring while Brother Myers was preaching. I thought it quite funny at the time, but now I understand. One time as the congregation was singing, I sang out with gusto. Brother Myers took note of it, bragging on me, he asked if I wanted to come up and lead the second verse. I agreed, and up I went to the front of the church. The piano began to play and early into the verse, I came upon the longest, most difficult word I had ever encountered, and I stumbled all over it. I think it was something like, "consternation". I was embarrassed, but Brother Myers tried to smooth it over by commenting, "Even adults have trouble with that word."

Excitement rippled through the kids in the congregation that Sunday as we heard Brother Myers announce that we were going to have a revival. We worked like beavers, cleaning up the church yard. The next Sunday morning as we came to church we were all filled with eager anticipation to see what this preacher would be like. We were not disappointed. He was a great big guy with a young, pretty wife, and he played the guitar for special songs they sang. They liked kids and paid attention to all of us. There names were Jimmy and Nancy Portwood. We did not want to miss one night of the revival after that first Sunday.

Another thing that delighted us with Jimmy Portwood was he brought loud speakers and mounted them out by the road facing in both directions. He wanted the neighbors to hear the singing and preaching, hoping they would come to see what was going on. Well, this did not set well with Mrs. Miller. At school she let her opinion be known, especially to those who attended the Non-denominational Church. She did not think that loud singing going out all over the neighborhood was a good idea at all. It must have been loud if she could hear it all the way to her house, as it was a good distance from the church. But as kids, we thought it was great. Were we excited!!.

Sometime during the services that week, Brother Myers announced that next Sunday we were going to have dinner on the grounds after the morning service. That Sunday morning as Brother Jimmy Portwood preached, I must confess that I do not think our thoughts were always where they should have been. Sometimes we delighted ourselves with visions of all that good food, the fun of eating outside, and playing. And we were not disappointed. After the service, we could hardly wait for all the food to be put out on tables under the huge oak trees. Finally, the blessing was asked, and we began to eat. Wonderful fried chicken, cakes, potato salad and other delicious food, but the one I remember best of all was the banana pudding. And the good thing was we could eat as much as we wanted. (The picture taken of the people of Darby was at that dinner on the grounds.



Those long, hot summer days were made for fishing in the sinkhole or swimming in the pond. We would go out in the backyard and dig a few worms, or go out in the pasture and catch grasshoppers. Get a sturdy limb, tie some twine to it, attach a hook, and we were set for hours of pure pleasure. The sinkhole had an endless supply of brim or perch. I learned to scale the perch and brim and skin the catfish as good as any of the boys.

Other times, we hitched up the mule and went for rides in the woods. If we were able to come up with a few cents, we walked the more than five miles down the long graded road to the store to buy cold drinks and perhaps some candy.

Mart, who had a lifelong love of airplanes also had a very inquisitive and imaginative mind. When he could get enough money he would buy a model airplane, spend all the time to put it together, then set it on fire to watch it burn as it headed for the ground. That summer he decided to build a real airplane. Every waking minute, he was out in the barnyard working on the airplane. He used whatever materials he found on the farm to build it with. When I wrote of this in the 1980's Mart gave me this list of the materials he used. He used a two-by-four for the fuselage, plywood for the tail section, and some leather straps he found in the barn for hinges for control. He found some barrel staves and used them for wing ribs, and the front and rear spars were made out of a piece of one-by-four covered with tar paper. Not having any wheels, he took two barrel staves and made runners. Virginia's chalk board became the seat, which she said really upset her when she found out. For control cables, he used some twine from Grandma's rug loom. He said he secured everything with nails and if the nails would not hold, he tied it together with some of the twine.

He had decided to use Daddy's old 1936, four cylinder, International truck to pull it with to get it airborne. One day when Mart was gone, Jim and Bill decided to test fly the airplane. They thought better of using Daddy's truck to pull it with, instead opting for the mule. All of us ran out to the barnlot where the airplane had been built to witness this event.

The boys caught the mule, put on the bridle and traces, backed her up to the airplane and attached the traces to it. One of them held the mule by her halter and opened the gate while the other one slapped her on the rump. This startled the mule and she lunged forward through the gate, airplane in tow. As it started through the gate, both wings caught on the gateposts, and as the mule tried to keep going, the airplane folded in a heap.

We all stood there in shock, then doubled over with laughter at the sight. When the reality of having to face Mart began to sink in, there was a lengthy discussion of what story to tell. Later, Mart said he realized that God had stepped in. He said if he had been in that airplane with one of the boys pulling it with Daddy's truck, it would in all probability have torn apart. The tar paper would not have withstood the force of the wind and the plane would have flipped over and over, and no telling what would have happened to him. I have become convinced that God has intervened in the lives of many little boys.

We had to fill the long, hot summer days either with fishing, swimming or inventions of our making. Jim and I discovered a large pile of bricks out from the yard in the pasture. At one time there had been a syrup mill there, but it had long since fallen down. Jim and I decided to build a little city using the bricks. We played for days, building little houses and roads and using our imagination to give life to this little city. We talked about how hundreds of years later, people would dig up this city and wonder about the little people who lived there.

One day Mama told all of us that we were going on a picnic. We thought this was great that she was going with us. We swam many days, but just us kids. She packed some sandwiches, and we walked to one of the ponds on Uncle Ernest's place. It was some distance from his house, but was a beautiful place, with some shade trees and grass. It also had some marshy areas, with tall grass and weeds. We swam, ate and rested on a blanket for a good part of the day. Before evening I realized I had a good case of redbugs. My stomach, thighs, the backs of my knees were covered with red, itchy places. I had so many redbug bites that I had a fever from them.


Some time after we moved on the farm, Aunt Billie married Uncle Ernest Croft. They were our closest neighbor, which was about three quarters to a mile away. As we lived at the very end of the road, we passed their house twice every day on our way to and from school.

One time, Aunt Billie took several of us kids and went to Highway 52 and Highway 41, which was called Gowers Corner. I do not remember there being any particular reason for us to go. However, by the time we started home, it was dark, I mean really dark. There was nothing, no buildings, no people, on Highway 52 all the way from Gowers Corner to Darby Road, which was about ten miles.

We started down Highway 52 towards Darby Road, and after having gone a little ways, the car sputtered and stopped. No amount of twisting the starter, praying or anything else would get that car to start. We all got out and began to discuss what we should do. Aunt Billie suggested that some of us stay with the car, and she and some of the others would walk to Darby Road where the small store was. As she talked with us, trying to decide who would stay and who would walk, she found it an impossible decision. The night was pitch black, there were no lights for miles. If she stayed, all of us wanted to stay. If she went, all of us wanted to go.It was finally decided that all of us would walk to the store, which I'm sure was already closed. Anyway, the whole bunch of us struck out walking and talking, but staying just as close to Aunt Billie as we could.

One day I went to see Aunt Billie. She was baking a cake. As I watched, and we talked, she said it was easy to bake a cake. I showed an interest, so after she got it into the oven, she wrote the recipe down for me. Some time later, I went into the kitchen at the farm and saw that Mama had started a fire in the woodstove to cook supper. I found the listed ingredients, put a cake together and put it into the oven. I watched it, and when it looked good and brown, I took it out. Later when we cut it to eat, we found that the outside was done, but not the inside. I never have figured out how they were able to regulate the temperature on a woodstove to cook cakes.

The next school year, I went to stay with an aunt and uncle in Green Cove Springs and went to school there. I stayed until sometime in January. One day Aunt Ida told me that they were going to take me home. I liked staying with Aunt Ida, Uncle Rynsey, and cousin Mariam, but I did get home sick and welcomed the news. Shortly thereafter, I got my transfer papers from the school, put my things in the back of the truck, and we started on the long trip to Darby. After riding for hours, I recognized that we were nearing Darby. We turned on Darby Road and drove the five or six miles to the school.

Have you ever heard of the kid who goes off for a while and when he comes home, finds his family has moved away? It seems the family had moved from the farm while I was gone, a fact I was unaware of, and my aunt and cousin were not sure where the new house was. So we went to the school to ask some of the other kids. Mrs. Miller, sensing this was an important event, let the rest of the kids out of school early so they could go home and visit with the company. We turned around and went back towards Highway 52, past the Non-denominational Church for a mile or so to the new place where the family lived. I was very glad to be home, and had fun at the new place, but it was not the same as the farm.

Mart had to take the long bus ride into Dade City to go to school so had to leave for school earlier than the rest of us. I remember one time he skipped school. As the rest of us were walking down Darby Road to school, we spotted him some distance off the road in the bushes. We sang out, "We see you, Mart.We're going to tell on you." It was hard for any of us to get away with anything as there was always someone around to catch us. During the summer after the end of the school year, we moved from Darby to Thonotosassa. I remember Daddy took the boys to Thonotosassa before the family actually moved and had them plant peas. By the time we moved, it was apparent what they had done. The pea bushes were in thick clumps throughout the field. To get through with planting, they had put many more peas in each spot than was necessary. My fond memories of living in Darby have remained with me all these years.


If my fact about the first grade is incorrect, change it.....People remember best the immediate circumstances in which they were involved.Do you remember which grades had two students?....It seems to me there were two grades with only two students....If mine had five and yours had five, that is nearly half the student population.

The only older student I can recall was Gorden Peterson, who was tall and lean. Maybe there were only a couple of students in Jim's and Bill's grade....Seems like Ruth Bellamy went into Dade City, but she may have gone with us....

I keep remembering a few minor details that I left out; one was that Ethel McKendrick drove to church with her new baby on one shoulder. The reason I remember it is, Mama commented on it. Also, it seems when I watched Aunt Billie making the cake, she was in the trailer which by that time had been moved near the Croft house. And when we had the revival and dinner on the ground, it seems that is when the retarded girl came to church with her mother. Seems I heard later that her mother died and we wondered what would become of her. They lived just south of the church....Do you remember her? I also left out the Onxy Hole (Onyx Myers, daughter of the preacher), but I believe she ran into the hole at the corner of Darby Road and Ernest Croft road while I was in Green Cove Springs....and I just heard about it....Maybe some of the rest of you can give the details of that.......Going to a small church now, it seems to me the Myers must have done all the cleaning and mowing, raking for the church....It was always done, never thought about who did it....I do seem to remember using the funeral home fans to cool ourselves......Oh, Well, I have enjoyed reliving all the good times I had at Darby.

No, I do not have any other pictures from Darby......My distances and proportions are not always accurate....I now think the distance from the farm to Uncle Ernest's house was only about one-half mile.....It is in the mule & rattlesnake story, if you care to change it.....Of course Jim had to run all the way across the pasture too, which was some distance.....The reason I don't think it was more than one-half mile is we lived just under two miles from the school, and it was a pretty good distance to the school once we got on Darby Road..........I don't remember telling Dylan that story when I was first writing it, but I must have as he has mentioned it several times....Maybe I can get the school picture taken in Green Cove Springs sent before you get to that part of the story.......it is near the end.......RA.







Nellie's Walden Pond

Henry David Thoreau lived at Walden Pond from July 1845 to September 1847. His experience at Walden Pond provided the material for the book Walden, which is credited with helping to inspire awareness and respect for the natural environment. Because of Thoreau's legacy, Walden Pond has been designated a National Historic Landmark. This place, Walden Pond, is considered the birthplace of the conservation movement. And should we really care about the rumor that Henry David's mother brought him his dinner while he was there being mesmerized by this unearthly beautiful piece of God's green earth? I think not. And why not? Read on.

Jimmy Johns and brother Bill were doing as boys have done for untold centuries; we were exploring. We wanted to know the boundaries of Grandmother Nellie's 60-acre farm. As we plowed through the underbrush and woods, we came upon a fairly good-sized pond. One of us caught a large yellow-and-red grasshopper and tossed it into the middle of the pond. About two kicks later, the grasshopper disappeared in a swirl of water. I remember it still, just as if it had been yesterday. A hole opened up under that unfortunate grasshopper right about the size of a ten-quart water bucket. We looked at each other and said simultaneously, "Let's go get the poles".


That had to be the granddaddy of all Largemouth Bass. I don't care if the world record at that time was 20 lbs. plus, this one just had to be bigger. Twenty-five easy. And we were going to catch it. Say your prayers, Mr. Bass; you've had the course; bought the farm, adios amigo. But that fish didn't get that big by being stupid. He was smart alright. Lucky for him we had to move later. His name was destined for the Hall of Fame along with the Johns brothers. We tried, Lord knows we tried. No telling how many cans of worms drowned in the attempt. We managed to catch several of his brothers, but never the trophy, the keeper, the eternal, from-now-on bragging rights, all-time biggun'.

Many happy hours spent in the attempt. Too many? There's no way to fish too much. One's life can be wasted working too much, but never by fishing too much. Something elemental about this. Men were created to fish and fish were spawned to be caught. And that's the end of that. We managed to catch many a mess of War-mouth Perch under those half-submerged logs around the pond's bank. Those Catfish just begged to be caught. They'd bite as long as one cared to keep feeding them bait; same with Perch, same with Bream. But Old Granddad stayed just out of reach. Sometimes late at night as I lay there in bed listening to the Whippoorwill's call, I could just see Old Granddad swimming close to shore and laughing at our feeble attempts. He's probably gone now. That's been over fifty years. But his grandchildren and great grandchildren and on down the line, surely they're still there. And, no I'm not going to divulge just where that pond's located. There's still a trophy-sized fish there, there must be, just has to be. And it's mine and Jimmy's fish. We earned it. It belongs to us. All the rest of you supposed-anglers forget about it. It's ours. And I intend to see to it that it becomes ours, no question about it. Case closed...NEXT "GRANDMA'S WELL"


I do remember coming home one evening from a church service and swigging down about a half-pint of milk before I could stop. Don't remember if this milk resided in an ice box or refrigerator. That milk was far past its prime. The first experience we had with electricity was on the corner of Rome and Waters Avenues in Tampa. I was in the fourth grade there. We were in Darby during 1947 when I would have to have been 10 years old. (Mrs. Miller's 1948 Chevrolet) I do recall Mart riding a tricycle wildly about the living room near Grandma's fireplace and losing it on a turn and breaking a pane of glass in the front door. That must have been either decorative side panes on the side of the front door, or else the doors were made then with bottom-to-top panes. I do remember Mart getting cut with the broken glass. Doors aren't made with top-to-bottom panes anymore, probably due to safety factors involved. Can't remember any injury any more serious than that during our "Darby Days". The severe drought is recounted in my story about The 'Hood. (COMING SOON) Was by the one-room school house just a few short years ago. It became a dwelling house. Quite a story involved with the man who refused to follow his wife into town but opted to stay there with the "Schoolhouse/house". My hat is off to him. More as more bubbles up from the past. Love to all ya'all, Brother and Uncle Bill


The person responsible for setting up the facilities on Grandma's farm had just about thought of everything. Instead of three bedrooms and two baths, we had more like three bedrooms and a path. It worked. One quickly developed the habit of taking care of the necessaries rather quickly during cold weather. Other than that, the Sears and Roebuck catalogue for uplifting literature, the things dreams were made of, and for other purposes and time stood still. Never seemed to present an insurmountable problem. There was always the woods for the less-squeamish. But the open well was a stroke of genius.

After over fifty years, I still marvel at the obvious labor involved in digging that well. The top of the average water table was many feet below ground. And whoever did the digging didn't stop short. The well's bottom was many feet below the average water table. Why, I never learned. I'm sure it wasn't just for the love of digging deep narrow holes in the ground. The water was always cool, even during the hottest days of summer. Many a liberated watermelon chilled in Grandma's well. By liberated I don't mean we grew them; rather we, "found them growing."

Someone had suggested putting a couple of catfish in the well for mosquito control. We did, and it apparently worked. Never a wiggletail in the drinking water. Someone had also suggested bailing out the well to let it "refresh" itself by refilling with "new" water. I don't recall who'd been the author of all of these sage suggestions, but I'd be willing to bet it wasn't the person doing the bailing. We eventually found bottom. A deep, dark, mysterious hole-in-the-ground. Three tired well mechanics slept well (no pun intended) that night and woke up to a refilled well next morning. We performed that operation just once. My brothers and I had proven that it could be done and that was close enough for us.

Young adventurous boys are rarely ever accused of having good sense. We fit that criteria perfectly. If it were even remotely possible to be done, then it was our duty to do it. "Don't dare me brother. I'll show you." We never got the courage to allow ourselves to be lowered down into that well but it was discussed more than once. If you can't bring the boy to the well, then bring the well to the boy. I would, even on the coldest frosty morning of winter, run out to the well in my shorts, pull up two buckets of water, dump them over myself, drop the bucket and run back in the house for a quick drying-off and the warmth of that fireplace or Grandma Nellie's Home Comfort kitchen range. Never a case of pneumonia there to my recollection. Perhaps a runny-nosed cold on occasion, but no worse.
Were we poor? Not that I remember. As a poem I once wrote relates:

Oh Blessed Lord-
Curse me not with an easy life,
Bless me with great strength
Curse me not with simple answers,
Bless me with great knowledge
Curse me not with easy solutions,
Bless me with great wisdom
My survival begs for food, clothing, work, rest,
Friends I love who also love me
I seek all of this treasure,
If so gaining, I'm wealthy beyond measure

That brief period of our lives spent there on Grandma Nellie's farm fulfilled that prayer better than any period of our lives before then and, speaking for myself only, better than any period since. Thank you so much Grandma Nellie.

Daisy Belle Miller and The Yellow Rose of Texas

A one-room schoolhouse, not conducive to learning? Believe this if you will, but you didn't have the pleasure of making Mrs. Daisy Belle's acquaintance. Mrs. Miller may not have been a world-traveler; may not have spent hours on end attending the opera; visiting museums; getting gussied up in fancy ball gowns. But Mrs. Miller could do one thing and she could do it well; Mrs. Miller could teach. And Mrs. Miller was bound and determined to bring culture to us little ragamuffin country children.

We learned music. And not all of that high-falutin' stuff either. Daisy Belle had a favorite: "The Yellow Rose of Texas." Every day, same thing, eight o'clock sharp, salute the flag, pledge allegiance, may have been a rendition of The Lord's Prayer in there somewhere, and then sit down and prepare to sing The Yellow Rose of Texas. We may on occasion have sung some other less-worthy songs but I don't remember. Mrs. Miller would sit down at that old upright piano and give a short introductive chord. Then be prepared to belt it out. Never heard the neighbors across the street, The Sessoms, complain. Two of the Sessoms boys were in school then. And a school marm carried an awesome amount of power in the community. You have a problem with the school marm? You just thought you had a problem. By the time that school marm finished with you and your parents and the rest of the community found out about it, you were the one with a problem, not the school marm.

Grades one through six. The big seventh graders had to ride the school bus all of the way into Dade City and attend Pasco High School. San Antonio didn't have a highschool then, as I recall. Would have been closer but progress takes time. St. Leo College, right close at hand. As a matter of fact, this is where the actor Lee Marvin attended school. But I digress. That little one-room school house was where the learning took place. Mrs. Miller did her best to instill good learning habits in us young ones. Seems like I remember the board of education residing right there in her top right-hand desk drawer. Pretty effective tool. One session was usually enough. A teacher can't do that now. Two different ways of looking at corporal punishment; but back then and under those circumstances, it worked.

Mrs. Miller had an ability about her to let a child explore and learn on their own. Where else would a child be allowed to mark off the hour sun-shadows as they marched across his desk and design his own personal sundial. Defacing school property? Not in Mrs. Miller's book. This child was making real-world scientific observations.

Mrs. Miller's son was in the military. Seems like I remember the name of Alfred; it's been a long time now. But Mrs. Miller managed on her salary to purchase a brand new 1948 Chevrolet Coupe. Blue in color and the chrome bumpers had become available by then; not the way it was at war's end. Really pretty car for that time. Solid blue in color and an in-line Chevvy six engine. Alfred, I'm fairly sure his name was, sent his mom a speed governor for her car. Mrs. Miller brought it to school and let us future mechanics have a look. Part of the approved curriculum? Mrs Daisy Belle approved and that was good enough.

Aunt Billie and Uncle Ernest had their share of domestic problems. The neighborhood grapevine usually picked up on such with amazing rapidity. The internet transmits packets of information sandwiched between spurts of voice communication. But while the internet information is being transmitted, it travels at around 186,320 miles per second over the communication wires. The speed of light. The neighborhood grapevine seems not to be constrained within technical limits. For getting information disseminated, give me the grapevine every time. Mrs Daisy Belle had gotten a whiff of Auntie's and Uncle's problems. Six little Johns children with twelve little ears, surely a veritable treasure trove of information. Start with the youngest and work up. "No'm, I don't know nuthin'." "You don't know anything, anything!" "Yes'm, and that's a fact." Rally around the flag and dummy-up; every last one of us. Only time I ever remember the grapevine being thwarted.


During the time we lived in Darby, the expression, "The 'Hood" was a totally alien expression to us. But the generally accepted meaning of this expression fits the bill perfectly. This place nurtured us, gave us adventure, protection by many pairs of observant neighbor's eyes, a good place in which to grow and learn. And as subsequent events have proven, a safe haven. During our all-to-brief sojourn there, life-lessons and experiences were becoming indelibly engraved and ingrained in our individual and collective psyches; lessons for a lifetime.

One incident that occurred while we lived in the neighborhood made an impression that we've never forgotten. Someone had broken into a house. The whole county was upset about this. This event was almost totally unheard of. I don't recall that much, if anything, was taken; don't recall extensive property damage. But all of that was secondary in importance to someone having violated the sanctity of another person's home. The attitude expressed in the general conversation throughout the community let us young ones know just how low in regard such an activity was held. This small community of Darby, FL wasn't in the business of raising juvenile delinquents, and we all sensed this in the very core of our being.

As has been stated previously elsewhere, to get to Grandma Nellie's farm, one left the hard road at McKendrie's (sp?) General store, traveled about four miles down a washboard (extreme small-bumpiness) road, turned left onto a dirt road after crossing a cattle gap, and continued on past Uncle Ernest's place to Grandma's place. This last leg probably consisted of a half-mile or so. As the old saying goes, getting there was half the fun. But once we'd reached our destination, a certain feeling of belonging, a feeling of peace descended over us. And this was all part of not just Grandma's farm but included the community at large.

I remember when we lost our paternal grandmother, material wealth was in short supply but community support shown brightly as ever. I still recall the stricken look in my dad's eyes. The minister came over and gave him a ride to town so he could catch a bus to Okeechobee. I'm not too sure where the bus fare came from--kids weren't privy to such information back then--but I seem to remember that a little bit more than simple transportation to town was provided. Money was always short. We survived most of the time while we were there (a family of nine) on $20.00 weekly. But we survived.

Boys could be more-or-less turned loose in the community and allowed to explore and learn. We'd experienced one of the periodic droughts while we lived there. We'd moved from Grandma's place and had rented an old house near the single-lane bridge across the creek. A pond across the road from where we were living had dried up from perhaps 10 or 15 acres to about a quarter-acre mud hole. We boys got the bright idea of going to catch the edible fish and to throw the gar fish out on the bank. These gar fish, commonly known as Alligator Gar, look like an ancient part of creation and are generally considered trash fish. While engaged in this endeavor, I felt another one, got my hands under it and gave a mighty toss. This one bent in the middle and both its head and tail stayed under water. I was perplexed for about two seconds before I saw that Water Moccasin raise its head above water to see what had just happened to it. An immediate alarm was raised and we gave the mud-hole to the snake; albeit temporarily. Common sense would have dictated letting the snake have the hole, mud, gar fish and all. But we're dealing with young boys here, not common sense. We managed to chase that snake down and dispatch it. We got another snake about the same size from that same mud hole before we were finished. I remember being about 5' 10" then. I held the snake out at arm's length and noticed its head dragging the ground. Big enough.

One doesn't necessarily have to believe in guardian angels to somehow sense a protective spirit about Darby, FL and places like it. We all managed to not just survive but thrive there in that environment and the protective spirit inherent in the place.


Living on Grandma Burdett's farm was the closest we would ever come to re-living the pioneer days-Okeechobee doesn't count because we moved while most of us were still very young--and my brothers, our cousin Norman Franks, and I intended to make the most of it. Log cabin days: we read about them, we heard about them and we intended to duplicate them as closely as time, materials, and boys' energies would permit. Behind the fenced portion of the place was growing a pretty stand of slash pine. So much for materials. Next came the tools: one axe. Next came the time: all of the time in the world; childhood lasts forever. We set to work and felled several trees; stripped the limbs off; chopped the trunks into suitable lengths, chopped notches into the log ends; laid the foundation course of logs; and we were on our way.

Folks, our pioneers were superhuman. Right about half way through the second course of logs, energies were flagging. By the end of the second course, energies were flagging badly. Before the end of the third course, energies had evaporated. Fall back and re-group. This pioneer stuff was hard work. We decided to stop for a breather and re-evaluate, re-engineer, re-think; tomorrow was another day. We did manage to carry the tools (one axe) back to the house. We decided to attack the project the very next day. The following day for sure. Tomorrow never came. Other duties intervened. Even with a willing (once we ran her down) mule for snaking logs, this project had rapidly grown to gargantuan proportions. Those folk who settled this nation of ours were either possessed of superhuman strength or were in league with the devil. From that time forward we never looked at American history in the same manner.

Never thought of a childhood whim as a history lesson, but this one was. Never thought of a brief sojourn on Grandma's farm in the country as an education in history, geography, survival, farming, foraging, engineering, cooperation, mechanics, carpentry, fishing, health, science, community responsibility. But it became all of this and more. From that time forward, we never looked at those people in those dusty oval-framed photographs in the same manner, ever again either.

All of that helped whet a life-long curiosity that is still being played out with the help of the internet. And to all of you long-lost cousins and uncles, great-aunts and great-uncles, etc., etc., welcome to the family and let's hear your part of our family story. Our quest to find out why we talk so much; why our love for mechanics, art, literature, music. Who wore those wooden shoes I saw as an eight-year-old on the trip to Ohio with Grandma Nellie? And many other questions, too numerous to mention.

Every last one of us has a talent. Philip Dubose and his penchant for family names and addresses, and phone numbers. Virginia Baxter and her mission to document family history, her innate ability to absorb and use technical data. Those among us with a love for documenting and reporting, never a job but always a joy. Others with their writing, story-telling, artistry, craftsmanship. Barb Burdett/Slaughterbeck and her tireless research. What a debt of gratitude!

See all ya'all the second Sunday of November for the annual Family Clan Gathering. We've got a tremendous amount to discuss. See ya' then.

DARBY 2002

Dear V., May it please you to know that the Darby schoolhouse now has a screened porch all the way across the front and across the right side as viewed from the front. It has an antique looking exterior siding of some sort. Looks really good. The present owners have been there about four years. The gentleman's name is Austin Gade. (That's with two dots over the a and a hard e.) They have a lot of people stopping who knew about the school house and claim not to mind. Said the original owner after the school house duties were over lived there for many years and wasn't married. So the story about the man who refused to follow his wife into the big city--as in Dade City-and opted to stay in the old one-room schoolhouse may just have a ring of truth about it.

Uncle Ernest is now 95 as of July 9, 2002 (Kim's birthday) and claims to feel fine. Doesn't know of any medical problems. Does admit to being hard of hearing and not being able to see too well. Wife Alma will be 88 the 19th of September. She did have some work done on some skin cancers on her legs and said they are doing fairly well.

Doug and Annie Mae Bellamy are both gone now and daughter Ruth lives in Tampa and goes by the name of Mrs. Douglas Farr. Helen Miller, Daisy Belle's niece, is gone now and Mary Alice is the sole survivor from that family. Homer, Doug's brother and wife Francis Bellamy live just up the road from the old school house. That would be east of the school house near where Daisy Belle lived, but across the road. The two boys, Howard-born Feb 2, 1946 and David-born Sept. 16, 1950 have made Doug and Francis really proud. They are successful country music performers.

For those who care about technicalities, Bellamy Brothers Boulevard (Darby Road) lies in a generally north-south direction. Ernest Croft Road lies in a westerly direction when viewed from Bellamy Brothers Blvd. A compass reading shot down the center of Ernest Croft Road while standing on Bellamy Brothers Blvd. gives a reading of 280 degrees, which is 10 degrees north of due west. A compass reading taken of the shoulder paint stripe of Bellamy Brothers Blvd. facing approximately north from the same location gives a reading of 358 degrees, which only deviates from magnetic north by 2 degrees. That's close enough for most purposes. In short, Bellamy Brothers Blvd. runs approximately north-south and Ernest Croft Rd. runs approximately east-west.

Alma first saw Uncle Ernest In a workman's comp line waiting for his $15.00 for the week. She heard that he always worked when work was available, talked it over with her mom, and accepted his proposal. They've now been married more years than most people have been alive. Wish now I'd written down the dates. And that's about it on current news from Darby. Oh yes, Alma and Ernest may attend this next reunion if Cheryl (daughter of Ernest & Aunt Billie) will drive. Alma said she will not drive in Tampa any more. (To be 88 years old the 19th of September) Can't say that I blame her. Love ya', Bill


We learned that one teacher, with the community firmly behind her, could teach six grades at once while six teachers without proper support have much difficulty trying to teach even one grade. That singing "The Yellow Rose Of Texas" over and over won't stunt your growth. That if you're really sincere about learning, a teacher will allow you to get away with carving an operating sun dial on your desk top and will bring all six grades around for you to explain to them the principles involved in measuring time with a sundial.

We also learned that an old country gentleman can act with as much dignity during trying times as royalty and without nearly as much pomp and circumstance and ceremony.

We learned that an old open well can chill watermelons as effectively as any modern refrigerator. That on a still, dark night, if one listened very carefully and held one's breath long enough, Chinese could be heard being spoken somewhere way down that open well. We also learned that if three boys spelled each other off and bailed for most of one day, the bottom could be reached. But we were never really sure of this because we were all too afraid to be lowered down that bottomless hole to find out. We also learned that if two buckets of chilly well water were poured over a young boy, he wouldn't freeze to death.

We learned that our mom could go to an empty cupboard and prepare a meal for seven hungry kids. That the fish you catch taste better than the fish you buy. That turtles are good to eat. That just about anything is good to eat if it doesn't eat you first. That blackberries are harder to pick on the ground than mulberries are from up in a tree due to thorns and fear of snakes.

An old Fordson steel-wheeled tractor magneto can still deliver a good healthy jolt, even if the tractor no longer runs. An almost two-mile walk to and from school every school day will not kill you; it just makes your bare feet tough and your leg muscles hard. And your skin turns dark brown during the summer. We learned that we wouldn't always get everything we wanted. Quite often, the big one does get away. But we learned that if we aimed for the moon; even a miss was still out of this world. We learned that it is possible to fish for an entire day and still be ready to go back for more the very next day.

We became attuned to the sights and sounds and smells of nature. We learned that a rattlesnake will warn of its presence; that it would rather be left alone than to fight; that it even exudes an odor similar to a goat's odor. That honeybees will fight if molested. That in the average honeybee-vs-boy fight, you're on your own; your two older brothers have enough problems of their own right then. That a Magnolia tree in bloom is one of the prettiest smells in all of nature.

We learned that one mule has more common sense than three young boys all put together. That a mule knows better than to even try to cross a cattle-gap, even if prodded and pulled and encouraged by three dumb young boys. We also learned that even a patient mule can get enough. A couple of smart bucks will unseat even the most tenacious trio of boys all at one time. And a sandspur patch is just as good as the next place. A mule will, if asked, try to help the Wrong Brothers launch a home-made airplane. Even if the mule already knows that the contraption won't fly; not only that, it won't even fit through the gate.

We learned that turtles are so good to eat that feeling for one under-water with one's toes is a reasonable risk. One can survive quite handily living down a long dirt road even if this dirt road is reached by first traveling down a 4-mile-long rough washboard road. Good neighbors really do care about you and will look out for you and are willing to help when needed.

We learned that we could never slip anything past our mom. She must have had more than the standard set of eyes in the back of her head. We learned later in life that yes, as a matter of fact, water moccasins can bite under water but guardian angels must always be close when it concerns reckless young boys. We found out that building log cabins is a whole lot of work. That we had the best grandmother who ever lived and we're prepared to offer evidence to support this position.


My brothers and I discovered a large old tree near the sinkhole with wild honey bees going in and out of a knothole about 25-30 feet up the tree. So far so good. Leave those bees to their nectar-gathering and honey making and all will be right with the world. Not to three callow youths. To keep the earth turning on its axis and all the planets properly aligned something just had to be done about the bees. We'd already learned about the labor involved in cutting trees down; that's too much like hard work. Our next option involved seeing just which one us could come the closest to hitting the knothole with a pine knot. Jim, being strong of arm and fleet of foot, scored a direct hit. Now, bees aren't supposed to react like hornets. Usually. Those suckers had tolerated just about all the temerity they could stand. Don't remember which one of us detected a change in pitch and volume of the bee's buzzing first but we all noticed a war party headed in our direction. I decided that if my two brothers would just keep those bees entertained, I'd run and get help. I left. Hurriedly. Mart and Jim must have had the same idea as mine. They both passed me. They both managed to set new world records for the 100 yard dash and in rough terrain in the bargain. The bees, probably figuring we weren't worth keeping even if they caught us, soon broke off the chase and went on back to beehive duty. My brothers and I, already knowing about discretion being the better part of valor, decided to leave those bees alone. Lucky for those little fellows that we decided sixty acres were room enough for us all.

Part of our survival lore consisted of being watchful for serpents. The Rattlesnake is an unusual creature in that it believes in the philosophy of live-and-let-live. It will try to avoid confrontation if given the option. It doesn't mind sounding a warning if one intrudes into its "comfort zone". We'd also learned that it will exude an odor very similar to a goat's. Empirical evidence has borne all of this out. While exploring near the "Log Cabin" fiasco, I detected this distinctly goat-like odor. Sure enough, a large rattler was doing its best to hide and avoid confrontation in some tall weeds along a fence row. And boys being boys, we kept the snake contained long enough to get a weapon and to dispatch the snake.

I've changed my philosophy about snakes in the intervening years. Every thing I don't fully understand doesn't necessarily deserve to be sent to the happy hunting-ground. Rattlesnakes are efficient rodent predators and rodents are, in turn, bad news for humanity. Rodents played a large part in decimating the world's human population beginning around AD 1346 / 1348. Within the next 10 years, nearly one-third of Europe's human population had fallen prey to and died from the Bubonic Plague. Flea-bearing rodents had distributed this dread disease. While nothing is hardly ever all black or all white, except to some extremist religious cults, rats are bad; snakes are the good guys. The serpent has its place in the grand scheme of things.


The large Magnolia tree near the sinkhole on the farm deserves honorable mention. This tree looms large in memory. It may not have been nearly as large or smelled nearly as sweet as memory dictates; but even if only half as large and half as pungent, this tree would still remain a shining facet of the jewel that Grandma's farm became.

Jenny, The Balking Mule: Brothers rarely ever work together in unison and harmony. The Johns brothers were, except for a few notable exceptions, classic examples of this rule...
Mart had managed to arouse my ire over some trifle. Mart, being a couple of years older and a few pounds heavier, was my physical better. If you can't out-man your opponent and are unwilling to just let things be, then try out-thinking him. Mart was driving Jenny the mule and pulling a load of wood for the fireplace. I'd managed, and as rare as this was, to get my butt on my shoulders. Quite a physical feat but I managed. Knowing that Mart was loathe to leave the mule driver-less and that the mule didn't quibble over who was issuing commands, I started calling out, "gee!, haw!, whoa!, giddap!" After a few of these commands and Mart's counter-commands, Jenny wisely decided to balk until we got our differences settled. I ran off and watched results. Jenny held her statue pose for about a half-hour. Mart's anger l
asted just about that long. I gave the mule and the brother a wide berth for a prudent length of time. And mules are the ones accused of being mule-headed.

Stepping on a turtle: One fine spring morning, I had business to attend to at the sinkhole. Probably some fish with my name on them. We'd experienced heavier rains than normal for that time of year and the field was under water. I was wading purposefully toward my intended destination when I stepped on a bump. Strange bump. I had to know. Feeling carefully with my toes-didn't wear shoes regularly until I was fourteen-I explored. I felt carefully and determined which was the business end. Satisfied as to where the biting end resided, I slowly reached under water and got a firm grip on the turtle's tail. This one incident was really nothing out of the ordinary--we three brothers had become efficient foragers--but this one sticks in my memory.

To say that we were poor would be missing the point of our Darby days entirely. In things that really mattered, we were some of the richest kids I've ever known; and all due to the behind-the-scenes endeavors of our Grandmother Nellie.


While my two brothers and I were busy exploring, foraging, teaching ourselves mule-skinning, (that's not as bad as it sounds; it denotes mule-handling) log-cabin building, wild honeybee mismanagement, mud-bogging with Grandma Nellie's car, all of these guy things, and more, there was a part of our family that had us badly outnumbered: our four sisters. While we boys were engaged in getting into trouble, our sisters were usually engaged in staying out of trouble. They were always ready and willing for a good fishing trip too, provided one of the grungy brothers dug the worms and kept the hooks baited.

Hard to forget the time Reatha hung a fair sized fish at the pond and fought a fair sized battle to see who was going to stay on the bank and who was going to stay in the water. I would have bet good money on the fish. Looked like an imminent "forward gainer" into the pond, fishing pole, fishing girl and all. But with much encouragement, shouted advice, the cliff-hanger was soon over. The fish lost. String that one up and go catch another one.

Virginia's first fish, what a whale! What a laudable act! Well, it was; considering the comparative size of the fish and the person on the dry end of the pole. There's only one first fish per person per lifetime. And I don't even remember my first fish. Memories of such usually grow larger with time. I expect mine to show on the radar screen any year now.

The nearly two-mile trek one way to school five days a week was accomplished not only by Mart, Jim, and Bill. There was also a Reatha, Martha Nell, Geraldine, and Virginia. One of the few activities I remember the girls passing on was the time one of the local farmers had a load of turnips that needed to be washed for market. Somebody came up with the clever idea of dumping those turnips off the foot bridge we crossed on the way to school. We boys bailed off into that murky water, caught those turnips as they floated down-stream, washed them and tossed them out on the bank. Good sport and we got paid for the effort. And let the snakes look out for themselves.

Boys are genetically predisposed to learn the hard way. The Olympic Motto: Citius, Altius, Fortius-Latin for Faster, Higher, Braver-is generally accepted to mean Faster, Higher, Stronger. This motto became our own. No well too deep, no tree too high, no forest too forbidding. And a dare was incentive enough to cause anyone of us to jump right in, head first, worry about the consequences later. Younger sisters were generally possessed of much cooler, wiser heads. Have wondered many times why we brothers escaped our Darby days with our persons intact, not one broken bone, not one case of irretrievably scrambled brains. Guardian angels? Probably so. And with the help of four younger sisters.

While we three brothers were engaged in chopping down trees, terrorizing snakes, attempting to molest wild honeybees, our sisters were always available as faithful fishing buddies, mule riders, sled riders, berry pickers. Believe it or not, girls can fish. Boys are blessed, or cursed as it were, with a need to tear down, take apart, rearrange, to learn only after numerous mistakes, if indeed they learn at all. While girls seem to be blessed with an innate ability to assess, to reason, "will it work", not "can we force it to work?" This must be an inborn thing.

Why can't I remember being taught one single hymn in school or in church and after attending school and two different neighborhood churches while living at Darby? Many years later these hymns were part of my general knowledge. And just how did they become ingrained as part of my unconscious? They were becoming part of my "building up" while I was concentrating on learning my "tearing down" skills.

We seven children were blessed with a wise, all-knowing mother and grandmother. We three older boys were blessed with four special younger sisters. And I'm afraid our four younger sisters were cursed with four older, reckless, unthinking brothers. Of course, the sisters can speak for themselves. Be kind, girls.


In regard to Grandma Burdette's 1925 Buick Coupe, I remember that Mart, Jim, & I--Bill--(Norman Franks may have been with us, but I'm not sure of this) drove Grandma's car on the shore of one of the local ponds. While trying to get the car un-stuck, we managed to break one of the rear axles. This, to the best of my recollection, fairly well finished any useful life for the car due to non-availability of parts. I don't remember the ultimate disposition of the car. One other thing, the Buick had some sort of vacuum-assisted fuel pump or fuel delivery system. What brings the unusual fuel system to mind was octagon soap being used to seal a leak in the vacuum tank under the car's hood. This must have been circa 1947-48.

I also remember one of the steel-wheeled Fordson tractors being there under the Mulberry tree in the front yard near the gate. I don't remember the tractor ever running during the time we were there. There was a 55 gallon drum of tractor fuel there. Dad would siphon the fuel and mix with gasoline for the old panel delivery truck he drove. There was an old mechanical stump puller there also. I don't remember anyone ever putting it to use. I do have vivid memories of the wild blackberry bramble to the south and slightly east of the log barn on the place. We picked blackberries from the bramble and mulberries from the front yard tree and Mom would make cobblers for us. We also caught fish from a sinkhole to the north of the house and across the north pasture near that giant (as my childhood memory saw it Magnolia tree. We also caught bass, perch, bream and catfish from the pond through the woods further north on the 60 acres. Favorite memory: The fish were biting so rapidly on one occasion that one of the girls, I think it was Reatha or possibly Martha Nell scrambling to catch a fish that had flopped off the hook and got finned in the derriere by another fish being pulled in before they could capture flopper # 1.

I also remember that the one-room school house was a little closer that 2 miles from Grandma's house, consequently we got brown as little Indians (Mom's words) from walking to school and back. Mom also made the observation that our calf muscles got hard as rocks from all of that walking. This would have been on the route for the syrup bucket lunch pail saga. Mrs. Bellamy, wife of Doug Bellamy, "Uncle Doug" to the current Bellamy Brothers singers would have been our bus driver if we could have made the case for Grandma's house being 2 miles or further from the school house. Speaking of the Bellamy Brothers, Martha Nell was in the neighborhood years later and went by to see Mrs. Bellamy, mother to the singers who were Ruth Bellamy's cousins. Ruth was the school bus driver's daughter. See? Anyhow, as Martha Nell was walking up to the house, the hounds started barking as hounds are wont to do. Mrs. Bellamy called to her sons and asked who was coming. One or the other of the sons said that it was probably just one of their fans wanting an autograph. Martha Nell, ever the tactful one, told this impertinent young man that "I didn't come to see you BOYS, I came to see your mom." These BOYS are known all over the western hemisphere for their music. 'Nuff said.

Other than two of the Sessoms brothers (lived right across the dirt road from the school house) marrying two of the Sinkfield sisters, that's about it in re: Grandma's 1925 Buick. There's actually more but it's late and I'm going to bed. Good night and love ya', Oh, did I forget to mention the two catfish, so little they could be fried and eaten, bones and all, the two buttermilk biscuits and the glass of milk I had for breakfast one time because that was all there was. Remind me to tell you about that sometime.

In about 1948-49 Grandmother wanted to give me her old Buick, but my mother said no. I don't know what happened to it. It was probably the one she had at Darby, a place I never got to visit. I'm sure the Johns kids had a lot of fun with it.





When we lived in Darby I remember how we used to stick our hands up inside a culvert under Darby Road to catch crawdads. Now I just think about all the things that could have been inside that culvert. I don't remember what we did with the crawdads, probably turned them loose.

On the way home from school we would sometimes drop books and clothes and go swimming in the pond which was in Bellamy's pasture. One day Reatha almost drowned. I don't remember who pulled her out. Lucky for us that there were so many of us to help when things like that happened.

I remember the mulberry cobbler that Mama would make and the big wooden box in the barn where Grandma kept upholstery scraps. We would catch soft-shelled turtles that Mama would make soup from. We had a well with a bucket that we would put jugs of milk in and lower them into the cold water for refrigeration.


There was a great big wooden barrel beside the well that we would fill with water and put Super Suds in. Then all of us would get inside it and splash and have fun. One time we filled Mama's washtub with dirt and dung. Then we caught tumble bugs (scarab beetles or "dung beetles") and put them in there and watched them making dung balls.

We would catch catfish, and Mama would fry them. Then we ate them whole except for the entrails and heads. We had a bantam hen who was yellow and white. She would hide her biddies under a bush and then go out to fight the hawks who were trying to get them.

There was another pond where the boys had a boat that they would turn over on the shore when they weren't using it. One time they picked it up, and underneath was crawling with moccasins (snakes). The pond was out the front gate of the farm and down to the right. One other time when we went down there some people had been bull-frogging. They had just cut off the frogs' back legs and left them alive to pull themselves around. We never could understand why anybody would do such a terrible thing to an animal...to be continued




I was five and six years old when we lived on Grandma Burdett's farm in Darby. We caught and ate a lot of fish from the creek and ponds. One time some of the family was out in the side yard where the well was, and they were skinning catfish. There were catfish heads lying around on the ground, and I became curious about them. I picked one of them up, and I was studying it when it clamped down onto my finger and stuck, and there were teeth in there. I shook my hand and screamed, but the head stuck. I don't remember who got it off my finger or how, but its being there is filed away in my memory, the stuff of nightmares.

We ate a lot of what would later be labeled "soul food"; collards, cornbread, catfish, turtles and their eggs, grits, beef "organs" such as brains and liver. I remember the vile odor of tripe (cow stomach) cooking, and almost nobody in the house would eat it. After they told me that what was scrambled up with the eggs was cow brains, that became the first and last time I ever ate that. To this day I love grits and collards.


We would catch scarab beetles, which we called tumblebugs, and we would mark a line in the sand, another one further off. We would put our tumblebugs down on the first line with their balls of dung, and the first bug to reach the second line with its ball was the winner. I remember one time there were lots of tiny chicks in some sort of low barrier/fence in front of the fireplace in the winter, the fireplace screen between them and the fire. One chick got out of its pen and darted around the edge of the screen and into the fire. The fire was roaring, and we knew it was dangerous and futile to attempt to grab it back as it was already fatally injured. I watched, heartsick, as it twitched and jerked and burned. They told me it was already dead, and the motions were just the nerves dying.

Uncle Ernest Croft had great big Brahma cattle with humps on their backs, the "sacred cows" of India (or their descendants). He called them "bremmer" cows. After I grew up I learned that the Indians allowed us to import them after we promised to never breed them with domestic cattle and to never eat them. Since the plan all along had been to breed domestic/Indian cattle for the hardiness of the Brahmans no sooner had we imported them than we began to breed them with impunity. And to eat them. I think the Americans promised the Indians that we would keep and worship their cows. One time I began a walk to the store for candy, and partway there I was confronted with several of the huge cattle. I turned and ran all the way back home.

I caught my first fish in the "sinkhole" back behind the home site. Everybody raved and told me what a great fish it was (the way we praise and encourage babies, but even as a baby I knew it was a puny little fish.) We were cautioned to never go there without someone older with us as it "had no bottom".


I began my formal education at the little one-room Darby School. The first day of school I sat beside my sister, Martha Nell. There were six of us from our family in that one room. Mrs. Daisy B. Miller would call, "Sixth Grade," and then the sixth graders would go up front to do their lessons with her while the rest of us did paper work at our seats. Then, "Fifth Grade," and so on until she got to us, the first graders. Sometimes I would listen to her giving the older kids their lessons, and I would find that I knew the answers because of listening to them instead of doing my own work. One time I was completely engrossed in the lesson some higher-grade kids were doing up front, and when Mrs. Miller asked, "Is Asia a country or a continent?" I blurted out, "A continent!" Everyone else in the room froze as though they expected to see a public execution, and my own situation - first grader who was supposed to be doing paperwork at the desk - flooded back. Mrs. Miller simply stared at me for a couple of seconds and then went back to the lesson for the older kids.

Mrs. Miller tried to address some issues which were close to home. She put up a poster which had a blown up picture of a fly on it. No text, just the awesome fly with all of its scales, hairs and chilling fly parts shown in detail. Every time she spoke of cleanliness, of keeping food free of germs, I looked at that picture and understood. She arranged for the county health worker to come talk to us, and that worker gave us toothpaste, toothbrushes and charts to keep of how faithfully we brushed our teeth. She collected books to use in making a little library for us in the back of the room. One time the first-graders' math lesson consisted of calculating the year we would finish high school.

At the end of the school year I was the only student in the school to get a perfect attendance certificate. I earned that because my brother, Jim, had told me that I couldn't miss school because the teacher would beat me and give me an "F" if I missed.

We attended the church near the school. There were some interesting characters there. One old couple had a young adult, retarded daughter named Stella. They were quiet people, and I sensed a silent, dignified love flowing from them to their daughter. They would bring a little cushion for her in case she needed to lie down on the church bench. We heard after we moved away that the parents had died, and we never knew what became of the daughter.

An enormous church lady was named Missus Tucker. Her son, Joe, was in the first grade with me. Joe was a smart, good boy. Missus Tucker had many fat rolls, and she would hold several of her babies at the same time during the interminable sermons. The nursing infant was uppermost, and then there were several more of them lying on individual fat rolls. As the preacher held forth through the heat of the afternoon Gerry and I, the two youngest of us, fell asleep on the unyielding church bench with our heads on either side of Mama's lap. She would notice if we had dirty necks or ears, and she would, mama cat-like, dab her tongue with her hanky and give us a discrete spit bath. As an adult I have wondered if this early conditioning with sermons, heat and soothing spit baths is why I have avoided going into management, knowing as I do that I cannot stay awake during those endless, droning meetings that managers seem to attend.

We moved to Thonotosassa during the summer when I turned seven, and that became more my psychological home than Darby did. Even so, Darby remains a vivid, happy memory, a place of rest and healing for us after some earlier hard times. A place that looms larger than the short time we lived there.


Uncle Ernest Croft and Everett Ernest Johns did not always get along very well. I don't know much about their disagreements, but I do remember that Mama, Aunt Billie and Grandma regarded most of the bickering as trivial and simply territorial in nature. One time Mama (Alta) told Aunt Billie and Grandma a joke in which the punchline was, "Two worms fighting in dead earnest." Mama then told her mother and sister about the latest bickering between Ernest Croft and Everett Ernest Johns, and then she added, "Two Ernests fighting over a dead worm." Years later I realized why they all three threw back their heads and laughed that way.

IT by Virginia

When we lived at Darby I was five and six years old. We had no TV, video games, movies, computers, musical instruments or "store bought" toys. Therefore we made our own entertainment. We trained the animals to do tricks, carved objects out of wood and told stories. A common sight was that of scarab beetles (also known as "dung beetles"---we called them "tumble bugs") who would roll little balls of manure around after having laid their eggs in the dung. We would capture the beetles and their dung balls, draw a line in the sand, put our beetles down at the line and then draw another line further off. The first beetle to reach the second line with its ball was the "winner". Another method of entertainment was the time honored favorite game of Hide and Seek in which one player is designated as "It". It closes her eyes, counts to a hundred while the other players run to hide. It has to hunt the others and try to "tag" them as they run for "home". As I recall, the first player tagged is It for the next turn. Various methods are used to decide who is It for the first turn. My brother, Jim, had an interesting method to determine this choice. Since we almost never wore shoes, we would stand in a closely-knit circle and stretch one foot out into the middle of the circle. Jim would hold a quart jar full of water over our extended feet with the intention of dropping the jar or appointing the first player to pull back her foot as It. It may be obvious by now that I have referred to It as "she", and that is because I was almost always the first player to jerk back my foot. Sometimes I would manage to tag someone, and I recall that once I waited for someone to find me for such a long time that I fell asleep, and everyone forgot me until supper time.




The first time I ever saw dawn I was walking toward Uncle Ernest's & Aunt Billie's house. It looked as though a curtain was being pulled across the sky, and I couldn't get over it. I had been up at night and had seen the stars, but I had never before seen dawn come. I was just awestruck.

One time we went back out by the pond in the back. Beyond the sinkhole was a pond where Aunt Billie had her trailer at one time. We came upon a rattler. I think Virginia & Gerry were with us and the boys. I ran to get Uncle Ernest, and the rest of the kids stayed there. He came and killed it.

I remember when Cheryl was born. We were on our way to Sunday School, and Uncle Ernest came out and showed her to us. He said, "See what we have," and he held Cheryl out for us to see her.

One evening Norman, Judy, Aunt Billie and I were in her car on Hwy 52. The car wouldn't go, and Aunt Billie sent Norman to get help. It was almost dawn before he got back. I was so afraid he would get eaten by a 'gator.

When we were living in the old house in Darby we moved to after we left the farm ( it was a big two-story house) Aunt Billie, Judy and Cheryl were in a room that had a door that would shut. Judy would push raisins under the door to us. I remember shooing the chickens out of the house.

Dwight (cousin from paternal side of family) came to spend the summer with the boys. I slept in the room that looked out on the wrap-around porch. One time there was a roach in the bed with me, and it bit me.

Virginia Bellamy (niece of Daisy Belle Miller, the teacher) peed in her pants, and Mrs. Miller took her pants and hung them on the fence. That poor little girl. It was horrifying to me. Mrs. Miller was doing a spelling test and she was going too fast, and I just put my head down on the desk and cried. Bill carved a sundial in the desk. Mrs. Miller really fussed at him about defacing public property, but then she had all of us kids gather around, and she had Bill explain how a sundial works. For years when I would go out to Darby I would look through the window of the school and see that sundial. An old fellow from Kentucky bought the schoolhouse, and the wife wanted him to tear it down and get her a double wide trailer, and he divorced the wife and kept the school.

The great big oak tree in Grandma's front yard got bigger & bigger. It was hit by lightning three times after we moved , and finally they cut it down. The last time it got struck it split it down the middle, and they chopped it up and used it for firewood





I remember how the three boys would get on the mule at the same time. Jenny would get tired of us and then take off for the field. That field was loaded with sandspurs. When she got there she would begin bucking and keep on until she had bucked all three of us off into the sandspurs. The one closest to the front would have to watch her because she would swing her head around and bite us.

One time we were fishing at the pond behind the house. Daddy hooked a brem, and when he yanked it forward it got off the hook and fell off onto the bank. He figured that since he still had his bait he would cast again which he did, and he hooked a catfish. Just as he yanked the catfish back Martha Nell dove onto the brem and grabbed it. The catfish finned her in the hip. Catfish have two fins on the side and one on the back, and the fins are poisonous. There was a stand of palmettos there which was about three feet high, and Martha Nell cleared those palmettos when she jumped, screaming and carrying on. I don't remember who got the catfish off of her, but she was hurt so bad that we had to carry her back to the house. We probably treated her with kerosene or turpentine which were about all we had for doctoring injuries.

One time I jumped off of Grandma's barn roof with an open umbrella. I don't remember much about what the result was, but I can tell you I learned that an umbrella isn't a parachute.

DARBY by Lois Smith Miller

I don't remember too much about Darby except Grandma moved up there and took Aunt Billie with her. By this time Aunt Billie was divorced. She took Norman with her until Uncle Pete came and got him.

When Floyd (now ex-husband deceased) went into the Army, and he was through with basic training, I wanted to go visit him. Lamarr was three months old, so I was going to take him with me and leave Gator. Mama got a lot of work at the upholstery shop, and she said with me gone and trying to cook, care for kids and work she just couldn't take on one more. She told me she would go out to Darby to see if Aunt Alta could watch him as they lived out there. She took care of him. The week I was gone I worried about him falling in the well, as that was the first thing he did was climb up on the well. When I got back Aunt Alta said Martha Nell took care of him most of the time and kept him off the well.

I didn't see it, but Grandma told me about the car. I remember they had a reunion out there. I remember all the Florida families being there, and I think Uncle Austin and Aunt Tiny were there...to be continued

Ernest Croft, Thelma Burdett Simpson, Marilyn Snith Mobley (Nellie/Wm>Isabelle>Marilyn) 1990


I believe this was 1949. Lamarr wasn't walking yet, and he was born July 6, 1948. I also remember we had a reunion at Aunt Dorothy's in august, 1951. I was to go to Okinawa, and Uncle Bud and Aunt Lucille were coming down, so Aunt Dorothy had the reunion on Hillsborough Avenue (Tampa). I remember that Mart (Nellie/Wm>Alta>Mart) had a camera and took a bunch of pictures. I asked him years later about them. He said he didn't know where they were for sure. He took a picture of Grandma, Mama (Isabelle Burdett Smith), myself, Gator and Lamarr - four generations. I had mine in my purse in a card wallet, and someone stole it out of my purse. I also had the only I had of all my children in there. I guess that whoever took it thought it had some money in it, but all it had was about twenty precious pictures; lots of pictures of Lamarr. This was after he died in Viet Nam...to be continued

Cheryl Croft Guzell (Nellie/Wm>Billie/Ernest>Cheryl) & Thelma Burdett Simpson 1990


Mama and Daddy went to see Aunt Alta and Uncle Everett at Darby, and Mama put the little ones (Carolyn, Marilyn, Gator and Lamarr) in the cab of the truck. The rest of us rode in the back. All of a sudden we saw a diamond back rattlesnake all the way across the road. Daddy ran over it and put his brakes on so the back wheels would kill it. Daddy ran over it about ten times before it died. It would strike at the tires. We were all pretty scared. It was about as big around as a quart jar.

I didn't go out there very often. They were going to send Floyd Johns to Japan, so the boys and I went to Texas for about three months. We came back and stayed with Floyd's mother, so I didn't get to go anywhere very often for about a year and a half. I finally learned to drive, but if I went anywhere I had to borrow a car.

I suppose that when Aunt Alta and Uncle Everett moved, Grandma must have sold the farm and bought the farm in Lawtey. She called it a farm (Lawtey) because it had several acres. Maybe Aunt Dorothy or Aunt Thelma knows. I believe that is when Aunt Billie moved to Jacksonville. Grandma had a heart attack after she bought the place in Lawtey, and she went to live with Aunt Reatha (in Tampa) a good while so she wouldn't be alone. After Grandma went back to Lawtey Aunt Reatha and Aunt Thelma went to Ohio; I think in 1950. Later she had another heart attack, and Aunt Reatha took her back to her house in Tampa for a good while. In May or June of 1951 I took her back to Lawtey where she passed away.




Reatha's Map


Darby, Fla 2 boys on L - Jim & Bill Johns - 2nd girl from R Reatha Johns


Can you find out from some of the others if they think the dark haired woman with the flower in her hair is Nancy Portwood?....Also the woman standing on the left on the back row by Mama, in the picture of all of us..........is it her? I think it is......I am sure the man next to Mama is Jimmy Portwood. Reatha


Darby, Florida  - 2nd girl from R Reatha Johns