A Grandfather can go by many names; mine however is called ‘Pa’; you have probably heard the phrase that anyone can be a father but it takes someone special to be a dad. Well this is true; I feel however, that it takes someone extra special, or ‘grand’ if you will, to be a grandfather. Having grandparents in your life is truly a blessing in so many ways. I have always felt I had the most wonderful grandparents on earth; they are always there to listen to me, no matter what was one my mind. My grandparents have always been young at heart and in my eyes as well. I never tire of hearing my grandparents (my Pa in particular) regale us all with stories of their childhood. My grandfather was born in 1920 in a small rural community of Crawfordville, located in Wakulla County which is a coastal county in the Florida Panhandle, where the majority of our family still lives.
Pa, whose name is Cliff, was born in his parents home, which also served as a ‘hospital’ of sorts, since his father was the local county doctor. Growing up in the country you faced your share of hardships; however being a creative kind of boy my grandfather seemed to make an adventure out of everyday experiences. I will share a few of his favorite memories and experiences with you and you will see why I love hearing these stories and will pass them on to my grandchildren one day, with hopefully some interesting stories of my own as well.
One of my favorite memories is the many summer days Pa would spend on the Wakulla River; this river flowed from underground freshwater springs which are the world’s largest and deepest freshwater spring. The park is now state owned but still has a wonderful swimming area over the springs. Back in Pa’s day things were much more casual and there was no fee for entrance to the park or to go swimming. The park did have two boat tours, one was the glass bottom boat that went out over the springs where you could look through the glass bottom to see down into the springs, and the multitude of fish, alligators and other wildlife that the park was home to. The second tour was the jungle boat tour which took passengers down river with a guide giving a colorful and interesting story of life on the river as well as pointing out all the local marine life, the large varieties of birds, flora and fauna.
This park, now Wakulla Springs State Park, had the honor of hosting the filming of the Tarzan movies (starring Johnny Weismuller) in the 1940’s; along with other films over the years. For months cast and crew would stay in the local lodge on-site while filming these classic movies. He had come to know the crew and often watched the filming; he remembers Mr. Weismuller and the youngster known as ‘boy’ in the movie would jump off of the 40 foot tower all the while the directors were yelling at them not to jump (probably afraid their star would get hurt). Now Pa was an enterprising young fella, and he figured out a way to make some of his favorite activities profitable. Pa and his brother, George would go frogging at night and collecting the delectable legs from bullfrogs that he would sell to the filming cast and crew. As he spent many days at the park he got to know the employees well. He made it a point to take a ride on the glass bottom boat every day he went. Now Pa and the tour guide devised a way to make a little extra cash on the side, at the end of the boat ride Pa would pull out a coin, usually a 50 cents piece or whatever he was lucky enough to have, and throw it down on the glass showing his appreciation to the guide. This would prompt the other passengers to do the same and thereby making quite a nice size tip for the guide. After all the passengers had departed the guide would return Pa’s coin and thank him, and say see you tomorrow; where they would do it all over again.
Pa’s older half-brother Joe lived on a small farm on the spring’s property where my Pa and his friends would go to visit often. Pa spent many a day roaming the woods on the farm that was a stone’s throw from the river. Pa tells of times of him fishing along the river bank on the spring’s property, which was against the rules, and every time the jungle boat would come along he would run hide behind a cypress tree so as not to be seen by the tour guide. After the boat passed he would come out of hiding and go back to fishing.
He tells of the time he killed his first raccoon (in the South we call them coons) on his brother’s farm. He was out in the woods when he spotted the raccoon, which he chased up a tree. He ran back to the farmhouse to get his rifle, came back and shot that raccoon down. Now, being raised as not to be wasteful, Pa decided he should take the coon back to his sister-in-law Sally to prepare for dinner. Pa offers to skin the coon, if Sally will cook it. After the skinning Sally cooks up the raccoon, but after they tasted the greasy meat they decided that Pa would not kill any more raccoons and Sally would certainly not be cooking any more of them!