Today’s post is about unconditional friendship.
I believe that everyone has a friend in their lives who you know that no matter where you are, or how much time has gone by, the relationship is there. This is the person who knows you best, maybe better than your spouse knows you. It doesn’t matter that it has been a year or more that you were in same room together; when you are together, it is as if you saw each other only the day before.
Me and Blanche, graduation, 1981.
I’m blessed to have that kind of friend in my life. Her name is Blanche. We were 13 when we met each other during summer basketball practice at St. Joseph High School.
We lived only a block away from each other, so we grew up in each other’s houses. We argued, we held each other up when our hearts were broken, we stood up for each other as Maid/Matron of Honor at each other’s weddings.
We’ve always ‘gotten’ each other. We’ve always been completely comfortable telling each other anything, even the hard stuff neither of us would listen to from another person, such as, “Look at yourself. I think you drink too much.” Or, “That guy you say you are in love with? He doesn’t deserve you. Here’s why.”
We’ve had our share of ups and downs, and awkward moments after a disagreement or three. None of that has ever mattered. Today, we live hundreds of miles away from each other, but that distance doesn’t matter, either. If she asked me, I’d hop on a plane to be there with her today. No questions asked.
Everyone should be this lucky to have a Blanche in their lives.
Unconditional friendship. This was the relationship Emmett had with his best friend, Paul Hayne Carter.
Paul Carter, from the 1900 Argo, the yearbook of the West Florida Seminary (now Florida State University).
Emmett and Paul grew up together in Chipley; Emmett lived on 6th Street, and Paul just a block over, on 5th. The houses were close, the properties almost backing up to each other. I like to think that as boys, these two would go back and forth to each others’ houses all day long, plotting and planning fishing trips, or pranks to play on their siblings, or just daydreaming about what they wanted to do once they were free of parental bondage.
Bottom line, it seems both boys wanted something bigger than what Chipley had to offer, and so, they’d eventually need to leave their home town to find out what that was. Paul wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps (Paul Sr. was a successful lawyer and judge); Emmett wanted adventure.
Paul was a year younger than Emmett, but he was a year ahead of him academically. Paul advanced quickly through the Chipley public schools, but because he wasn’t challenged enough academically transferred to Auburn University in Fall of 1898 (when it was known as the Mechanical College of Alabama from 1872-99) while still a junior in high school. Emmett, on the other hand, was still enrolled in Chipley’s high school while working as a railroad telegrapher at the local train depot in between school terms. Emmett had to help support the family, and he wanted to earn his way up the ladder with the Pensacola & Atlantic Railroad. Back then, working for the railroad was a great job for young boys; it was the equivalent of working for NASA today. It offered employment, travel, adventure. It offered Emmett a route out of Chipley.
Paul H. Carter, Sr. in Chipley, Florida.
On about January 3, 1899, after Christmas break, Paul went back to Auburn to start the second semester of his freshman year. Several days later, on January 8, 1899, Paul’s father, Judge Paul H. Carter, Sr., was shot and killed in downtown Chipley. Paul was called back to Chipley immediately.
The man who shot Judge Carter, R.U. Harrell, was charged with manslaughter and eventually sent to prison to serve approximately five years.
The whole episode devastated Paul, who had been very close to his father.
Inscription on the side of Paul Carter, Sr.’s tombstone.
One difference between Paul’s family and Emmett’s family was money. Paul did not have to stay home to support his widowed mother and siblings; Judge Carter had left the family financially sound. After the funeral and trial had passed, and life settled back down, Paul went back to college in Fall of 1899, this time to the West Florida Seminary (now Florida State University) in Tallahassee. Emmett, on the other hand, had to earn money to help support the Wilson family; also, if he planned to go to college, he had to earn at least part of the money himself.
At this point, Emmett had discovered that that working for the railroad was often more tedious and administrative rather than adventurous. He was not sure what he wanted to do; he did know, however, that he wanted something else besides a railroad career.
Emmett (L) and Paul. Roommates, friends, sometimes debate rivals. Source: FSU archive.
Paul encouraged Emmett to follow him to WFS. If Emmett had any qualms about the tough curriculum, Paul would be there for Emmett, and they could coach each other as necessary. Emmett saved his money and by spring of 1900, enrolled in WFS, classified as both a third-year high school student and a freshman (the dual classification was because he had to make up academic deficiencies). Emmett managed to catch up academically, and by the end of their freshman year, both Paul and Emmett were classified as sophomores for the 1900-01 academic year.
Platonic Debating Society. 1900-01 Argo. Source: FSU archives
Paul and Emmett were roommates. They joined clubs together, including the Platonic Debating Society. Both Paul and Emmett would eventually earn honors in their debates at WFS; the instruction Emmett earned in public speaking at WFS served him well for his entire career. But, before he earned those honors, it was a struggle for Emmett at the beginning:
Emmett’s debating skills were still in transition, as he is lampooned in the student yearbook. Source: FSU archive
As I think about Paul and Emmett’s friendship, I can see how Paul probably ‘mentored’ Emmett, especially in the debate/oratorical work. Paul won several awards for his debating skills; I can easily imagine them practicing together. Paul was definitely the top debater at WFS; Emmett had the best mentor, hands down.
Paul and Emmett stuck it out at WFS through their sophomore year; they did not return for their junior year, either because money ran out or they simply did not pass the mandatory entrance exams, which were held in September, 1901.
I definitely don’t think money was the issue with either Paul or Emmett in this case, because Paul did have the tuition, and Emmett had worked all summer to earn his tuition for the following year. In fact, I lean more toward the idea that it was because neither Paul nor Emmett were able to pass the entrance exams, which were notoriously difficult. They definitely weren’t alone, though: For example, the senior class of 1901 started out with 48 students — but only three actually made it to graduation.
A feature from 1951 about the difficult entrance exams at WFS. Source: Florida Flambeau.
What happened after Emmett and Paul’s sophomore year? Stay tuned. I’ll continue the story tomorrow.