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Chapter 81: Don’t Be A Stranger

May 29, 1904, late afternoon
Chipley Florida

After Walter and Frank Mayes left the house, I picked up my satchel, put a book and an apple in it, and took a walk downtown. I didn’t expect anything to be open late Sunday afternoon; I wanted to get away from the house, to walk and just think; maybe read my book under a tree somewhere, or perhaps visit my old boss, Judge Jones, and show him my diploma.

As I passed by the office of
The Chipley Banner, I looked into the front window. Editor Walter W. Jones (no relation to Judge Jones) was in the office alone at his desk, surrounded by newsprint and paper. He glanced up, smiled at me, then waved me into the office.

Source: Ayer Directory of Publications, Ayer Press, 1906, via Google Books.

Jones came over to me as I walked into the newspaper office and closed the door behind me.

“Emmett! I didn’t realize you’d be in town! Congratulations on your graduation!”

“Thank you,” I said, as he shook my hand.

“Come, sit with me a few minutes, have a cigar, and tell me how it feels to be a new member of the Florida Bar.”

We spent a congenial hour together catching up on the local goings-on among friends and colleagues we knew in common. I mentioned we had dinner with Walter Kehoe and Frank Mayes this afternoon.

“What do you think about Mayes?” Jones asked casually.

“Not much,” I said. Jones gave a short laugh.

“He doesn’t appeal to you, Emmett? I wonder why the hell not,” Jones said, with teasing sarcasm.

I just shook my head at Jones. “Mostly, it was the man’s arrogance that got me. I also think he’s still upset that Cephas’ beating him in the delegate race for the Democratic National Committee. He hinted that he himself is a party boss, and that someone like Cephas would not have much of a future when the Democratic Party becomes more progressive — and in power — by the next election.”

“Hm,” Jones said thoughtfully. “And what are you in the Democratic Party? Progressive or reactionary?”

“Progressive, definitely,” I said. “Part of me wishes I didn’t dislike Mayes so much, because a lot of what he said about the changes coming in politics and the issues driving the changes are very much the same views I hold. Father and Cephas are reactionary; Walter Kehoe is still on the fence …” and I stopped. I didn’t want to tell Jones about the idea that Mayes wanted Walter to run for congress in the next election because it wasn’t common knowledge.

Frank L. Mayes of The Pensacola Journal. Champion grudge holder. Scorekeeper.

“It’s too early to tell what’s going to happen,” Jones said, “but I agree with your views about Mayes. He’s pompous — thought that the delegate race was in the bag just because of who Cephas is in West Florida. I’d watch my back with Mayes though, Emmett. I’ve never known a man to hold a grudge longer than Frank Mayes — and he always finds a way to balance the score when he thinks he’s been wronged.”

“He wasn’t wronged in any way; he lost to Cephas fair and square,” I said.

“Still, I’d advise you to tread carefully around that one.”

I liked and trusted Mr. Jones; he was always good to me and Julian when we were growing up. Mr. Jones used to tell me stories about my mother for example; little things; everyday things she would do in town. I liked hearing him talk about her; it made Mother seem still alive to me, as if she were just around the corner at the store, or visiting a friend. This was something I needed at that time in my life, because whenever I brought Mother’s name up in conversations with Father, he would just change the subject or walk away.

Dr. Francis C. Wilson, Emmett’s father, taking it easy in the back yard of their house on 6th Street, about 1895, in Chipley, Florida. Source: Elizabeth Meade Howard. Reprinted with permission.

“Have you had a good visit with your Father?”

“Yes, so far.”

“Could I stop by the house and take a look at your diploma?”

“I have it right here,” I said, opening my satchel. I handed my diploma to him

Mr. Jones unrolled at it, read some of the Latin out loud, then paused, furrowed his brow, and frowned.

“What is it?”

He glanced at me; a serious expression on his face. “Emmett.” He pointed at the text under my name. “You know that this diploma actually doesn’t say you can practice law?”

“What?” I said, astounded, anxiously reaching for it.

He paused: “It says you have permission to drive a hack in Deland.”

I started; then laughed out loud.

Jones shook his head with a chuckle at my discomfiture. “Sorry, Emmett. I couldn’t resist,” as he rolled up the diploma once more and handed it back to me. “It’s wonderful.”

I smiled as I put it back into the satchel. “Sometimes, I think I’d be better off just driving a hack,” I said, as I buckled the satchel close.

“Why do you say that?”

I shrugged, looking out the window at the empty dirt street, the quiet town.

“You afraid of something, son?”

“I don’t know if I’m cut out to do all that is expected of me. Everyone keeps telling me how they have great hopes for me, and I think they expect me to be as good as or better than Cephas. You know I’m going in with Cephas as his partner?”

Jones nodded. “You want to compete with Cephas, be as good as Cephas?”

“No. Well, yes. I would like to be as good an attorney as Cephas.”

“He didn’t get that way overnight, you know. Good old Ceph made plenty of mistakes here and there along the way — big ones, too. I’m not saying that to cut him down in any way. But Cephas has been practicing law for at least 10-15 years. You’re just getting started. Don’t look dejected, son. You want to take the time to become the man you want to be.”

I nodded. “Maybe having the law degree will shave off some of those years.”

“Maybe. Maybe not. Look at Buell Cook — no law degree, but plenty of good, hands-on practice. And he’s been plenty successful now for about three years. Where’s all this pressure to be a success so quickly coming from?”

Buell Cook. Source: The Pensacola Journal, via Chronicling

“Nowhere else but me. I want to to be rich and powerful, like Cephas, like my Grandfather was, so that I can just relax, study and practice law.”

“I see,” Mr. Jones said thoughtfully. “You want some kind of financial and professional safety net, so that you can do and be what you want, and not worry about things.”

“Doesn’t everybody?”

Mr. Jones smiled and shrugged. “Well, sure. But real life isn’t like that — you’re never going to be able to get away from problems or worries, Emmett. Lots of people with plenty of money and security will tell you that — and in fact, the more you have, the more you have to worry about!”

“Well, what’s the answer, then?”

“My own grandfather said to me many years ago, that the only thing we have true control over is ourselves, and how we react to situations good, bad, and in-between. And when we learn to take life as it comes to us, and not assign some value to the events, you know, not call them ‘bad’ or ‘good,’ but just deal with them as they come along, we learn to get comfortable with ourselves, and we gain a sense of inner peace and security that’s more valuable than money, or power, or social prominence.”

“Well, money does make things easier; at least, I think it is one sign of a man’s success.”

Jones scratched his chin. “Well, I look at it like this. You can be a success doing anything you want, whether you drive a hack or help a client. As long as you are happy and satisfied with what you have, and what you are doing, that is success. But sometimes, success often comes with a big price. Your brother is successful in politics, for instance; but, one can argue it is at the price of time away from his law practice and his family.”

I nodded.

“To quote your Latin,
videte ergo quid pro quo. Success in any work, but especially in law and politics, always has a price, not just monetary value. Be sure that whatever you do or choose in life, you can afford it, son. That’s all I’m saying.”

In the distance, we heard a train whistle; the #2 Westbound train headed into Chipley, on its way to Pensacola. Jones looked at his pocket watch; it was nearly 6:30 pm

“Come on. It’s getting late, and Mrs. Jones will read me the riot act for being late to supper. I’ll walk you home,” Jones said, as he stood up and reached for his hat on the peg.

We walked along the wooden sidewalk over to Sixth Street, then started down the dusty road. As we neared the crossroad right before my Father’s house, where Jones would go left toward his own home, I turned to Mr. Jones. I shook his hand.

“I enjoyed our visit,” I said.

“As did I, Emmett. It’s hard to believe it, but it seems like only yesterday I remember seeing you in knee pants, when you’d come to town with your mother. She’d be proud of you, son.”

“Thank you, Mr. Jones.”

“Walter. Call me Walter,” he said.

I smiled at him. Walter turned down the road towards his own home. I stood and watched him for a few minutes.

Then, he turned and called to me, “Don’t be a stranger.”

I nodded and waved, then went on to my Father’s house.

Categories: Book Family Florida History In Emmett's Words


Communication, Arts, and the Humanities
The University of Maryland Global Campus

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