Editor's note: The following recollection was written in Dec. 2008 by Joyce Barber Moore, at the time a resident of Port St. Joe. Local historian Mark Curenton brought it to the Times' attention. This account of the house that used to be located on Tow Head Island, across the river from the city of Apalachicola, can be found in the Apalachicola Margaret Key Library. Curenton transcribed the originals, which are in Vol. 4 of the Apalachicola State Bank scrapbook in the library.
George Tucker was born Jan. 1880 to Henry J. and Samantha McClellan Tucker in Abe Springs, their third living child of eight births.
The family had moved to Apalachicola by 1885 and here he met and married Carolyn Russell, whom he affectionately called “Dolly.” Everyone else knew her as Carrie. They lived in several areas, notably the tin building “on the bowery” near Nichols Economy Cash Store. George and Carrie’s three girls, Ouida, Winona and Eva were raised there, alongside Photis, Jimmy and Nick Nicholas.
In 1943 George bought Upper Tow Head Island, on the inland of the bridge, for $40 tax deed, and built a house on stilts consisting of a living room with a potbelly stove separated from a bedroom by a curtain. A room off to the side held a kitchen/dining room area.
He had a barn off to the side with a garden in between and several cows that roamed the island. Granddaddy fenced in the area around the house where us grandchildren could go when “the cows came home” each night.
One day my older sister, Gynelle, and I were playing in an old boat behind the house when the cows began coming in. We grabbed our dolls and dishes and ran for the house. I made it first and shut the gate. Gynelle was knocked down by a bull and pinned to the ground; thankfully, his horns were on either side of her. Mother came running out and began hitting the bull over the head with a board. Granddaddy came running and yelling, “Hit him on the nose, hit him on the nose.” Of course, with his head right against Gynelle, it wasn’t that easily done. Gynelle wasn’t injured, but we learned a healthy respect about the timing of the cows coming home.
Granddaddy would allow us to swim in the river, but always kept a watch on us so that we didn’t get caught in the current.
Our trips to the island began with Daddy parking the car at a ramp next to the Standard Oil Co. where Cleve Weems Randolph would bring in his seaplane. There, Daddy would blow the horn and Granddaddy would come get us in his skiff. Other days, we would go across the bridge on the first fill and Aunt Eve, who could outwhistle any man, would whistle and Granddaddy would pick us up there.
One year, we lived in Parker and a hurricane was moving in, Mother was scared and concerned for Grandmother and Granddaddy living out there on the island with no communication. We drove from Panama City along Highway 98, which followed St. Joe Beach all the way to Highland View, then through Simmons Bayou and Indian Pass. The waves washed around the car along the way. A patrolman stopped us and told Daddy he would have to turn around, the road was falling in ahead. Daddy told him, “Hell, man, it is falling in behind me.”
We went on to Apalachicola and parked at the ramp and flashed his lights off and on until we finally saw a hurricane lamp being swung back and forth in the window on the island. They were OK.
The days on the island were spent following Granddaddy around and him telling us not to step in the “cow pies.” We watched as he sharpened his ax on the stone wheel that he had to pedal around, or did other work, planing boards. We were under constant threat not to touch the tools of his trade, the long saw, the hand drills, hammer, planers of several sizes.
In his lifetime Granddaddy had been bootlegger, riverman, carpenter, and policeman for Apalachicola. Mr. Brown told me in 1994 in Port St. Joe that he was scared to death of my grandfather when he was a young boy of 16, and Granddaddy was a policeman.
Evenings on the island were spent on the small porch with Granddaddy churning butter in a quart jar, sloshing it back and forth, while he sang his silly little ditties, yodeled, or “called to the gators.”
One of the ditties he sang while bouncing one of us on his knee, or riding his foot, was “Rumptin, diptum, diddletum, die, get on the horse and see him ride.”
Grandmother would be sitting with us, or pressing clothes with an old flat iron heated on the stove.
She could make the best bread! It seemed four inches high and so toasty brown on top. She covered it with the homemade butter, and we had sorghum or cane syrup to go with it.
When all the family came over, they would kill a few chickens… wringing their neck off and throw them on the ground. Thus the saying “running around like a chicken with its head cut off.” They actually kept running and falling! It was not a pretty site.
Granddaddy must have had a premonition of bad health, as he deeded the island, three cows and a motor boat “now owned by me” to Grandmother in 1947. He died of a massive heart attack at our home at 108 11th Street May 1954 when I was 10 years old. I remember him lying on the floor, the family raising and lowering his arms, trying to get him to breathe. There no such thing as CPR then.
Grandmother never lived on the island again, selling it to Dr. Raymond B. Mabrey, a family friend, somewhere in the late 60s or early 70s. The house and barn were destroyed by people camping on the island, kids out for fun, etc.
The silt washing down the river has about closed access to the island and the overgrowth blocks the passage to the entrance. To the untrained eye it is worthless, perhaps uninhabitable. But to us, the grandchildren of George and Carrie Tucker, it is a wonderland of love and memories, the feeling you can get only surrounded by those you love and whom you know beyond a shadow of a doubt love you.
I still hear some of their words; Grandmother telling me as a young teenager headed for the beach “Joyce, cover yourself up, you’re not pretty when you are black.” She was always covered head to toe to keep the sun from her peaches-and-cream skin.
We were fortunate to have Grandmother with us until 1977 when we were all married and had children of our own. She was always there, having a small trailer in our yard.
I’ll always remember the love in Grandmother and Granddaddy’s eyes. They loved each other, their children and us. I never felt harshness, though we were reprimanded. We were expected to be ladies and gentlemen, even while children.