Chapter 61: The goal

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January 4, 1903
East Hall Men’s Dormitory
Stetson University
DeLand, Florida

I love where I am at this moment.

Emmett was classified as a junior his first year at Stetson; administrators credited his two years’ work at WFS. Source: Stetson University College Catalog, 1901-02, http://digital.archives.stetson.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/Unidocs/id/2865/rec/4

This is different than the Seminary, and the Business College; this is about joining in active discussions with my professors about something I am entirely interested in, and this all makes perfect sense — the work I did for Cephas, the drudge work I did for Judge Jones. Ceph had been right: The work I did last summer for him turned out to be some of the most valuable practical experience in preparation for law school. In fact, the required Elementary Law class has been nothing but repetitive information I learned in Cephas’ law office this summer.

Law school feels natural to me. I work hard; but I take nothing for granted. I feel like I had a real chance to shine  because it all feel right, being here at Stetson. 

The first week here, Paul and I immediately joined the debate club, and helped inaugurate the Kent Club, a law school organization. We are regular attendees of both groups.

For the first time, I feel like I belong completely, without reservation. I love it. I feel at home. More so than in my actual home in Chipley, for what it is worth. This has been my first time living away from family members and with my two closest friends at East House — Paul Carter and Billy Crawford — and we have a great time! 

We play pranks on each other (one of which actually caused a small fire last week), we roughhouse, we smoke, we relax by playing checkers or chess on the front porch. Some of us even get up a game of baseball with the underclassmen on occasion.

There are 13 of us fellows living in the dorm, and two or three of us share a room. In the fall, we had 14, but one fellow got fed up with us and our pranks, and moved out. The straw that broke the camel’s back was the evening he came home from studying in the Law Library, and discovered his room was completely devoid of furniture. (We’d simply stashed it in the attic.)

We are a fun, cohesive group. We often pool our food together for giant feasts (some of which was taken surreptitiously from the women’s dorms); Crawford has a chafing dish, and we add whatever we have on hand: Hot dogs, apples, random vegetables to make up a stew of sorts. Most of the time, we eat at the stag table at Chaudoin Hall, the large women’s dormitory, which features the biggest dining room on campus. The dining is segregated by gender; there is also a ‘training table’ where the football and baseball players eat separated from the rest of us.

Most of the fellows, like myself, go on outings with a few of the girls on campus now and then; these are chaperoned affairs, but now and then, you can get alone with a girl, which is pleasant, especially if you are out with one of the girls who is ‘accommodating’ . You have to be careful; all of us do. One slip, and you’d be married, then out of school, and off to a drudge job, drudge life. I feel comfortable saying that none of us in our group expect or want anything serious with a girl at this point.

Paul Carter was popular among the girls at Stetson. Because one-on-one meetings were mostly chaperoned between men and women, the men would climb through the womens’ dorm windows to visit. The Stetson Collegiate. http://digital.archives.stetson.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/Newspapers/ p. 7, December, 1902.

I haven’t met anyone at Stetson who interests me, though I am friendly with a lot of the girls on campus. I attend parties and functions at the dorms, as most of the fellows,  but none of it is serious to me. I don’t want it to be serious.

Honestly, I feel like most of the girls here are in it to find a husband, the way they skip classes, and carry on in their dorms with fellows who sneak in through windows at night. Some of the fellows don’t come home until almost sunrise sometimes.

It’s not as if I am not tempted. I am. I know what girls do and do not at Hamilton Hall — the girl’s dorm — for instance, but I also know I absolutely cannot screw up my chances here at Stetson, so my personal needs are met off campus when necessary.

===

Emmett’s dorm, East Hall, is in the upper right hand corner. Hamilton is right below it. Source: Stetson University Archives

Last evening, while sitting on the front porch, smoking with a few of the fellows, Crawford, who is always nosing into my nonexistent love life, asked:

“Met anyone lately who looks interesting, Wilson?” 

“No. Not really.”

“There’s dancing lessons to be offered at Chaudoin Hall on Fridays by a Mrs. Spaulding.”

“She has two rather good looking daughters, doesn’t she?” one of the fellows at the checkers game on the other side of the porch said.

“That’s the one,” said Crawford, lighting a cigarette. “Might be worth checking out over there, to see what’s what, Em. Her daughters are quite outgoing.”

“I already know how to dance,” I said.

“Maybe this Spaulding woman knows newer steps. I understand she promotes herself and her daughters as quite the life of the party where they are from, Massachusetts, I think. Or New York,” Crawford said, as he exhaled smoke, and eased back in his chair.

I really wasn’t interested in going to the dance; I had a debate coming up next week, and there was a case I was preparing in my Contracts class that needed attention.

For the past few weeks, I’d been getting later and later starts with my homework, often I wasn’t starting to read until around 10 o’clock each night. Sometimes I pull a few all-nighters, especially if I let myself get talked into a social over at Chaudoin Hall, which I honestly don’t enjoy that much. I go mostly so I don’t get a reputation of being anti-social.

The girls are nice enough, but they all seem as if they are trying too hard, if you know what I mean. The more standoffish I am, the harder some of them try, and I was not brought up to be rude to young ladies.

“No,” I told the fellows, as I stood up to go upstairs. “I really have to hit the books, fellas. It took me almost two years to get back to college; I worked too hard to return to school and if I don’t get to it, Professor Brierly will chew me out in Contracts.”

They left me alone after that.

But what I didn’t say to them: “This is my last and only chance to become someone more than who I am at present, and I’m not going to screw it up.”

I think maybe some of them know that about me already, though.

 

 

Chapter 59: I Begin at Stetson

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September 25, 1902
Stetson University
DeLand, Florida

Flagler Science Hall. This was the location of the original Stetson University Law School
Source: http://www.stetson.edu/other/about/history.php

I stood outside Science Hall at 7:30 am Thursday morning, September 25; it was a clear day, a cool morning, but I was sweating and nervous. I hadn’t had anything to drink since I arrived on campus day before yesterday; I’ve been too busy getting settled into the dorm, and, getting ready for the entrance examinations. I had to pass them, absolutely. If I failed, I’d have to go back to Marianna and work with Cephas, save up again, prepare again…and I really didn’t think I’d have it in me to do it all over again. I took my handkerchief out of my coat pocket and wiped my brow, and my mouth.

Paul H. Carter, from the 1899-1900 WFS yearbook, The Argo. Source: FSU Archives.

I heard footsteps behind me. I turned; it was Paul.

You ready? He said.

I guess so.

We both entered Science Hall together, and headed to the examination room. Paul and I had prepared each other, quizzing each other on what would be on the exam for over a week. Even though Paul was already a barred attorney in Florida, he’d still have to take the entrance exam, like anyone else who wanted to earn their law degree at Stetson.

Between working for Cephas all summer, and being quizzed by Paul, I felt well prepared, but I felt the pressure, too, to succeed, and I was stressed.

Being around Cephas this summer was probably the best thing that could have happened, to prepare me for law school; I didn’t want to admit that at first. While I learned a lot working for Judge Jones, Cephas was the tougher mentor. Cephas wasn’t also as diplomatic in his criticisms of my work; he demanded perfection out of me at all times in his legal work, and when I’d complain, Ceph would tell me that I probably wasn’t fit for the bench anyway, and if I thought the law was some soft or cushy job, maybe it would be better if I went back to the telegraph office, or just planned on clerking the rest of my life, because I’d never make it as a lawyer.

Cephas had me doing research on cases, drafting documents, running errands to court and to other offices, composing letters. Occasionally, Ceph would let me accompany him to court, where I would listen to him argue cases in such a manner that often made me feel proud, embarrassed, and afraid all at the same time. Cephas was an eloquent speaker, a gifted debater, and always thoroughly prepared. Ceph’s presence in the courtroom was something you could not overlook: He was tall, broad, distinguished, polished, commanding. He looked — and was — a force to be reckoned with, and he was absolutely respected, even by fellow attorneys who plainly did not like him. I was often amazed at the audacity Ceph had in representing his clients: He was always of the mind that he was going to win, period, and so, Cephas would not stop at anything in the service of his clients, or his own self-interest. This meant, occasionally, that he would resort to what I considered low blows — essentially, ad hominem attacks — things which may not have been completely substantiated, but Ceph knew how to weave those things into his arguments in the courtroom.

Cephas Love Wilson, 1906. Source: http://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/143975

He’d then get called out on it by the judge, who would then admonish the jury to disregard Cephas’ words. Ceph knew that even if a judge and the opposing counsel deemed his comment immaterial, and the jury was instructed to ignore or disallow what was said, that he had planted the seed of doubt in certain jurors’ minds about his opponents, and their characters, which is what often made the difference in the outcome of his cases.

As Paul and I walked down the hall towards the examination rooms — as a lawyer, he would take his exam in a different room than I — he said, “Remember, the law is a whore. Don’t forget to put that on your test.”

I laughed out loud. You sound like Cephas, I said, as we parted ways.

Yeah, well, he ought to know, Paul retorted with a chuckle. See you outside when you’re done.

As I took my seat in the classroom, and waited for the proctor to distribute the test, I remembered Cephas saying the same thing. “You have to take what you need and get what you can out of the law for your clients. Then, move on, and not think about. You can’t get caught up in clients’ personal lives. It’s all about business, it’s all law, plain and simple. None of it is ever personal. You get into trouble, you lose, when you let it get personal.”

The proctor called the room to attention, and started explaining the administration of the exam.

I realized this summer that Cephas may not always use the most ethical means to win his cases; and in fact, he did get personal with some of his clients and their business, all behind the back of Lula. I never said anything to her or anyone else; I knew better. I didn’t like everything he did to win; but he was right — it was about winning. He had the reputation of a winner. That meant he was prominent, wealthy, respected — a force to be reckoned with. I wanted what he had, too. I said as much to Cephas, too.

Cephas replied, “You need to toughen up, first, and sometimes, put your high sense of moral ethics and integrity in the background, else you will be held back. And you need to be the absolute best at everything you do in this profession.”

“All right students,” the proctor said. He looked at his pocket watch. “Open your test booklets, and begin.”

 

Chapter 53: Emmett’s fortune turns

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January 9, 1901
Tallahassee, Florida
The Leon Hotel

I woke alone in the hotel room — panicked, I sat up and looked at Cephas’ pocket watch on the table — almost 8:30 in the morning.

I felt like hell. I didn’t sleep well last night; Cephas came in around 3 am, smelling of cigars and something else, I think it was perfume. He tumbled into bed and commenced to snoring loudly the entire rest of the night.

But I had also been restless because I decided to see Paul Carter over in the dormitory anyway, a last minute decision. I closed my eyes as I sat up in bed, remembering our conversation….

Paul H. Carter, from the 1899-1900 WFS yearbook, The Argo. Source: FSU Archives.

I had to tell my best friend I wasn’t coming back to school — and Paul told me he guessed it because some of our friends had reported back to him seeing me prowling around in front of College Hall. So much for my success in remaining invisible.

He told me he understood; family comes first, and besides, he knew I wasn’t really happy at WFS. But Paul still seemed uneasy talking with me.

“Something else is going on,” I said. “Tell me.”

Paul said his mother is moving his family away from Chipley to Appling, Georgia, and will probably stay there for good.

I was floored by the news. Irritated. 

“How long have you known?” Paul says since New Years.

“When were going to tell me?” Paul shrugged helplessly. “Emmett. I felt bad for all you were going through with Francis. I just didn’t think I ought to make it worse for you. I’m sorry…there hasn’t been any good time to tell you this.”

I turned away from him; damn him. I knew it wasn’t his fault, but it seemed like everything in my life was coming apart, or leaving me behind. 

“Look. I plan on coming to Chipley and Marianna often. And you can visit me here, too, if you like.”

I shook my head. “No. I don’t think I’ll be back at the Seminary again.”

===

When I went downstairs to the hotel lobby, l saw Walter and Cephas in the dining room, having breakfast. I went over to their table; they wished me good morning, and Walter pulled out a chair next to him.

As I sat down, a waiter came over to the table and poured a cup of coffee for me. “Hungry?” Walter asked.

“No,” I said, as I poured milk into the steaming cup.

“You sure you’re OK, little brother?” Cephas asked as he peered at me over the top of The Weekly Tallahaseean.

“Fine.”

We head back in a few hours ourselves. Going back to Marianna, I didn’t know what the future would hold. I didn’t know what I was going to be doing. God, I would be so bored…

Walter was watching me out of the corner of his eye.

Ceph stood up, drank the last of his coffee, and put the cup down. I’m going to settle up the bill, then head back up to the room and pack. Come up when you get done, OK?

I nodded.

Walter watched Cephas leave. He turned to me. Are you all right, Emmett?  You’re awfully quiet; you seem a little down today.

I sighed.

Want to talk about it?

I shook my head. No, I said, quietly.

All right son, he said kindly, pushing a small dish of toast towards me. I think Walter probably knew something about what was going on, but he didn’t pry.

Well, he said, you should know that I was talking with some friends from legal circles up here, and you’ve made quite an impression on Judge D.J. Jones. Do you know him? 

I looked at Walter questioningly. “Yes, for years. He’s been friends with the family as long as I can remember.” 

“Judge Jones thinks a lot of you, and your father, of course. Busy man, you know. He’s a successful lawyer, a lot of cases going on.”

“Yes,” I said. I ate a few bites of toast.

“Judge Jones needs a law clerk. Someone who is precise, smart, detail oriented to help him out, and in turn, someone he could teach the ropes of running a law office. Interested?”

I paused, the toast midway to my mouth. I looked at Walter, astonished.

“Me?”

Walter smiled. “Who else? It’s a great opportunity, son.  Your brother started out with in Chipley with Judge W.O. Butler, you know, much the same way you will, and look at where it took him.”

“Yeah,” I said, still surprised. “But wait, Walter — me? I don’t have any experience.”

“That’s OK. Jones wants to work with someone new, someone he can train to take care of his office for him. You’d be back home with your Father, of course, but at the firm all the time, and probably traveling with Jones to different courts. He needs someone smart, trustworthy, and with integrity. You’ll hear a lot of information that can go nowhere else, you understand?”

“I do.”

“So, I take it this is something you’d want to do?”

“Yes. Yes!”  My future was looking up at that moment….

“All right, then. Congratulations, Emmett. You start on Monday, January 14. That should give you plenty of time to get settled back in Chipley.”

From the February 23, 1901 issue of The Chipley Banner. Source: ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Chapter 51: Inauguration Blues

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January 7, 1901
The Leon Hotel
Tallahassee, Florida

The lobby of The Leon Hotel, Tallahassee, Florida; 1905-1910. Source: State Archives of Florida

Cephas and I met his friend and former law partner, Walter Kehoe, in the lobby of The Leon Hotel right before supper. Walter had come to Tallahassee ahead of us by a day or so. “Legal business with the Governor-elect,” he said mysteriously, as he shook hands with me, and exchanging a glance with Cephas, who smiled conspiratorially in response. “I’m glad you’re here, Emmett,” he said to me. “This is an important occasion, something you wouldn’t have wanted to miss.”

From the 1901 Jennings Inauguration Scrapbook, from the Florida State University archives. Cephas and Walter Kehoe were invited to participate in the inauguration festivities; Emmett likely stayed with his brother as they were reported to be at the Leon Hotel in the Tallahassee newspapers. Source: Florida State University Archives.

After we checked in, the three of us ate in the hotel dining room. And after dinner, Cephas and Walter walked outside to the porch to smoke cigars. I told them that I wanted to walk over to campus for a bit. Cephas said it was fine with him, but not to stay out too late.

“Remember, you’ve got a full day tomorrow. We’ll need to start early,” Cephas said.

“I haven’t forgotten,” I said.

Truthfully, I didn’t want to attend the events. I didn’t want to be seen by anyone I knew, but I couldn’t stay cooped up in the hotel with Cephas, feeling as if I were constantly under his thumb.  I had been feeling claustrophobic for the past few days, always being watched by family members or people who knew me in Marianna, planning my life for me since I wasn’t coming back to WFS.

Being in Tallahassee meant I could be anonymous for a little while.

I could lose myself in a crowd, I could walk around the town with less of a chance of being recognized.

By now, it was dusk; the city was full of visitors and crowded.  As I walked away from the hotel, I noticed that there were a lot more prostitutes hanging around than usual. Ceph didn’t say anything about not availing myself in that direction — I instinctively felt for my pocketbook — I knew I didn’t have much money with me; probably not enough for a prostitute —

It was six blocks from the Leon Hotel to the campus; I kept my head down, my face out of the light of street lamps. I wasn’t going to walk too near my old dormitory in case some of the fellows would be sitting on the front porch, smoking, playing checkers or chess, or just shooting the breeze.

The main WFS building, also known as College Hall. It was constructed in 1891; it was then replaced by Westcott Hall in 1909. Source: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/11572

As I neared College Hall, I noticed the entire building was lit up, and groups of people — faculty, students, alumni — all in formal dress. I was about 75 feet away from the arched entrance, in the shadows of the large oak trees nearby. I saw Dr. Murphree was hosting a gathering in honor of the inauguration in the parlors and the recitation rooms; there was quite a large crowd there. And in there, shaking hands with men in tuxedos, laughing and smoking cigars, one turned and I saw it was Paul Carter. Paul. I instinctively stepped behind the oak tree I was next to.

So. My friends were in there, hobnobbing with important looking people.

At that moment, I realized the irony of all of this: If I were truly honest, I’ve always been on the outside, on the periphery here at the Seminary, and on the periphery of my family. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to succeed, or to be accepted; I realized that I didn’t fit in anywhere.

And ironically, this understanding about myself felt simultaneously relieving and depressing at the same time. It felt true, and logical. But what was I supposed to do with this new knowledge? What if I never found the right place for myself? What if I never succeeded? What if I ended up just an obscure, unknown…a failure? I couldn’t tell anyone about this —

And then, knowing I had to keep this to myself: Would I always feel this lonely?

I felt for the silver flask down in my coat pocket. I took it out. If I took a small drink, no one would know, and I would feel some immediate relief.

But I had promised Ceph I wouldn’t drink anything while I was in Tallahassee, because I had to be above reproach, and circumspect about my behavior at all times. I could not take a chance on anything. “We’re all on display in Tallahassee,” Cephas told me while we were on the train this afternoon. “Act the part for it to be believable, and don’t take any stupid chances.”

I agreed to it.

But I was feeling the worst kind of tension and anxiety. I wanted relief, and knew I would get it almost instantly with a quick drink, but I knew I couldn’t take the chance here, on campus, even though I was standing in the shadows — so, I turned, and started to walk out from behind the massive oak, towards the sidewalk, away from College Hall.

 

Chapter 49: Following Clues

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September 10, 2016
University of Maryland Research Carrel
College Park, Maryland

If Emmett didn’t go back to WFS for the second half of the sophomore term (1901), what did he do? Knowing Emmett’s father, I doubt he  lounged around on the porch swing or his father’s hammock smoking cigars, contemplating his navel or whatever.

West Florida Seminary eventually became Florida State University, so I reached out to the Florida State University archive with questions.

First, did the West Florida Seminary have yearbooks or college catalogs going back as far as 1899-1901, so I could track him?

According to Burton Altman and Sandra Varry, professional archivists and researchers at Florida State University’s Special Collections Archive, they have both. Good news: The old catalogs were being scanned at the time I made the information request!

I started with the available yearbooks — and luckily —  WFS launched its very first yearbook, The Argo, while Emmett was enrolled.

Screenshot of the item online from the Florida State University Archives

Sure enough, there’s Emmett:

Platonic Debating Society, 1900-1901. Emmett is in the back row, in bowtie, fifth from left. Source: FSU archives

Also in the archive was a copy of the program where Emmett was in a debating contest.

 

Emmett participated in a debate for West Florida Seminary. This program is dated June 3, 1900.

Unfortunately, Emmett didn’t win; Francis Winthrop did. And, it seems that Emmett wasn’t very good at college debate — yet — according to the 1900-1901 yearbook:

We get a clue also that he may have been struggling in school. According to the WFS catalog for 1900-1901:

A screenshot from the 1899-1900 catalog of WFS. Note that Emmett is classified both as a third-year high school student AND a college freshman. Source: FSU Archives.

According to the archivists, some students were admitted provisionally (i.e., if they still hadn’t graduated high school). They had to maintain a certain grade point average and demonstrate other academic potential, such as active participation in literary or debate clubs. A dual classification meant more was expected academically, since these students were fulfilling two different curricula.

The 1900-1901 catalog shows this:

Screen shot of the 1900-1901 catalog, once again showing Emmett with a double classification. The catalog itself was issued in 1901, but may have been printed early that year, or in late 1900, when Emmett was still a student. Source: FSU archives.

In the next edition of The Argo (1901-1902), he’s neither photographed with his classmates, nor listed in the junior class.

From The Argo, 1901-1902, a list of the junior class members. Source: FSU Archives

From The Argo, 1901-1902; Photo of the junior class. Emmett’s not here. Source: FSU archive.

So, I retuned to scanning newspaper databases. Lo and behold, I found this, from The Chipley Banner, February 23, 1901:

Emmett is studying law with local attorney D.J. Jones.

We can confirm he didn’t return to WFS, and it was likely bassed on a combination of things: Frank’s alcoholism and hospitalization’s impact on the family; Emmett’s grades were likely average and not outstanding; but more so that he wanted law school, and as expeditiously as possible. He wouldn’t (and couldn’t) do any old job while he was starting in a new direction — he’d need to be groomed by clerking for a solid attorney. That makes sense.

But the clerkship with Jones didn’t last very long.

 

 

 

Chapter 47: I cannot go home again

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December 28, 1900, 8 pm
Chipley, Florida

Dr. F.C. Wilson’s house, about 1895, 6th Street, Chipley, Florida. Photographer unknown. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Meade Howard.

I have to get out of here. This is not my home. I don’t think it really ever was….

I walked through the vestibule, to the hallway, and opened the kitchen door.

In the kitchen, Esther glanced up at me and smiled, as she replaced a lid back on a simmering pot. She said something to me — I didn’t know what — but I muttered that I’d be back later, as I walked quickly through toward the back door.

She called out to me, but I didn’t answer her, closing the back door quickly behind me, as I sped down the back porch stairs, the screen door slamming behind me, and out into the yard.

I walked through the tall grass, stumbling over a few small shrubs, in the darkness towards the back yard, through the bushes along our the property line and crossing into the neighbors yard, and out onto the street behind our house — 5th Street — then I turned right, walking quickly down about a block, then turned right again to 6th Street.

I was a block away from my Father’s house.

I turned and looked back in the darkness — I could see the lights of the house in the distance.

I walked away from the house, from the town, down the dirt road. I just started walking. I walked faster.

I started to run.

If I ran, I could run away from the pressure that was creeping up my chest, the agonizing thoughts clouding my mind; I could beat this down, this feeling that was starting to choke me, bubbling up in my throat.

If I ran, and kept on going, I would tire myself out. I would be too tired to weep, to feel the anger and desire to destroy something or someone, to fuck someone, too tired to do anything to clear my head, to get these God awful feelings out of my system. I could sleep these feelings off, like I sleep off the fuzzy, buzzing, slightly nauseous sensations after a good drinking spree….Anything.

I would do ANYTHING to shut these DAMN feelings off…anything.

God.

Shut them off. Shut up. Shut up.

I kept running. I didn’t see where I was going along the darkened road; the moon was out; I didn’t choose where to go, I just knew I had to get the hell away from that house.

And away from myself, if I could.

I ran faster.

I heard nothing but the sound of my feet pacing quickly along the dirt road.

I ran until I couldn’t go anymore, and I was exhausted, spent; my side hurt and my feet hurt from running in my leather shoes; my shirt buttons undone here and there. My collar had come undone. I was sweating in the chill of the night.

Up ahead, there was a tree next to the road, an old oak tree, gnarled and twisted from years of dealing with hurricanes and storms and God knows what over the years.

Still alive, still defiant to all that nature had thrown against it, ugly, but alive. It had been suckered too, that tree, I thought. I was out of breath, my side cramped, my knees aching. I ambled up to it, I rested my hand against the tree, bent over, to catch my breath, to ease the pain in my side.

Several minutes went by as I stood there, panting; my breathing began to slow down, even out. The ache in my side was easing; I wiped the sweat of my brow off with my jacket sleeve. I looked about me; I realized I was on the old Orange Hill Road, about three or four miles out of Chipley.

I was at the driveway of my childhood home.

The house and property that were given to Elizabeth by her father, Judge Augustus Emmett Maxwell, in 1884. This is the original Wilson house on what is known as old Orange Hill Road today. Source: Elizabeth Meade Howard

The home of my childhood; the house my Father and Mother had built when they had moved back to the U.S., after they had lived in British Honduras for 10 years. 

My Father had the house built for my Mother, on 60 or so acres that Grandfather Maxwell gave her. Mother loved it; it was her first house of her own during her married life that she did not have to share with other family members. 

As I stood looking at the house, I realized I didn’t plan to come out here.

I didn’t want to come out here.

I never came out this way unless I could help it. I didn’t have a reason to come out here, ever.

And yet, here I was.

I looked up at the tree, dark, hulking in the moonlight. The old oak tree sat at the top of the long driveway that led to the house. I touched the tree, my flat palm on the trunk. It was solid. But twisted, dark. I peered into the darkness, down the driveway where the house stood. I could see a few pinpoints of light in the distance; lights in windows.

Another family lived there now. 

But no one was nearby; I am quite alone.

I leaned on the trunk of the tree.

I felt the emotions bubble back up again, warring with each other to get out first: Shame; humiliation, embarrassment, frustration, anxiety, want, emptiness, loneliness, awkwardness,

Mother….

This time, I didn’t push the feelings down, stifle them as I had been so used to doing all my life. I just felt them wash over me…overwhelm me. I knelt, next to that tree, under the weight, the avalanche of the pent-up feelings I didn’t know were there…. I buried my face in the crook of my arm as I sat under that tree.

 

 

Chapter 46: What we call fortuitous

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December 28, 1900, 7:30 pm
Chipley, Florida

“About done in there, Emmett?”

Wade Hampton Blake. Source: findagrave.com

Blake stuck his head around the door of the depot’s back office, where I sat at the telegraph, finishing the report for today’s telegraph messages. The key had been silent for the past 15 minutes or so, a blessing at the end of a busy, 12-hour long shift.

“Yes. Ticket receipts are in the safe, and the mail sorted for delivery. The only issue of note is that several parcels that were due to Mr. Wiselogel are delayed out of Jacksonville,” I said, nodding at the schedule on the clipboard hanging near the station manager’s window. “Mr. Wiselogel knows to expect delivery tomorrow on the Fast Mail.”

Blake nodded, as he scanned the various reports I’d finished and stacked neatly on the edge of the desk. “Well,” he said, as he looked over the papers, then back at me. “I’m going to miss having you around to run the office. No one is more attentive to detail and thorough on the job as you are. Your kid brother’s good — but not the professional you are. Don’t tell him I said that, though.”

Walker and his sister Katie Wilson Meade, in front of the Washington Monument, July 4, 1908. Photo was taken by their first cousin, Lizzie Meade.

I shrugged. My younger brother, Walker, was taking over for me after I left tomorrow with Paul to head back to West Florida Seminary. Walker was also accurate and a good worker — I ought to know, because I trained him. “I’m sure he’ll do a good job, Blake. Besides, I have other plans for the future. Not that I don’t appreciate working here.”

Blake smiled at me. “If I had the opportunity to go to college, I’d have taken it, too.”

I stood up, stretched, and rubbed my eyes. I had been at work since 6 am. I was tired and hungry; I really didn’t want to go home, because the house was still in upheaval since Frank’s arrival three days ago.

I wanted to stay busy and out of the house, away from the drama and tension. I can’t stand either; I wanted to be at work for as long as possible, and to return home only to sleep until the next shift. If I stayed out of the way, appearing only for meals and sleep, I could ease my way through the rest of the Christmas break before I headed back to Tallahassee. Besides: Managing the depot for the past three days meant I had earned a small amount towards my room and board at school for this next semester. Small, but better than nothing.

Blake, sensing my discomfort with the tension at home, had tactfully asked if I wouldn’t mind taking a few more shifts at the telegraph key while I was staying in Chipley, claiming he hadn’t had a break since the holidays.

He was only one of three people in town who knew about Frank; and I knew he would not talk about it to anyone. The only thing Blake had said to me about the incident with Frank was to ask if everything was OK. He didn’t pry. I said it was, nothing more. Blake knew to leave it alone.

I went over to the coat rack to get my jacket. Blake looked over at the paperwork on the desk while I pulled on my coat on and took my hat from the peg on the wall.

“See you tomorrow,” Blake said, as I opened the office door to the waiting room to leave the depot.

“Yeah. See you tomorrow.”

===

It was a clear, cold night. Chipley doesn’t have street lights in the way that larger cities like Tallahassee do, but it isn’t a dark walk home from the depot. Businesses across from the depot and along Railroad Street, are well lit, and people still at work even at this hour, the lamp lights from inside the second floor law firms and other business offices casting illumination onto the downtown streets.

As I walked along 6th Street towards home, I looked up at the sky. The stars were out. A first quarter Moon hung crisply in the darkness.

A 1998 photo of comet Giacobini-Zinner, which was reported to have been seen in the skies over North American in the last week of December, 1900. Source: Gary W. Cronk’s Cometography; photo copyright 1998 by Michael Jager

Suddenly, I saw a star — a meteor!— shoot quickly across the sky — it was so bright, so quick, and — so suddenly gone. 

My sister Katie — if she was here with me to witness it — would have said it was fortuitous, and an omen. How lucky we were to see it — the luck of witnessing such a phenomenon held deep meaning, she’d say — that the universe was trying to send me an important message.

I studied the sky again. What message would the universe be trying to send me? I knew there would be no trail of the burned-out meteor; no clue that whatever it was that sped through the sky that night even existed.

The moment made me feel a sense of dread, which I tried to dismiss. I’m not superstitious; it was chilly that evening, and so I quickened my pace towards the house.

===

I walked up the path to the front porch of Father’s house. There was only a small parlor light on, which did not cast much illumination onto the broad, wide porch. I knew my stepmother was home, as was Frank; Frank was being cared for in the rear of the house, in Father’s old infirmary.

As I mounted the steps, I didn’t notice that someone else was on the porch, waiting.

“Emmett,” the voice said, from the shadows.

Dr. Francis C. Wilson, Emmett’s father, smoking a pipe, taking it easy in the back yard, @ 1895, Chipley, Florida. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Meade Howard.

It was my Father, sitting by himself, in the easy chair next to the window, smoking his pipe, alone.

“Father,” I said, as I turned to him. “I’m sorry. I didn’t expect to see you out here.”

“Quite all right,” Father said, puffing his pipe in the shadows. I could smell the smoke of the tobacco he used: Tangy, a hint of cloves. It had a comforting scent.

I knew that my father liked to sit by himself to think, at the end of a long day with patients in his office, and at house calls, and I turned to go into the house. “I’ll see you at dinner, Father,” I said.

“Emmett, just a moment. I’d like to talk to you.”

“Yes, Father,” I said.  I sat down in the chair opposite him; there was a table in between the two chairs. On the table was an ashtray with a pipe rest, an unlit oil lamp, a book, and a letter.

He puffed his pipe and put it on the pipe rest. He sat there for a few moments, not looking at me, not saying anything. He didn’t seem angry or upset; just tired. My father and I rarely had one-on-one private conversations. When we did, it was usually about something significant; ominous. I couldn’t help but have a sense of unease.

“How was your day?” Father asked.

“All right. Busy up until the last hour.”

“You’ve been on duty at the depot since early this morning. You were out before the rest of the house was up.”

“Yes,” I said.  I was never one for a lot of small talk; even this little bit of an exchange made me uncomfortable. I shifted about in my seat giving away my feelings of unease, but Father didn’t seem to notice, there in the shadows where we sat. He seemed distracted.

“Emmett, I’ve spoken to everyone else in the family about the situation with Frank and what lies ahead for our family, and of course, you need to know. The situation is critical. Frank’s not in good health, and yet, it is up to him to decide for himself what he will do.”

“I don’t understand. You’re his doctor.”

Father nodded. There was a fumbling about as he reached for his pipe, and placed it in his mouth again, settling back into the chair.

“His liver seems seriously damaged. But I don’t know the extent of the damage. Earlier today, Dr. McKinnon came in over from Marianna to examine him, at my request …” Father took a deep drag from the long pipe; the tobacco in the pipe bowl glowing bright orange, fading back and forth with his puffing.

“It’s not good, Emmett. McKinnon thinks the damage to Frank’s liver could be fatal without proper treatment. He needs to go to a hospital.”

I looked out at the front yard at that moment. A neighbor walked by at that moment and said hello to Father and me. “Nice evening,” he called to us. I looked over at Father, who projected nothing about this crisis in his body language or expression — so like Father. Even when Mother died…I wondered how Father was able to do that, convey tranquility, steadiness, when facing stress and calamity.  Father hid everything so well.…

“This is going to be tough on the family, but it is tougher on Frank. I’m not just talking about the surgery and the recovery. The real struggle has to do with his addiction. Frank has to stop drinking, absolutely, or he will certainly die within the next five or 10 years.”

“Five or 10 years? I asked. “But any sane man facing that kind of outcome would surely stop….”

“The drink habit affects every organ of a man’s body, including the brain, which makes the drunkard desire liquor above all things. They are, essentially, insane, Emmett. The only cure for survival is to stop, completely.” Father shook his head sadly. “We’ve tried sedating Frank some of the time, hoping that he would give up drinking, ease out of it.  But the only one who can get Frank to stop is himself. That, or die,” Father said, quietly.

“You said he would have to go to the hospital,” I said. “That means taking Frank to Mobile or New Orleans….”

Tuoro Hospital in New Orleans is the best option. The doctors there know how to treat him. In fact, tomorrow, when you go to the depot, I will give you a message to send by telegraph to New Orleans, to a doctor there, alerting him that I will be bringing Frank in a few days, as soon as he can stand the trip.”

“Yes, Father,” I said.

New Orleans — this was a three-day trip by train, and an expensive, lengthy stay away from Chipley for Father. He would not see patients during that time, nor would he run his pharmacy.  Someone would have to be hired to help out, run his pharmacy. This was going to be very expensive; a definite setback, after all the problems Father had had in the past two years, building his office, only to lose it in the Great Fire, then to rebuild it just this past September. And I leave in two days for Tallahassee….

The main WFS building, constructed in 1891; it was then replaced by Westcott Hall in 1909. Source: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/11572

…at that moment I knew, with a sick dread, that I was not going back to Tallahassee.

I looked up at my Father, who had been watching me carefully, in the low light of the porch. I swallowed, and turned away.

“I’m sorry, Emmett. We cannot afford to pay your tuition another year,” Father said. “But it is just as well, since you have a good head on your shoulders. The pharmacy is going well, and we’ll have some money coming in there. I’ve long had you in mind as running the store, ideally as an eventual partner or owner.” 

NO! I thought to myself. Not that. Anything but that….

Father continued: ” I hadn’t though of you taking over quite so soon, but there is no time like the present — so, all you’d need to do is step in, learn on the job.”

No. No more. I couldn’t stand it. I took a deep breath.

“Father. I appreciate your offer, but I don’t want to run the pharmacy. I don’t want to go into business.”

Father tapped the bowl of his pipe into the ashtray on the table.  He sat back and regarded me, in the darkness. I couldn’t read his expression; however, I couldn’t tell as if he was angry, or disappointed.

“But Emmett. We’ve talked about this before; you’ve never said anything to the contrary. And in fact, that was part of our agreement with your going to college, that the formal instruction would be helpful for you in setting up a business…”

Albert Murphree, president of WFS; one of Emmett’s professors. Source: https://president.fsu.edu/president/past-presidents/albert-murphree/

“Yes,” I interrupted Father, “but the more I’ve thought about it, the more I realize that my real interest is in law. It’s all I’ve been thinking about; I’ve even talked to Professor Murphree about the subjects I’ve been taking, which he tells me will be a fine foundation for law studies one day…”

Father watched me in silence, evaluating me, it seemed, as I spoke. “I see,” he said after awhile. “And how long have you known this?”

“ I think — I think I’ve always known,” I said. “It’s just something I’ve been feeling for a long time, just simmering away deep down. Even in Tallahassee, I was always thinking about the law — that’s why I joined the debate club. Just the ideas,” I said, sitting forward, “I can’t explain it, but I wasn’t happy at school. I was glad, grateful, but it all felt wrong to me.”

“And you want to be a lawyer?”

“Eventually, I want to be a judge, like Grandfather,” I said, breathlessly. “Honestly, Father, it’s all I’ve really ever wanted to do,” I ended.  I was scared, but relieved — it was out there, finally.

“Your grandfather would feel complimented, to be sure,” Father said. “But you don’t have to go to law school. You can do as Cephas did, working as a law clerk for several years, then sit for the bar….”

“I don’t want to do it the way Cephas has. I want to be better. I’m going to be better than him,” I said, in an excited, emphatic rush, that I know my father has never seen about me; he drew back and looked at me with a surprised expression.

“All right,” Father said after several minutes in silence.

“What? All right? You’re all right with this?” I could not believe what I was hearing.

Father nodded, cupping the bowl of his pipe in his hand, watching me carefully.

“Yes, son. But I want it clear: If you want this, you have to get it completely on your own. We will not finance another term at college for you. You’ll be on your own.”

He saw my downcast expression. “No help at all?”

“Let me finish, son. I’m not being hard on you here; but you have to understand that we gave you tuition to study at the university for the purpose of going into our family business, and you’ve decided you don’t want to do it. That was our agreement. And you aren’t upholding your end of the agreement. We are not wealthy, and we cannot be wasteful with resources. If you wish to attend law school, you’ll have to find your own way.”

I continued to sit in silence. 

“Therefore, son, you will need to get out in the world and work a while in an actual business. We will need your help around here, and I can use you at the pharmacy.”

“But Father…I don’t want.…”

“Then you can work at the depot. Or maybe ask around, see if one of the local lawyers needs a clerk. But if you cannot contribute to the expenses in some way, you’ll have to leave.”

“I have no other choices,” I said, tightly.

“That’s where you’re wrong, Emmett. You have many choices before you. But have to plan for both the long and the short term. Long term, you know that you want to go to law school. Short term, you have to find a way to finance that, plan for whatever it takes to get in. I know you, Emmett. I also know you’ve been given a lot of opportunities. These things that are happening — it seems like they are bad, but you have to remember that events are not simply ‘good’ or ‘bad’; it is what we make of them.

“You’re a lot like Frank in this regard, you know,” Father said, looking at me as he puffed his pipe.”

“What do you mean?” I said, angrily — fearfully. Had Father found my hidden bottle of booze in the boy’s bedroom?

“Only that, like Frank, only you can decide what you want to do with this new opportunity that has come your way. Frank can choose to work hard to change his life. And you can too.”

I excused myself, and left my father sitting on the front porch.

===

When the realization of what happened came to me, as I went into the house and paused in the foyer — I felt as if I were dying inside. I took a deep breath.  At least I did not lose my composure in front of my father.

I was not going to lose my composure in front of my family.

I was not going to lose composure.

I was not going to lose composure.

I took another deep breath.

At that moment, my stepmother came out of the kitchen.

“Oh, good, Emmett. You’re here. Supper will be ready in a few minutes.”

I nodded at her, as she passed by me, and into the dining room.

I could hear the muffled sounds of my family in the dining room, next to the foyer; my stepsisters moving about, dishes and silverware clinking, murmuring of conversation, Mother Kate, my stepsisters in conversation. Frank would not be at the table, of course….

I could feel…Oh God. What I was feeling? It was overwhelming me, the shame, the sorrow, the anger, the frustration, the tightness in my chest. My face felt hot…

Stop it.

Calm down. I don’t know how to deal with these things that I feel so strongly, when they come over me… Stop it. But I cannot stop it. Alien, illogical, disordered things that are Feelings. They have no organization to them; best to ignore them.

But they will not be ignored tonight.

I think, drown them. I thought of my flask, now empty, hidden behind the books in my room. Dammit. Even if I could get to it, what would be the use?

I stood for only a moment on that porch, not knowing what to do.

And then, all I knew was that I had to get out of there.