Chapter 62: My grandfather

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February 10, 1903
Dr. F.C. Wilson’s Home
Chipley, Florida

A.E. Maxwell, taken in the late 1890s. Reprinted with permission of Elizabeth Meade Howard.

I’m in Chipley for a few days visiting my father, stepmother, and Grandfather Maxwell. He now lives with my father; Grandfather Maxwell is  frail these days. 

Although Grandfather has been living with my uncle Evelyn Maxwell in Pensacola, Grandfather prefers to be in Chipley. He trusts my father to take care of him, more than he does the doctors in Pensacola; he claims those doctors don’t understand him. But I think he would rather spend time with family in Chipley. I think he also misses my Mother; they were always close, and being in Chipley with my father gives him a sense of connection to my Mother.

Also, now that Cephas is a state senator, he constantly has people over at the house, and is busier than ever, as he also is keeping up with his law practice. All I’ve done for the past two months is live and breathe law, and I need a temporary break away from anything that demands a lot of heavy thinking and from a lot of people.

===

I don’t tell him, but I love my Grandfather. Besides my mother, he seems to be the only person who understands me. I don’t know why I don’t just tell him; maybe part of me is afraid he’s not reciprocate, though I know he feels the same about me. Maybe it is just because it seems unmanly. 

Or maybe it is because I am afraid of how it would move me if I said it. The last time someone saw me that deeply moved… well, no matter. It was a long time ago. Best forgotten.

While in Chipley, I was going to spend as much time as possible with my Grandfather. We like the same things — a good game of chess, an hour or so at a fishing hole, and long walks.

Dr. F.C. Wilson’s house, about 1895. Photographer unknown. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Meade Howard.

So on this slightly chill afternoon, we walk out together down Sixth Street, away from town. I support him with his arm through mine, down about a half mile until he tires out. We aren’t talking as we walk; we don’t really have to at this moment. We enjoy our time together and that’s enough.

After a while, he smiles at me, gestures with his head that he’s ready to head back to the house. It’s about 4 p.m.; this is his time that he spends on the porch, smoking his pipe, reading, enjoying a toddy.

He eases into the wicker armchair; his ashtray and pipe ready on the side table. I step into the house; into the kitchen and make his toddy — whiskey, warmed up gently in a pan, a little sugar, stirred gently, then poured into his silver tumbler. 

Dr. F.C. Wilson’s original home, Now known as the Myers-Wilson House in Chipley, Florida. Built in 1895. Photo by the author.

I bring the toddy to Grandfather on the porch; he’s lit his pipe and is settled in. He nods his thanks to me.

“Now tell me about law school, Emmett,” he says, peering at me through the pipe smoke and over the top of his spectacles.

I told him about my classes, the texts we were reading for the different professors. He asked which class I liked best thus far; I told him I didn’t really have a preference, but I truly enjoyed debating, both in the school club and in the classroom. 

“Have you made many friends? What are they like?” Grandfather asks.

I tell him their names: Crawford, Fee, Fulgham, DeCottes, Carter. Grandfather, of course, knows many of my friends’ grandparents and parents. He nods especially as I tell him stories long games of chess on the porch; he chuckles at some of our antics and pranks. “I liked being a part of this group,” I tell him, as I lean forward in my chair, looking at my hands on my knees. “I so rarely have felt so comfortable, and so accepted for myself.”

Grandfather says nothing for several minutes; I look up at him. He is gazing out to the street. Maybe I shouldn’t have said that, I think to myself. He didn’t like that.

“You keep rather to yourself, don’t you, Emmett?” Grandfather asks turning towards me.

I look up at him, uncertain.

“There is no special young lady in the picture?”

I shake my head. “No. There’s no one.”

“Did I ever tell you the story of how I met my first wife, your Mother’s mother, Sarah?”

“No, Grandfather.”

Sarah Roane Brockenbrough Maxwell. Source: find-a-grave.com

“Ah. Well. Sarah Roane Brockenbrough. A lovely, dark-haired, intelligent young lady of Charlottesville. Her father was the proctor at the University of Virginia. She was 20 years old when we got married. May 20, 1843, he said. I had already graduated from the University of Virginia Law School, back in 1841, but her father insisted that she be at least 20 when I asked for her hand in marriage. Also, I would probably have more money saved, be more able to support her comfortably, and so forth.”

Grandfather puffed a few moments on his pipe, reflecting.

“And were you?” I ask.

“Yes,” he said. “By 1843, I had passed the bar in Eutaw, Alabama, Green County, you know, where your father’s people happened to be living at the time. I had a small practice going; it was enough, and Sarah’s father thought so too. So, I came back to Charlottesville in May, 1843, and married Sarah.”

“You didn’t stay long in Alabama, though,” I ask.

“No. Only about two years. Your Aunt Lucy was born there, and your Mother was born in Tallahassee. We moved to Tallahassee in 1845. By then, I had political aspirations, and I knew that Florida, having just been admitted to the union, had unique opportunities that would help my career. Sarah was all for it, even though she knew it might be difficult. It was a hard journey for her, especially as she was expecting your Mother when we moved. But soon after establishing residency in Florida, I was named attorney general for the next two years.”

“Mother was born,” I said, “and then, Uncle Simeon.”

Grandfather nodded. “September, 1847. Sarah had a very difficult time with that last birth; it is what led to her death less than three months later, right before Christmas, December 17.”

Grandfather sat quietly a few moments.

“And then, there was Grandmother Julia,” I said.

Julia Hawkes Anderson Maxwell. Source: find-a-grave.com

“Yes,” Grandfather said. “Julia Hawkes. A wonderful woman.  Julia understood that there would always be a special place in my heart for Sarah; she did not try to fill that, nor did she ever try to make me forget, because of course, I never would. Sarah was beloved to me; she still is. Julia was a kind, strong woman. She was exactly the kind of mother my children needed; and of course, I needed her too. Julia and I also loved each other.

“I was blessed with two wonderful women in my life, Emmett. I hope that one day, you will find someone to share your life.”

The screen door creaked noisily open; my stepmother Kate sticks her head around the door, and announces that supper was ready.

Grandfather and I thank her. Mother Kate goes back inside. Grandfather turns towards me, puts his pipe on the ashtray on the side table, then says:

“You know, Emmett, your father needed someone too, much like I did after Sarah died. Your father was brokenhearted, as I was. He needed to take care of his family, first and foremost, but when your Mother died, his heart was buried with her.”

I glanced at my grandfather, who is looking at me, seriously.

Grandfather nodded toward the closed front door, which my stepmother had just closed. “Kate Jordan also buried her heart with her first husband, John. I suppose you know that.”

“Why are you saying this to me, Grandfather?”

“Don’t be so hard on your Father. I know you don’t have a very close relationship to him. He’s distant, too; his way of dealing with his grief was to stuff it down into his work, and to do everything he could to keep his family going.  He was never looking to replace Elizabeth, but his family, you and your brothers and sisters, are most important to him. He was shocked. Well, we all were, and he just did what he thought best.

“Your father hasn’t gotten over the death of your mother, and I don’t think you have, either. That’s why he’s always distant. He can’t talk about this; but worse, he won’t try to talk about it. I think you are a lot like him in that regard.”

“I don’t…” I start to say, awkwardly. I am feeling things, uncomfortable thoughts, feelings rushing up from somewhere, deep inside, that will overwhelm me, and reduce me to something I hated, which was to be pitied, seen as weak, needy…my eyes started to sting a little. The idea of getting over my Mother…that would mean forgetting her. I could barely remember her voice anymore, or her look. I stood up abruptly, and went to the porch rail, and took a few breaths.

“Emmett.”

“I’m OK,” I say, roughly.

After a few minutes, I turn around and say, “Why are you saying these things to me, Grandfather?” 

“Emmett, if you don’t try to work through whatever it is that is bothering you deep inside, it will come back out of you in ways that can be harmful. Julia knew, when she married me, I was still mourning Sarah, and it helped to be able to talk to her about the things I felt. It didn’t diminish anything I still felt for Sarah, or for me as a man, but it helped make things right inside of me, so that I could go on, and appreciate Julia, and love her, as she so deserved. I don’t want to see you hampered by grief, either. Or, to store things up inside of you that are bothering you.”

“I’m fine,” I say. I clear my throat. “We should probably go inside. Mother Kate is waiting supper on us.”

Grandfather nodded, and I help him up from the chair. I hand him his cane; he walks slowly to the door. He pauses:

“Emmett. Don’t shut yourself off from those who love you and want to help you. They have your best interests at heart.”

“I have plenty of time for love, Grandfather. I don’t want to settle down with anyone right now; my priorities are to get through law school, and to be the top of my class. Then, my goals are to be a top-notch lawyer, and eventually, to take my place on the bench, the Florida Supreme Court, specifically. As you did.”

Grandfather smiles at me.

“And when I’m successful,” I continued, “I’ll settle down. Even you, yourself, were advised to settle down before you married Grandmother.”

“I have no doubt that you will go far, son. I believe it. But there is more to this life than mighty ambition. You don’t want to be alone at the end of your days. Don’t miss out on this, Emmett.”

 

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 50: A curious notation in The Argo

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

Before I move on with Emmett’s story post-WFS, one thing that popped out at me when I was looking through Emmett’s old college yearbook was this:

An essay on Inauguration Day for Governor William Sherman Jennings; Emmett and some of his friends from WFS attended. Emmett attended with his brother, Cephas Love Wilson, who was a Florida State Senator. Source: FSU Archives

Emmett is mentioned on this page as having attended — and his friends ate his supper for him. Curious. Source: FSU Archives

The Jennings inauguration ceremonies ran from January 6-9, 1901 — and by this account, Emmett was there, and, likely in attendance with his brother Cephas, and Walter Kehoe.

So, I’m wondering if that’s when Emmett told his friends he was leaving school — and what he told them?

I wonder if Emmett was embarrassed about it, or maybe he felt at peace, because he was finally figuring out what he wanted to do with himself?

Chapter 41: For once, I feel at ease

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Christmas Day, 1900, The Wilson Home,
Chipley, Florida

Have you ever seen pictures of seated royalty on their thrones? The ones featuring a king, with princes and other members of the royal family seated around a central authority figure in descending order of power?

If you stood Father’s front yard that afternoon, and saw how the male members of my family were seated on the porch, you’d understand who was in power in our family — and — to a certain degree, West Florida politics.

A.E. Maxwell, who also went by “Emmett;” our Emmett’s role model & hero. Photo taken about 1900. Source: FloridaMemory.com

In the center is my grandfather, Augustus Emmett Maxwell, whom friends called ‘Emmett’. He sits in a wicker easy chair, a toddy next to him on a table, and his cane hooked over the arm of his chair. Grandfather Maxwell is tall, but he has become stooped in old age, and lack of regular exercise over the years has put weight on his frame.

Grandfather Maxwell is listening thoughtfully, with his chin in his hand, in a posture I recognize from his days on the Florida Supreme Court bench, to Walter Kehoe talking about the Florida House election this coming January.

Although Walter had campaigned hard for the Florida House seat — and won — he resigned soon after the election when Governor William D. Bloxham asked him to serve as State’s Attorney upon the death of John H. McKinne, the previous State’s Attorney. Walter, who has long eyed a congressional seat at the U.S. House of Representatives, sas this as an opportunity that would eventually lead to that higher office later on.

The Weekly Tallahassean, November 22, 1900. Source: ChroniclingAmerica.gov

My Father is seated on Grandfather’s right, holding a whiskey in his right hand. Father occasionally glances at Grandfather Maxwell with a look of concern; he murmurs something to Grandfather now and then, to gain assurance that he is comfortable. Although my Mother had been deceased for almost 10 years, the relationship between Grandfather Maxwell and my Father remains unchanged: Close, respectful. Father does not have the same relationship with his current father-in-law, the Rev. Thomas E. Langley; nor does he try to develop it into anything more than what it is: Distant, but polite. 

Father, Grandfather, Walter.

Triumvirate.

Next to Walter is my brother, Cephas, recently re-elected State Senator for Jackson County. 

The Weekly Tallahassean, October 4, 1900. Source: ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Ceph sits quietly, one leg crossed over the other, in another wicker easy chair on the porch, a drink in his hand, also listening to Walter, occasionally nodding at some point or the other. When Father isn’t looking at Grandfather Maxwell, he will glance over at Cephas, admiringly. Father does this unconsciously. And sometimes, when I see Father doing this, I have to look away. I desperately want Father to look at me like that: With utter pride.

My brother Percy, a physician, who apprenticed with my Father before attending medical school in Mobile, sits on my Father’s right; my brother Meade, a conductor with the P&A division of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, is on Cephas’ right. They, like my Father, also are involved in county politics, serving as election clerks, and on local Democratic executive committees — they are foot soldiers in state politics, as Cephas would says; not anything to be dismissed, because all political work eventually paves the way to important connections and positions. My other brother Frank, who works for the M. & M. Railroad, isn’t here; he told Father he had to work over the holidays.

Percy lives in Sneads, a small community north of Chipley, with his wife Bonnie; Meade lives in Pensacola with his wife, Carrie.

On the outermost periphery of the family circle is me, my twin brother Julian, and our oldest brother, Max.  Julian and I sit on the porch steps. Max is closer to the men in the semi-circle, but seated on a footstool, next to Meade. The older men don’t expect those of us on the periphery to say anything, because we are rarely asked to contribute.

Augustus Maxwell Wilson, oldest son of Dr. F.C. and Elizabeth Wilson. Source: Florida Memory.com

Max’s rightful place should be next to Father, or Walter, particularly as Max was a second-term state representative for Calhoun County. But Max’s position on the porch during family gatherings depends on whether he is in or out of favor with my Father — and on this day, he’s out. Father’s problem with Max is his inconsistency. Max is a good fellow but comes across as directionless — except for one thing: Max has spent his life trying to please Father. So, instead of finding a line of work he truly enjoys, he’s become a ‘chaser of rainbows,’ according to my brothers. Max also drinks heavily and has more of a reputation as a drinker instead anything else, which I know troubles Father to no end. Today, Max is seated on the footstool, mostly ignored. I think he knows it, but Max is playing the game, pretending not to notice being on the outside.

“Any progress on the new primary election law, Walter?” Father asked.

“Mostly talk right now, nothing definite,” Walter said. “No one will ever publicly say that they were against the Democratic process, but should the primaries be turned over to the general electorate, most of the party leaders who enjoyed the perks of office would be out.”

“The masses favor it, and no man who enjoys his current place in Democratic leadership would dare come out and gainsay them,” Father said.

“And yet, the country masses are fools,” Cephas said. “They would elect some uncultured bumpkin to do their bidding. Another Abraham Lincoln,” he added, shaking his head with contempt.”

“The masses may seem foolish on the outside, but it would be wrong to discount them,” Father said, glancing over at Grandfather, who sits in silence, his arms crossed, his faced bowed, listening.

“And how does one convince the masses that the current system is acceptable?” Meade asked. “The electors are not fools. They know how candidates are made — bought, actually,”  he said, as a bottle of Irish whiskey is passed to him by Walter. Meade refills his glass, and passes the bottle to back to Walter.

“Ah,” Walter said, as he pours a generous helping of the whiskey into his own glass. “That is the key, is it not? The language we propose to use in the bill will be cunning enough….”

“And the legislature will still refuse it,” Grandfather said, quietly. “Pity.”

At that moment, footsteps were heard coming from the side yard; it was Paul Carter, who had cut through our adjoining back yards, to join the group on the porch.

The men all greeted my best friend with friendly words, handshakes. Two of my brothers stood up to shake his hand; even Cephas rose partially out of his seat for Paul.  My Grandfather clasped Paul’s hand, giving him a kind look.

“Have a seat over with Emmett,” Father said to Paul, nodding over at me on the porch step. As Paul sat next to me, he nods. “Merry Christmas.” 

“The same to you,” I reply.

Paul fiddles with his shoelaces as we listened to the men talk alternatively about saving their current positions of power, keeping the election out of the hands of the unwashed masses, protecting the status quo.

I watch as Paul shakes his head, a frown on his face, as he listens. Then, he blurts: “This is insanity.” He stands up, and faces my family on the porch.

“What is it?” Grandfather asks, quietly.

“You must be kidding — the current system can’t last forever, this committee process of selecting the candidates for election in Florida. It is insanity, and you know it,”  Paul said.

There was an uncomfortable silence on the porch, as my brothers moved in their seats, looking away from Paul. But Meade asks,“What do you mean?” 

“It will change, all of it,” Paul said firmly, looking first at Meade, then at the rest of the men on the porch. “People — the general voting public — will soon understand what the definition of a dictator is, and they will come to see that this committee selection process in Florida is nothing short of that — take a look at what is happening in Europe,” Paul said. “Take a look at our own history, if you will. When the general voting public understands that their leadership resembles that of King George, that it is for the wealthy and privileged, and not the everyday man, that it is not truly representative of our nation’s populace, there will be a turnover. And, it will happen. You ought to prepare for that eventuality. Make the change part of your platform, or prepare to lose your place.”

No one spoke for a few moments. The silence grew uncomfortably. Paul shook his head at them.

“Let me ask everyone,” Paul said. “Do you believe in democracy for all, or only when it is convenient for you and your family’s personal interests?”

Cephas put his drink down on the table and stood up to face Paul. “What the hell? Of course not,” he retorts. “Of course I  believe in democracy for everyone; we all do,” as my brothers nodded slightly, but not looking at Paul.

Minnie was a trailblazer for professional women. She knew she had to keep her cool even in the face of cads, whereas I would have just told them where to go.

“How about for women who own businesses and have to pay taxes just like menfolk, like Walter’s sisters?” Paul added, nodding over at Walter, who is listening to the exchange with a frown. “Don’t they deserve to have a say about how their tax dollars are spent? It’s the same dollar, by the way, not a male dollar or female dollar. I’ll bet your sister Minnie would agree,” he added.

Cephas sighs. “I see your point, Paul and I agree with it to a certain extent, but…”

“But nothing, Ceph. Democracy is either for all, or it is not. Some of the changes coming may not exactly be popular with the stand-patters, such as yourself. That’s not progressive democracy. Some of our politicians are mostly paying lip service to it.” At that, Walter shifts uncomfortably in his seat.  “Whether you truly support a progressive democratic platform or not remains to be seen. I’m afraid you are part of the problem, though, Ceph; you are looking after your own comfort, not policies that work for the greater good.”

“That’s easy for someone like you to say,” Max retorts. “You have money, position, you aren’t dependent on anyone…”

“I could lose all of that at any moment, just like anyone else,” he said, quietly. The sorrowful image of Paul’s face when he was cleaning out his father’s office flashed in my mind. I can tell Paul is also thinking of his father….

From The Chipley Banner, January 14, 1899, page 3. Source: ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Walter raises his eyebrow, with a little look of surprise at Paul, then he looks at me. Percy and Meade have shocked looks on their faces, they turn to look at Father, who is simpassive, and then at Cephas, scowling.

But Grandfather Maxwell has a quiet, wry smile on his face.

“Spoken like a true statesman,” Grandfather Maxwell says quietly, nodding at Paul. “Your father would be proud of you.”

The tension of the moment quickly abates. Paul clears his voice, pulls the sleeves of his suit coat. “Excuse me,” he says. “I apologize if I was rude and overspoke. I’ll take my leave.”

The men on the porch, still stunned by Paul’s outburst, murmur their goodbyes and wishes for a Merry Christmas to Paul as he turns and walks down the sidewalk, towards town.

“Excuse me,” I say to my Father and Grandfather, who nod their permission for me to leave.

I start down the porch steps, and catch up with Paul, who was already halfway down the block walking at an easy, comfortable pace despite the tension back on my Father’s porch. We continue in silence to the corner of 6th and Railroad Streets, then stop at the corner and looked around. All we can see are the closed-up shops, but there are a few men further down the street near the depot, walking about. There is no traffic, everyone was somewhere else.

Paul pulls his silver case out of his coat pocket, and offers me a cigarette. We both take one, and take turns lighting our cigarettes from his lucifer.

I take a deep draw, and exhale, blowing a long stream of cigarette smoke upward into the dark blue sky.

“I can’t believe what you did back there, and what you said in front of everyone. You had Cephas speechless for a change,” I say, with a chuckle.

Paul chuckled too. “Tell you the truth, Em, I’m a little stunned myself at what came out of me in front of your Grandfather, and Kehoe, too. But I am sincere about every single thing I said. Change is coming in our political environment. We have to coexist with it, or we lose the chance to make a real difference for our citizenry. You believe that, don’t you?”

“Yes; of course I do. But I never would have said it like that in front of them.”

“Well, why not? You either truly support democracy or you don’t. We certainly debated it back at the Seminary in often enough.”

“Well…” I hesitate.

“Well what?”

“I don’t know; I would have offended pretty much everyone on the porch.”

“Come on. It’s the truth. How is the truth offensive? It’s just the truth. I doubt seriously you and I, and your Grandfather, are the only ones who think this, by the way. For instance, Cephas. He knows what’s going on elsewhere in the country, in other state legislatures. He must know it is only a matter of time before United States Senators will be elected instead of appointed. For God’s sake, Kehoe’s on the damn committee looking into the change.”

I say nothing as we start to walk down the empty sidewalk. 

“So, what it is that you believe, Emmett?”

“All I know, all I’ve learned from Cephas, from watching my brothers, from listening to Kehoe and even to my Grandfather, is that I have to succeed, to avoid failure, to make it to the top, and to do that, I have to play this political game. So, it doesn’t matter, really, what I feel, or think, does it?  How is it that I’m supposed to speak up for what it is I truly believe in, when in fact, the route to success in our chosen profession is to live a lie the entire time to get to where it is we want to be? How is that logical?”

“I don’t know. But it’s not always like that.”

“I just…. I wish I didn’t care. I hate the games playing,” I take a last deep drag off of my cigarette, exhaled the smoke, and throw the butt into the rutted dirt road.

“You know, I don’t think it is completely like that,” Paul said. “I agree that the road to the judiciary is like playing a game. But it is that way with most goals we set for ourselves. And I really don’t think you have to check your integrity at the door. I know my Father never did when he was on the bench; even his friends used to tell me that he was one of the most trusted lawyers in West Florida. It took him a long time to get to where he was, though, because he didn’t sell out to the factions and he didn’t play games.”

“I remember,” I said.

“I know that you want to get to where you’re going fast,” Paul adds. “You’ll get there. But not tomorrow. Maybe not for a few years, and that’s just being logical. I think you know this already.”

“Well. It’s all probably moot anyway.”

“What do you mean?” Paul asked.

“Father has this idea I’m going to work for him in the pharmacy as soon as I’m done at the Seminary. The idea of working for Father day in and day out here in Chipley…” I shook my head. “I can’t do it, Paul. I can barely stand being here for the Christmas break much less the idea of living here permanently. I’ll go out of my mind.”

“How did he come to that decision?”

“I don’t know. But he told me, in front of Walter, that it was an ideal situation, and he’s pleased. And for the first time, I feel like I have my Father’s approval.”

“Emmett, for as long as I’ve known you, you’ve done what other people have told you what to do. Where to work, because they think it is a good opportunity for you. What to study, because they think it would be useful for you. What to think, even…”

“Now wait a minute…”

“You do what a lot of other people — mostly your family — say, because they have your best interests at heart. But, I don’t think they really know you, or what you want, or what makes you happy.”

“They think I can be happy once I get settled down and become successful.”

“Look, Em, I can see you as a lawyer. You definitely have the intelligence and mindset for it. Your Father may not be thrilled about it at first, but you’ll eventually have his support. I know your Grandfather would approve. Cephas would; certainly Walter. You won’t be alone, you know.”

“Father would think that I’ve wasted time and money.”

“What if you went all the way through, for four years at the Seminary, then figured out you wanted to go to law school? Think of all the money you would have spent on a degree that you really didn’t want.”

“True,” I said.

“I take it you’ve decided what you want to do.”

“Yes. Finish out the Sophomore year — and transfer to Stetson.”

He nods. “We’ll be there together, you know. We’ll have a grand time.”

I grin at Paul. “We will.”

I chuck him on the shoulder as we walk toward the Chipley depot.

For the first time since I’ve been home, I feel at ease.

Chapter 36: News to me

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December 22, 1900
Dr. Francis C. Wilson’s Office, Downtown Chipley

Continued from here.

===

I climbed the stairs and paused at the top; my heart was pounding.  I closed my eyes, and counted to ten; rubbed the center of my chest. Touched the liquor flask hidden in my coat pocket. After a few moments, I was calm. 

As I walked down the hall, I noticed three other offices in the second-floor hallway; an insurance broker, two lawyers. Father’s office was in the front of the building overlooking the street.

I heard male voices in spirited conversation inside; one was Father’s. I hesitated; my hand on the door knob. Get a grip, I told myself. 

I took a breath, then opened the door.

It was a two-room office, simple but well appointed. The room had a small settee and a desk with a lamp, and a file cabinet behind the desk. There was a small plant on top of the file cabinet next to the window. A nurse was seated at desk; she glanced up from the papers in front of her.  She recognized me.

“Good afternoon, Emmett. How are you?”

“Fine, Miss Tharpe.”

She stood up. “Would you like to see your father? I’ll let him know you are here.”

“Is he in with a patient?”

“No. Just a moment.” She knocked gently on the door, then opened it, excusing herself.

“Dr. Wilson, one of your sons is here to see you.”

“Thank you, Tharpe. Send him in.” 

The nurse stood aside as I passed through, then closed the door behind me.

“Well, Emmett. Here you are. How was your trip from Tallahassee?” Father stood up and shook hands with me.

“Fine, thank you.”

A photo of Dr. Wilson on call in front of the W.O. Butler House. Chipley, Florida, 1911

Father is tall, stately, dignified. He has a calm, noble bearing; always unflappable, impassive, regardless of what’s happening, regardless of emergency, when all Hell is breaking out around him. If I had one word to describe him, it would be consistent. I think that’s why he has such a large, loyal patient base. He knows how to put people at ease. He’s always been that way with everyone. But me.

I’ve always thought Father resembled his old commander, Robert E. Lee:  Father is bald on top with a fringe of white hair circling his head from ear-to-ear, with white mustaches and a beard. Father served loyally under Lee at Appomattox. Indeed, Father venerated Lee as a personal hero, unconsciously modeling himself after the old general, who had had a reputation of being unflappable in the face of danger and distress.

A friendly, jovial, Irish voice blurted out behind me: “Well, Emmett, it is good to see you!”

Father nodded cordially at his friend, who stood beaming at me, his hand outstretched to take mine.

A young J. Walter Kehoe, 1899, as photographed from the Bench and Bar of the State of Florida. Source: Florida Memory

“Hello Walter,” I said, clasping his hand. 

Walter Kehoe is my brother Cephas’ law partner in Marianna and a long-time family friend, although it has been several months since I’ve seen him. 

Walter is one of the most important lawyers and politicians in West Florida; he is also Cephas’ closest, most trusted friend. Walter often refers to me as his younger brother though we are not related at all. Regardless of the fact he is always busy, and involved in serious and important issues, Walter has always taken time to talk to me about everyday things. I’ve never asked him for advice or help with anything, but I know that if I ever needed it, he would be there for me, no questions asked. 

Walter’s bio from the biographical information provided by U.S. Congressional Archive. Note the fact a special act of the Florida State Legislature was necessary to allow him to practice law because of his youth.

Walter is truly brilliant. Even Cephas is in awe of Walter’s intelligence, which is saying something, because Cephas is often too busy thinking about himself. Don’t get me wrong: Cephas is very smart, too. But with Walter, the brilliance is innate; his practice of the law feels completely natural, comfortable, and effortless. The other thing about Walter is that he wants to become a U.S. Congressman. And it will probably happen. “He may not be very quick about it, and he can be irritatingly deliberate,” Ceph once told me, “but if he wants something, he doesn’t let anything stand in the way.”

Father gestures at me. “Have a seat, Emmett. Care for something to drink?”  Father and Walter both had half glasses of Irish whiskey on the desk.

“No, thank you,” I said.

Father nodded; gives me a brief smile of approval. I involuntarily exhale — I didn’t realize I was holding my breath. I quickly glance over at Walter; he pretends to study his glass of whiskey instead of observing the dynamic between Father and me, but I know he was watching. Walter doesn’t miss much.

“How long will you be in Chipley?” I ask Walter.

“I’m heading back this evening. Ceph has been busy doling out political favors this week, and not getting much done in the way of law,” he answered with a chuckle; Dr. Wilson gave his rare, tense smile in his white beard, nodding with satisfaction. Ceph had just been nominated for a second term as Florida state senator, and had been traveling the circuit this week.

Cephas Love Wilson in top hat; Lula Wilson below his right shoulder, 1906. Source: http://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/143975

In Father’s eyes, Cephas could do no wrong. With all of his political experience and connections, I think my brother would also be a good U.S. Congressman, but Cephas doesn’t want to leave Florida. Besides, Cephas has a reputation as a philanderer. I think that my sister-in-law, Lula, who has been publicly embarrassed by his antics more than once has put her foot down about Cephas going to Washington. 

“How is Minnie’s stenography business? I understand she’s quite successful and busy these days,”  Father asked. 

“Fine. She’s busier than ever, and is even thinking about a turn at the bar herself, one of these days.” Now it was Walter’s turn to be proud. His sister Minnie had written a bill – a unique piece of legislation – to secure regular compensation for court stenographers, and to enable counsel to have the services of a stenographer in serious cases other than capital ones (which had been a problem in Florida courts).  This was remarkable for a woman who was not a lawyer. 

Minnie was a trailblazer for professional women. She knew she had to keep her cool even in the face of cads, whereas I would have just told them where to go.

Minnie was smart, driven, progressive, and was keen on making her own way in the world, without being dependent on a husband, or father. Minnie was carving out a career slowly, surely, and against all odds. Everyone was in awe of her; encouraging her, but not really coming right out and supporting her. The idea of a woman lawyer was still too odd, foreign; it had the taste of Yankee corruption, although that was the furthest thing you could think of to describe Minnie. She was a lady; she was aggressive, but not obnoxious about it. We were all watching to see if she would make it or not. I secretly hoped she would; if Minnie could make it, against those odds, I knew I could too.

“And what about you, Emmett?” Walter said, kindly, changing the subject. “How is school?”

“Fine.”

“Staying busy with lessons, or are there too many female distractions?”

I blushed and looked away from both of them and fidgeted with the button on my jacket sleeve. “No, no distractions,” I said, a little uncomfortably. Both Father and Walter chuckled.

“Too busy with schoolwork, are you?”

“Yes. Busier than I expected. But I like it very much.”

Father nodded. “We expect big things from Emmett once he graduates from school. He has a lot of intelligence; he’s a quick learner and thoughtful. I think he’d do well running a pharmacy for me, once he’s out of school,” he added.

I look up quickly, surprised: First at the unaccustomed praise coming from Father, publicly like that – and then, I felt my stomach plummet when I realized what he said.

“Oh, you are pursuing a business degree?” Walter asked, interested.

“F.C.” stood for “Freshman Class — Classical Studies” and “S.C.” stood for “Sophomore Class — Classical Studies.” The end result after four years with this curriculum at WFS was the Bachelor of Arts degree. Source: FSU Digital Repository

“Well…” I started, glancing first at Father, then Walter, still a bit in shock at Father’s comment.

There was a quick knock at the door, followed by Nurse Tharpe opening it. 

“Excuse me, gentlemen. A patient is here to see you, Dr. Wilson, and it seems serious. Can you see him?”

Father stood up, reached over to the coat rack to put his suit jacket on to receive the patient. “Yes, Tharpe. Give us just a minute here, please.”

“Yes, doctor,” Tharpe said, closing the door behind her.

“I’m sorry Walter,” Father said.

“No need to apologize, Frank,” Walter said, as he shook Father’s hand. “We’ll be on our way.”

“Please give my regards to Jennie; we’ll see you on Christmas Day for dinner and festivities,” Father said, as he buttoned his jacket.

“Indeed you will,” Walter said, warmly. “Come, Emmett,” he said, as we moved to the door. “We can walk and talk as I head over to the station to wait for the next train out.”

“Goodbye, Father,” I said, before I walked out with Walter.

Father nodded, and turned back to his desk to prepare for the incoming patient.

 

Walter and I exited the building, and we walked together, without speaking, toward the depot. He paused for a moment on the corner.

“Emmett, would you like to stop off at the hotel dining room for coffee or something to eat before you head home? I’ll bet you didn’t eat lunch on the train, and if you did, it wasn’t much of a meal.”

“No thank you. I’m fine,” I said.

“Do you mind if I ask a question?”

“No,” I said.

“Your father’s mentioning that you are going to work for him, in his pharmacy. That was news to you, wasn’t it?”

I turned slightly away. “I don’t know, “I said, careful not to look Walter in the face.

“I’m sorry, Emmett. I don’t mean to pry.”

I didn’t say anything; instead, I stood on the corner, fidgeting with the clasp on my satchel to camouflage the embarrassment and irritation that I could not hide in my expressions. I can’t hide anything from Walter. I look up at him, exasperated.

“I don’t want to work for my father.”

“All right. Well, do you know what you want to do?”

“I want to get out of Chipley,” I said.

Walter nods. “And do what?”

At that moment, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to tell Walter everything on my mind at that; I didn’t want to expose myself as vulnerable. I looked away for a moment.

“If you don’t mind, I’d rather not talk about it right now, Walter. I’m just beat after the trip from Tallahassee. If you’ll excuse me, I’ll head on home.”

“All right, Emmett,” Walter says, kindly. “I’ll see you in a few days.”

He pats me on the arm, then crosses the street towards the Central Hotel, to get something to eat, then to wait for the evening train to Marianna.

At that moment, I just wanted to get away, to be by myself.

I walked as quickly as I could up 6th Street, almost running the five blocks towards home.

Chapter 23: More Anecdotes of Wilson Family in British Honduras

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What I love about Katie’s narrative about her family’s years in British Honduras are the anecdotes. She’s a wonderful storyteller, sharing family experiences in detail. I wish she were still alive — I would love to interview her.

Here’s the fourth page of Katie Wilson Meade’s story:

Katie Wilson Meade’s narrative of the Wilson family in British Honduras. Source: Elizabeth Wilson Howard. Used with permission.

We had a plague of locusts one time while in Honduras; the ‘big” boys and a young uncle visiting from the “States” went out with their machetes and had fun trying to kill them but it was impossible because the things rained down too thick. They stayed only about an hour and disappeared, leaving a few stray ones lying around dead.

Great mahogany trees grew in the forest, and once a native (in the spirit of gratitude to Father for some kindness shown him) carved a beautiful walking cane out of a solid piece of mahogany and presented it to Father. It had a round knob on top and the man shined it up, and it was used in the family for many years. It is now in the possession of my youngest Brother’s son, who is a doctor in Rochester, N.Y.

Another native carved a huge shallow bowl from a mahogany log and presented it to Father, and it was used every day to make bread and biscuits.

Father was commissioned by the English Government to vaccinate the natives against yellow fever. He did this by getting a boat and traveling up and down the coast, the only way to reach them. Some of these people had worked on his place and once he noticed some of Mother’s big silver spoons. He picked them up and said his wife had been wondering where they had gone. There was no protest. They had sense enough to know he was right. They had Mother’s monogram on them.

For this work the Government paid in gold. So when he got home he called us all in to see this gold — large tin box full. I put in both hands and played in it. A child of today would  have to go to Fort Knox to do that!

One interesting occurence was when we moved from our first house to “Big Hill.” Sister had a parrot that could talk. She used to stand and call my brother in a voice exactly like mother’s. Well, the parrot got away and flew into the jungle while the family was busy with their moving. No-one noticed she was gone till they arrived at the new home. Then every one was distressed because Ada (the parrot’s name) was missing. This lasted a week. Then one morning, we were sitting in the house with Mother and we heard the voice calling, “Maxwell, Maxwell” on the same high note that Mother used — but there sat Mother right in the room with us! We hurried out side and there was old Ada on the roof looking down on us with a twinkle in her eye!

Ooooh, lots of background in this page!

This is a page from Dr. Wilson’s father’s will, which was written while several of Emmett’s family had emigrated to British Honduras. Several Wilson brothers are still in the U.S., namely Cephas Jr. (not Emmett’s brother, but yet one of many Cephases in this family) who ultimately moved to Virginia), William, and Walter or Walker. Source: Ancestry.com

The Simeon Maxwell family sailed out of Belize on the E.B. Ward, Jr., into the port of New Orleans on October 22, 1879. Emmett’s grandfather left about this time as well; Emmett’s parents would stick it out until 1884, when they pretty much had lost everything in the failed sugar plantation venture. Source: Ancestry.com

  • I contacted Walker Wilson’s grandson about the walking cane anecdote, and copied Katie’s memoir to him as well. He knows the story, and said as far as he knows, the cane still exists. It was given to Dr. John (Jack) Wilson of Rochester, New York. I have not been in contact with the John Wilsons of Rochester yet; I haven’t been able to locate any descendants.
  • “Big Hill”, the second Wilson home, is a bit of a mystery. I found this reference to Big Hill, but no reference to the Wilsons. Interestingly, there is a “Wilson Road” leading to Big Hill, but because there were many Wilsons in Belize, it isn’t clear which Wilson family is attached to the name of the road:

Big Hill is a resort in Belize today. But since the family story is that Dr. Francis Wilson only had a part ownership, was this perhaps a Wilson family compound? Another mystery unfolds in Emmett Wilson land….

Hang in there; page five is next.

 

(N.B.: Katie’s granddaughter, Elizabeth Meade Howard, graciously shared the typed narrative, and has given me permission to share the information. Please note that the original contents and information belongs to Elizabeth Meade Howard.)