One thing that stands out to me in getting to know Emmett’s closest friends is that his inner circle was consistent and remained close to him all his life. Emmett’s true inner circle were: Walter Kehoe, Big Brother Cephas, Paul Carter.
Emmett wasn’t a snob. He seemed to make friends everywhere he went. But there’s a difference between true friends and acquaintances, and Emmett never confused the two. True friends stick around because the relationship is genuine. When the shit hit the fan for Emmett several times in his life, those three guys were always there for him.
If Emmett were ever uncertain about something, these were the three he’d consult. But whose opinion weighed the most to Emmett?
I think it was Paul’s. Here’s why I say this:
Dateline: June 1, 1905.
Paul Carter, a full-fledged attorney, is now working as a private secretary of Congressman William Bailey Lamar in Washington D.C. Emmett is the junior partner in his big brother’s law firm in Marianna, Florida. Kehoe has moved on to Pensacola, to expand his growing political career. Impatience and adventurelust strikes our hero: Emmett is tired of living in Cephas’ shadow, he’s tired of small-town life, he wants something different. His successful older brother, and his two best friends both seem to have a lot more going on than he did.
A friend from college days, Nicholas Van Sant, has stayed in touch with Emmett over the past year. Recently, Van Sant offered him an opportunity to go into practice with him as a full, equal partner. Business was thriving, he’d be busy, he’d meet new, influential people.
This seemed like just the ticket at the right moment: It sounded good, but the opportunity was about 1,500 miles away, in Illinois. He’d be a Democrat working for a Republican, in the North. He knew nobody, had no real contacts up there other than his old college friend. Still, it seemed a chance of a lifetime for Emmett.
What did Emmett do? He talked to his trusted friends.
He told his brother, Cephas, who probably said, “It sounds OK, but, gee, look at all you are giving up here: Free room and board at my house. The cache of working with me, Cephas Love Wilson. This is comfortable for you. Why give up something comfortable for something unknown?”
He told his friend, Walter Kehoe, who probably said, “Affiliation with the Van Sants, even though they are a powerful and important Republican political family, may be challenging for you, a lone Democratic Southerner, far away from home, with no other contacts. There are benefits, but you would be far away from friends and family. Won’t you be lonely?”
Still undecided, Emmett went to visit Van Sant in Illinois to discuss it in person. After that visit, Emmett may have felt better about making the change…but he was still on the fence. So, on his way home to Florida, Emmett took a significant detour to Washington, D.C., to visit Paul, and to talk about this opportunity. This speaks volumes about how Emmett valued Paul’s opinion. I think it was this conversation that pushed Emmett off the fence, and to Illinois.
I think Paul told Emmett that it didn’t really matter that Van Sant was a Republican per se, as this was an opportunity to do something completely different than he’d ever have the chance to do in Florida. If he stayed in Florida, working for Cephas, he could expect more of the same for years, probably. That’s not such a bad thing, but Paul knew his friend wanted to try his wings, and that Emmett probably would never learn to stand on his own professional merits unless he got away on his own. Moving to Illinois, starting fresh, even though it would be hard at times, was one way to say to the world, “I’m Emmett Wilson, not Cephas Wilson’s little brother.”
Paul probably said to Emmett, “What would you stand to lose if you did try this? You aren’t leaving anyone or any big opportunity behind. If nothing else, you’ll gain valuable experience working with the Van Sants, and you’ll know you can stand on your own.”
Also, “Look at this like an adventure. If it doesn’t work out, you can always start over. You’ve done it before, you can do it again.”
That’s just what happened.
Emmett moved to Sterling, Illinois; it lasted six months. He moved back home to Florida, and indeed, started over — this time, in Pensacola — more experienced, wiser. I don’t think Emmett had regrets, but it made him realize a few things: He had it good in Florida with his friends, even though it seemed dull at times. And, in the political/legal business, it is all about connections and relationships, two things he really didn’t have in Sterling.
Would Emmett have done this if Cephas or Walter advised against it? I’m not sure.
But: I believe that if Paul had said the move was a bad idea, Emmett would not have done it.
I mentioned earlier that I believe Emmett absolutely trusted Paul’s opinion. Here’s one more example why Paul and Emmett’s friendship is so critical in telling Emmett’s story.
Dateline: August 1, 1910, Panama City
At this point in Emmett’s life, he was still unmarried, unattached, and was being groomed for a more significant political career. His friends (who now included Frank Mayes, editor of the Pensacola Journal and head of the local Democratic Committee) believed that if Emmett were able to ‘settle down,’ i.e., get married, stop hanging out at his club so much, cut back on the drinking and carousing, he’d be considered more seriously for office. He had a good political career ahead of him. His public image, though, was being questioned by the party dads. He didn’t send a ‘mature enough’ impression for political office consideration.
Emmett’s friends, who also had political ambitions tied to Emmett’s rising star, believed they needed to be proactive to force this change on Emmett. A few friends (Kehoe, Cephas) thought this was a great idea, and set about doing some matchmaking. One of the people they called in to help was Paul Carter, who was now the third-term Mayor of Marianna. (Note: Paul would be elected in 1912 for a fourth term; he and Mary Horne, a longtime friend and childhood sweetheart from Chipley, would be wed September 5, 1912.)
Operation Matchmaker was activated by Walter Kehoe and his wife during the first week of August, 1910. They ‘found’ a suitable girl from Georgia, who was (according to her descendants) uptight, tense, did not dance, did not play cards, did not drink, but played piano beautifully. The Kehoes introduced Emmett to this girl while hosting friends in Panama City over a two week period. Paul Carter was invited to visit during this matchmaking weekend, as were several of Emmett’s family members.
Everyone was there to vet this young woman for Emmett. She was from a good family; she impressed everyone she met. The Kehoes thought she was a good match for Emmett, because she was a strong, tough character, who (apparently) did not tolerate ‘loose’ behavior of any kind. She certainly had a strong enough character to ‘change’ Emmett, since (it seemed) Emmett was not going to change himself.
I can imagine Emmett talking to Paul about her and the fact he and the woman were being pushed towards each other.
I can imagine Emmett saying to Paul, “She’s nice, but I don’t know her. I’d never see her on a regular basis.” And, “I know they (the Kehoes) are just trying to help, but this woman would try to change me into someone I’m not.”
It is likely that Paul weighed in against the matchmaking. I can imagine Paul saying, “Do you want to take a chance that you’ll get to know her, maybe fall in love with her, after you get married? What if you don’t? If she loved you, she’d take you as you were. If you truly wanted to change, she’d leave that up to you, if that was what you wanted.”
I can also see Paul saying something like:
“Gee, Emmett, it is like they are picking out the person for you to have sex with for the rest of your life. Can’t you do that for yourself?”
I believe that if Paul had suggested that if Emmett really liked her, and there was ‘something’ there between them, Emmett should at least spend time with her on a regular basis (she lived 250 miles away, which was a 10-hour trip one way back in 1910), and get to know her. It would have been tough: It wasn’t just the distance, but this young woman was only allowed to ‘date’ on the front porch of her house in Columbus, Georgia, with her tyrannical father in hearing range of the courting couple. This matchmaking episode pretty much died on the vine, but I do think if there had been sparks, Paul would have encouraged it; and Emmett would probably have followed through with it.
Paul was the kind of friend who helped Emmett stay true to himself, when people were trying to micromanage Emmett’s life to their own political/professional benefit. He was just there for Emmett, whether Emmett needed him or not.
Emmett was lucky he had Paul in his life.
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