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Chapter 184: En Route to Petersburg

June 20, 1912
Aboard the L&R train
En route to Petersburg, Virginia

This is the first time since the primary that I have extended time to myself, and I’m savoring it. It has been nonstop since the election — not a day has gone by that I could sit for an hour by myself, just to think, to relax — Cephas told me this would be the case. He told me my life would not be my own once I won the primary; I would not have a moment’s quiet unless I demanded it, but then, if I came off as an arrogant ass by doing that, I ran the risk of alienating the people who’d elected me to office.

I’d thought Cephas was jealous. He has longed to be the governor of Florida for as long as I can remember. He’s run a few times but unsuccessfully. Tommie Crawford actually suggested to Cephas that now I’m the de facto Congressman that perhaps his chances have improved for the governor’s office, and Cephas was infuriated to think his political chances were now tied to my political success! That’s a first.

My seatmate wants to know if he can share my newspaper; I hand it over to him. ‘Keep it,’ I tell him, and he thanks me. I don’t want to read the news, or to think about anything serious, or political for the next hour or so.

Instead, I take out a draft of my speech — I’m giving the keynote address to the Ladies’ Confederate Memorial Association in Petersburg on the 24th — Frank’s wife is on the committee. She put my name forward back in February when I’d thrown my hat into the campaign for Congress. I’d told her perhaps she should wait to see if someone else would be more appropriate, since I wasn’t even sure I’d win — she’d laughed and said, ‘With Frank Mayes promoting you, you’re a shoo-in.’

The information says that Emmett is a member of Congress from Florida, but in fact, Emmett still had the general election to win in November, 1912. Source: The Richmond Times-Dispatch, Friday, June 21, 1912.

I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to do the speech since I’m to be in Baltimore for the Democratic National Convention the next day, but Mayes insisted, saying I had to be visible, especially when groups that had prominent folks connected. “You better know that wives influence their husbands’ votes,” He told me. Nothing was to be left to chance, especially since he was taking a chance on me, Mayes said.

Guest ticket to the 1912 Democratic National Convention in Baltimore. Source: Library of Congress

Speaking of that, Mayes had one of his reporters actually write the speech for me. He knows I’m feeling overwhelmed. I’ve been tempted to hole up at Jennie and Walter’s for a day or so with a bottle of Scotch in my room, just by myself, and let the warm amber liquid work its magic. To feel that tingling sensation at the base of my neck, down my back, as total relaxation comes over me — yes. I would do that.

And that’s one reason the speech was written for me. I scan the pages — it’s good. It sounds like something I’d say, and pretty much all I have to do is show up for the speech, let the ladies fawn over me for an hour or so, then catch the next train to Washington, then on to Baltimore. I’d told Mayes that I would like to spend one evening with Katie — she lives in Pohick, about an hour away from Washington — and he was amenable to that. It’s been a year since I’ve seen my sister; with her I know I can relax and be myself. I can talk to her about all of this tension and, well, fear of what it is I’ve gotten myself into.

Pearl Spaulding. This is the only photo I have of her. Source: The Birmingham News, June 28, 1925, p. 51.

I put the speech back into my briefcase, then sort through the other papers I’d brought along. Notes from Mayes on what I’m supposed to do as an alternate to Griggs in Baltimore. The ticket to the Democratic National Convention. A few upcoming briefs from the District Attorney’s office that will need my attention when I get back home. Several letters from admirers — women — some he knew in Pensacola. Here’s one envelope with feminine penmanship postmarked from Stetson — is it possible it’s from Pearl? I tore the end open and extracted the letter, scanned it quickly. No — it was from the alumni office offering congratulations on my campaign. I shoved the letter back inside my case. Still, even after all this time, whenever Pearl Spaulding crosses my mind, this — sadness — comes over me. Pearl would never write me voluntarily after the way I treated her.

Some of the letters are women who have been openly chasing me because they want to be a Congressman’s wife — a few of them include photographs. Some of the women are pretty, some plain. I never answer these letters mostly because these women don’t want me, they want the position. I mentioned this to Mayes a while back, and was pleased. “God knows if you said anything in the letters, even innocently, that could be misconstrued,” he’d said.

But that’s why I’m exhausted — not just avoiding women — but that I have to watch out for everything I do, to ensure that my behavior is exemplary, that my business and personal affairs are above reproach. Even simple interactions with people he didn’t know, folks I’d pass on the street. This will be the norm for at least two years. I don’t know if I can keep it up consistently.

My seatmate gets up, bids me good afternoon, and heads down the aisle. The train is slowing down, coming into the next station, and I realize I’m now alone. This is a small town; hardly anyone waiting on the platform. The train holds its position for about five minutes or a little more, then the conductor shouts “Board!” We’re moving again, through the rough countryside of Georgia.

Finally. I close my eyes and lean back in his seat. No one is coming to with me; several of the rows around me are empty. I should be able to relax with this gift of quiet and solitude, but I can’t calm the thoughts racing just yet.

I remove the small silver flask out of my coat pocket, and discreetly take a mouthful.

Categories: Book Family Florida History In Emmett's Words

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Communication, Arts, and the Humanities
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