As I stated in his first post, once weekly I plan to feature a guest writer, my husband. He has been painstakingly writing down the stories of his childhood to share them with his then 9 year old niece. I wanted her to know what kind of childhood her beloved Uncle was able to enjoy. While enjoying them myself I thought these are so much fun to read, why not share them? So here are the short missives of his memories of growing up in wilds of Florida during the 1950's and 1960's. They're packed with misadventures, romance, and all the confusing things that can happen in our youth. Even though his hometown of Jacksonville is a big city with over a million residents now, during his childhood it was several small communities surrounded by countryside.
This is his story.
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Blackberries And Fishing
by Steven R. Hudson
You could nearly live off the land in Center Park, I think, and Blackberry* season was proof. There were two large berry patches, one on the east side of
"Sherwood Forest" where unsold lots had become fields of grasses, new growth trees and wild flowers. The other was in a clearing at the end of a two path dirt road on the south side of Beach Blvd. The Alhambra Dinner Theater sits on the exact spot today. In late May and early June the sweet, juicy berries would ripen, luring me and my friends. We carried brown paper bags to haul back the tasty treasure that our moms would bake into cobblers and pies. The bags would get soaked by the purple-red juice as they filled to overflowing. Our lips would be stained also as we ate about as many berries as we gathered. Blue jeans and sneakers were worn as protection from the thorny vines but our hands and arms got scratched from reaching into the tight spots that always held the best berries. Hot cobbler with vanilla ice cream would be the reward that evening.
Sometimes berry picking could be a little scary. Ray, Jackie and I were picking berries in the patch near Sherwood Forest one morning. The vines grew in mats atop knee deep grasses that made it impossible to see where you were placing your feet. Our bags were nearly full when the air suddenly exploded with sound of escaping steam. We froze, too scared to even move. A big rattlesnake was nearby and we had no clue as to it's location. As if we had been given a signal, we dashed off in three directions like frightened quail. Miraculously, we did not step on the snake as we ran all the way back to Ray and Jackie's house. A few days later, the lure of the sweet berries was too much and we returned, each armed with a long stick. We poked the clumps of grass as we went and listened for the rattler. Nothing was heard and we soon got over our fear.
Fishing was a common summer activity and there were three good fishing holes. The creek which I've already mentioned, a canal on the northwest side of Sherwood Forest (built as subdivision drainage no doubt) and a large forest pond, not far from the berry patch south of Beach Blvd. The pond is now in the center of an apartment complex next to the Alhambra Theater. The canal was our favorite because it was nearby and there was plenty of room to swing our cane poles. There were Blue-gill and Warmouth bream in abundance. Large-mouth Bass were there also but we did not know how to catch them. It was so satisfying to walk home with a long string of fish over your shoulder.
Summer meant afternoon thunderstorms which filled the ditches to overflowing on Cornelius St. The ditches drained down to Beach Blvd and from there to the creek. Soon they were full of minnows, crawfish, water snakes and fingerling bream and pickerel. We waded the ditches, catching small fish to put in Mason jars or old fish bowls. There were many small water snakes which I easily caught, firing up in me an endless fascination with snakes.
(Please note: None of the photos in this post are of his actual childhood. The *Blackberries mentioned are actually Dewberry but most locals call them Blackberry.)