Yesterday was my mom’s birthday. I won’t tell you how old she is because I’d like to live to see MY next birthday.
Let’s say she’s old enough to remember when Eglin Parkway was a dirt road. Don’t go digging through FDOT records, please.
She’s my own living history book, having resided in Fort Walton Beach since the days they called it “Fort Walton.” Here are some other things I want you to know about her.
She’s the last living person who attended the Camp Walton Schoolhouse. I asked her if it looked like that when she attended, and she said it did, although back then it wasn’t painted.
She and her family initially lived in a house on Cinco Bayou. She said the bridge over Cinco Bayou was made of wood, and they knew beforehand when their aunt was coming to visit because as she drove her car across the bridge the wooden planks made a loud thumping sound.
A terrible hurricane struck in 1936. They didn’t know it was a hurricane; there was no 24-hour news channel or weather warning. But as the weather got worse, they retreated to their house. At one point they brought the family cow into the house and put her in a bedroom.
Mom and my Aunt Wilda earned extra money by delivering the morning and afternoon Pensacola newspaper. They also crabbed and sold their catch to the Staff sisters on Santa Rosa Sound. They used the money to buy food and clothes.
Mom picked cotton in the fields. She drank water from a wooden barrel lashed to a wagon. She said the cotton plants had thorns, adding to the misery of performing backbreaking labor in a hot field.
She worked at the bus station as a waitress and for a time was a ticket-taker at the Tringas Theater on Main Street. In the late 1940s she was back here visiting family when there, on the steps of the Tringas, she spotted a young Gregory Peck, here for the debut of “12 O’Clock High.”
“You’re Gregory Peck!” she blurted, to which he answered “Why, yes I am.” She wanted his autograph but had no paper, so he signed the top of a shoe box for her.
Mom has seen Fort Walton grow to a “Beach,” but she still remembers the olden days when gators lounged next to the road and fetching eggs meant risking a rattlesnake bite.
If you see her, or know her, please wish her a happy birthday.
Del Stone Jr. is the online editor for the Daily News. You can contact him at 850-315-4433 or firstname.lastname@example.org