UP SOUTHERN—Stories from the Attic of Childhood
This is a story about SynchroDestiny that occurred
during the Morris Girls’ recent road trip retracing
our family roots from North Carolina, to Georgia
Deepak Chopra coined the word “SynchroDestiny”
to describe a conspiracy of improbabilities in
which seemingly unrelated conditions or circumstances
come together to create an unexpected event. It
is orchestrated in a non-local domain of reality
where conscious or unconscious intention is present.
SynchroDestiny has the ability to transform our
lives once we understand what is happening, enabling
us to experience miracles and feelings of joy,
and consciously participate in our own evolution
with a better understanding of our meaning and
purpose in life. The ultimate goal of SynchroDestiny
is to expand consciousness and open a doorway
to enlightenment – a rebirthing or awakening.
Some years ago, I went to a lecture given by Deepak
on the subject of SynchroDestiny. It had a profound
effect on my life and perception of reality. I
began to understand more about the power of intention
and the mysterious and magical way it works in
When I travel, for instance, my intention is to
have no expectations or attachment to the outcome,
yet remain open to whatever unfolds on the journey.
The act of travel in itself is an act of opening
a door to change—stepping through the threshold
is the first step toward transformation.
Once upon a time, my friends Chrissie England
and Jim Kessler were planning to visit Jim’s parents
who had recently retired in Leesburg, Florida,
the town where my brother, sister and I were born.
Shortly before the trip, Jim and his parents,
who I knew quite well, had come for a visit at
Skywalker Ranch. While we were having lunch an
idea came into my mind and I said, “Jim, would
try to find my childhood home when you’re in Leesburg?”
On a paper napkin, I drew a map of Main Street
indicating where Daddy’s Rexall drugstore was
located, across the street from a bank with big
white columns on either side of the front door,
and catty-corner from a movie theater. I extended
the map west on Main Street, past the Methodist
Church that my family attended, to where it intersected
Perkins Street. The Durham Young Hospital was
on the corner of Main and Perkins. Doctor Young’s
son, Ferrell, was my classmate, and he was the
first boy I ever had a crush on.
I hadn’t been to Leesburg since I was around twelve
years old, and I was amazed how easily I could
visualize many details along the route of the
map, the images effortlessly forming as I drew
the lines. I indicated a right turn on Perkins
Street, proceeding past the elementary school
before crossing a railroad track that would take
them to Sunshine Park, one of the first subdivisions
built in Leesburg in the early 1940s. Sunshine
Park was in the shape of a triangle. Our house
was situated in the middle of the bottom flat
line of the triangle with a neighbor’s house on
either side at the corners.
Much to my surprise, not only did the Kesslers
find the drugstore, the church, the hospital,
and the school, but they also found our house.
They videotaped their expedition, and on Mother’s
Day, shortly after returning to California, presented
me with a copy. There was a “For Sale” sign in
front of our house, and when I showed the video
to my mother when she came to California for a
visit later that year, she asked jokingly, “Oh,
honey, why don’t you buy it for me?”
When Kitty and I were on the Morris Girls’ Road
Trip, we arrived in Leesburg very late on a Thursday
night, having driven from Swainsboro, Georgia,
where we had been visiting our cousin Glynda (named
after our Daddy) and her husband Roger Rich. We
stopped midday in Savannah to have lunch at Paula
Deen’s restaurant, “The Lady and Sons,” delaying
The next morning, our brother Jimmy, who still
lives in Florida, met us at the motel where we
were staying, about half a mile from our family
home on Perkins Street. We drove straight to the
I pulled into the driveway at 413 Perkins Street,
and the moment I stepped out of the car, I stepped
back into my childhood. It felt as natural and
familiar as if I had only been away for a short
while and was coming home from college or vacation,
yet my heart was pounding. I was flooded with
emotions spilling out of the attic of childhood
memories. Fifty-five years had passed since I
last stood at the threshold of my childhood home.
The experience was dizzying.
The canopy of the oak tree, dripping with Spanish
moss, now covers the entire front yard. Our house
was painted white with green shutters when I was
a child, but had sometime in the recent past been
painted a hideous flamingo pink. On either side
of the steps to the front porch, there had been
large gardenia bushes that were no longer there,
but everything else seemed to be almost exactly
reading “The Night Before Christmas”
It was obvious that the house was currently unoccupied,
and there were indications that a major renovation
was underway. We began our inspection, peering
through the windows into the empty rooms. Because
the house was vacant, I could visualize each room
as Mother had furnished it. The living room still
had the original stained glass windows on either
side of the fireplace, and I could feel myself
nestled in the big overstuffed chair reading “The
Night Before Christmas” storybook.
The dining room, kitchen and garage were situated
on the right side of the house, and the three
bedrooms and bath were on the left. Daddy’s room
faced the street off the living room. I remember
having my first slumber party for my eleventh
birthday in Daddy’s bedroom. Grandmother Morris
occupied the middle bedroom, next to the bathroom
and Mother’s bedroom.
Off Mother’s room was the nursery where Jimmy
and I slept until Grandmother Morris returned
to Georgia when she was ready to die. After she
left, I slept in the middle bedroom from that
time on until we moved away. I thought I was so
grown up to have a room of my own.
The kitchen sink, stove and refrigerator were
just as they had been. One of the kitchen cabinets
to the left of the sink was open where I remember
Mother kept glasses and cups and saucers. There
was a pantry to the right of the sink counter.
But the screened back porch where our colored
maids would eat their meals had been boarded up,
and the door had no window.
One of my earliest memories was during the Second
World War, several years after Pearl Harbor. When
the siren would wail at dusk from its perch on
the roof of the building next door to the Rexall
drugstore, I’d come running into the house, slamming
the back porch screen door behind me, yelling,
“Back out, Mama, back out!” It was the signal
to turn off all the lights for a “blackout” in
the event enemy aircraft would fly over and bomb
our house. Even though I was too young to understand
what was going on, I remember being scared that
something bad would happen if I didn’t get inside
the house quickly enough.
After walking around the outside of our childhood
home, we returned to the front yard. I noticed
a woman coming out of her house across the street.
She walked to the edge of the sidewalk on her
side of the street and called out, “Can I help
you?” Jimmy and I went across the street and introduced
ourselves and explained what we were doing and
why. Her name was Mrs. Black, and she had lived
in her home for over thirty years.
“Did you know the Prossers who lived on the
corner?” I asked. “Their children Barbie and Butch
were friends of ours.” “Yes,” she replied, “but
they moved away a long time ago.” “And what about
the Greggs who lived on the other side of us?
We were friends with Julia and Billy, too. And,
what about Mrs. Lopez and her son who lived next
door to you?”
These people hadn’t entered my mind in decades,
yet their names and memories of them came into
my awareness at that moment as vividly as though
it was yesterday. Mrs. Black had known them all,
but everyone on our block had died, or moved away
and she had not kept in touch with any of them.
Finally, I asked about the Webster family who
lived around the block at the point of the Sunshine
Park triangle. “Oh, yes, Donald Webster still
lives in their family home with his wife and children.”
“Martha Jean Webster was my BEST friend!!!!” Mrs.
Black said, “Well, Donald works at the telephone
company about half a mile away, and walks right
past here every day,” pointing to Webster Street,
the cross street on the right side of the triangle
named after their Grandfather, “to have lunch
with his family. He’s probably there now.”
I knocked on the back door of the Webster home
just as I had so many times as a child. Donald
answered the door, and I told him we’d just spoken
with Mrs. Black. He said, “I saw her talking to
some strangers and thought I should go over to
see if everything was okay, but I have a meeting
at 1:00 pm and have to get back to work pretty
soon.” But with true Southern hospitality, he
invited Kitty and me to come in. Donald remembered
our family and that Martha and his older brother
David, and I were friends. He asked, “Didn’t you
have a brother?” I told him Jimmy was outside
by the car having a smoke.
Clair and Martha Jean (3 years old) in front
of Jane’s house on Perkins Street
Donald and his son were just sitting down to
lunch, but he asked, “Would you like to talk to
Martha?” “You bet I would.” So he picked up a
cell phone sitting on the kitchen table, pressed
the speed dial button for her, and put the call
on speaker phone. Having caller I.D., she answered
the phone, “Hello, Donald.” I said, “Martha, this
is your long lost childhood friend, Jane Morris,
do you remember me?” She shouted, “Jane Clair?”
I hadn’t been called Jane Clair since the fifth
grade. There was another girl in our Kindergarten
class named Jane Clark, and - for some reason
- I was called by my first and middle name from
the beginning until the end of my days as a student
at Lee Elementary School. And, there was another
Martha in our class, so Martha Jean and I were
both called by our first and middle names.
Martha and I could hardly believe what was happening,
but we were absolutely elated. We immediately
picked up a conversation as though we were old
friends. I was dying to know about some of our
other classmates. “What about Madge Clements,
and Sally Galt, Jane Clark, and Louise Quint,
and Cathie Giles, Shellie Griffis, and Ferrell
Young and Allen Brown?” I asked. Martha said they
were all still alive except Cathie Giles, who
had died of pancreatic cancer.
As it turns out, Martha had organized the 45th
Reunion of the Leesburg High School Class of 1959
and offered to send a copy of the program with
the names of all the senior class, photos and
current information including email addresses
on everyone. I could hardly believe it when she
said, “I’ve been living on Whidbey Island, off
the coast of Seattle for over a year.”
We started to share a few memories of our lives
as children. “One of the things I remember was
coming over to your house to get a piece of cinnamon
toast for breakfast.” Apparently, Martha’s father
wouldn’t let his children have white bread or
sugar, and mind you, this was in the late 1940s,
but my Mother made cinnamon toast almost every
morning. I remember dunking a piece of cinnamon
toast in a cup of coffee - actually half milk,
half coffee - which I was allowed to have with
breakfast. I never drank coffee as an adult, preferring
my caffeine cold, in the form of Coca-Cola.
When we were little, there were no fences separating
the neighbors from each other. All our backyards
overlapped, and we’d walk to each other’s houses
through the backyards rather than going around
the block to the front door. We went barefoot
most of the time and we were constantly getting
sandspurs in our feet.
There was a row of red hibiscus bushes in my
backyard, and when they were in bloom, Martha
Jean and I would pull off the blossoms and suck
out the nectar, making sure my mother didn’t see
what we were doing.
After a few minutes, it began to feel awkward
on the speaker phone, so we exchanged email addresses
and vowed to be in touch in the very near future.
By this time it was close to one o’clock, and
Donald needed to return to work. We were starving
and asked his recommendation for a restaurant
downtown that served Southern food. Even though
Kitty and I had eaten our way through Dixie, we
hadn’t had enough. Donald said he knew just the
As we left the Webster home, we drove around
the block counter-clockwise, turning left at the
tip of the triangle onto Sunshine Avenue. We stopped
at the corner of Sunshine and Perkins before crossing
the railroad tracks where there still remains
a large oak tree that Jimmy and I climbed as children.
Standing under the tree, I remembered once falling
off a low branch that was about six feet from
the ground. I suffered no injuries, but it had
been a scary experience.
There was hardly any evidence of the railroad
tracks except for a long stretch of the raised
bed of earth and a few rotted wooden railroad
ties on which the track had been laid, but it
was mostly overgrown with weeds. I’ve always loved
the sound of a train in the distance, the engine
racing down the track, the whistle blowing in
the wind, and the rattle of the cars. Those trains
were going somewhere. Perhaps the fascination
with trains came from a deep-seated longing to
explore the world in search of an answer to the
proverbial questions, “Who am I, and what is my
purpose in life?”
When we were kids, for fun we would put pennies
on the track so the trains would squash them as
they rolled by. One year, sometime after the Fourth
of July, I was on my way to the drugstore —
with an American flag in hand — when a train
came along, moving quite slowly. I stood very
close to the tracks and touched the tip of the
flag stick to the side of the passing cars which
made a clacking noise as the train rolled by.
When I got to the drugstore, Daddy was all in
a huff because one of the neighbors saw what I
had done, and, out of concern that I could have
gotten sucked under the train, reported my actions.
Daddy delivered a long lecture on safety and how
dangerous trains are and said, “You’d better not
ever do that again.”
Another memory that arose was from a day when
I was still quite young, our colored maid, Annie
Lee Hutchins, was walking with me to the drugstore.
As we crossed the railroad tracks, I said, “Look
at that old nigger walking down the tracks.” Annie
Lee responded, “Miss Jane, you calling that man
a nigger would be like somebody calling you poor
white trash.” I never forgot what she said, and
even then I understood exactly what she meant.
It was my first awareness of prejudice.
Daddy loved Annie Lee Hutchins as much as he
loved his own mother, and that was a lot. Sometimes
he would let me go with him when he took Annie
Lee home after her day’s work was done at our
house. She lived with her husband, whose name
I don’t remember, in a one-room shack with a dirt
floor and tin roof located outside of town near
an orange grove. They got their water from a nearby
well, and had no electricity. They lived by the
light of an oil lantern, a hurricane lamp, and
cooked on a wood-burning stove. I loved being
there. It smelled of the earth. When Annie Lee
died, Daddy cried like a baby.
Kitty, Jimmy and I went to “The Chopping Block”
on Main Street for lunch and got exactly want
we wanted — collard greens with cornbread,
fried green tomatoes (just as good as Paula Deen’s),
stewed tomatoes with okra, black-eyed peas, green
beans with ham hock, and large tumblers of sweet
While Kitty and Jimmy were engrossed in conversation,
catching up on the latest Morris family news,
I sat quietly, having an internal dialogue with
myself. I hardly spoke a word during the meal.
Even though my mind was reeling from the excitement
of finding Martha Jean, I felt a slight undercurrent
of uneasiness creeping in and questions began
to arise. I thought, “What is causing these unsettling
feelings?” “Am I afraid of finding skeletons in
the attic of my childhood memories?”
Yet, the timing of arriving at the Perkins Street
house when we did, of meeting Mrs. Black, and
Donald Webster being at home, then spontaneously
reconnecting with Martha was certainly SynchroDestiny.
The doors of awakening had opened.
We spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out
on Main Street, the heart of downtown Leesburg.
Catty-corner from “The Chopping Block” was the
old Fain Theater (now the Tropic Theater) where
Jimmy and I would go on Saturday afternoons to
see movie serials like Flash Gordon, Hopalong
Cassidy, Tarzan and The Lone Ranger or a western
film with Gene Autry or Roy Rogers. It was the
B-movie house in town.
What I remember most, though, about the Fain
Theater was that colored people were allowed to
attend the same movie theater as white people,
but they had to come in through a separate entrance
and could only sit in the balcony.
After the movie, Jimbo (as Kitty and I sometimes
call our brother) and I would walk down Main Street
to the corner of Fourth where Daddy’s Rexall drugstore
was located, across the street from the First
National Bank, which is still there. We’d get
a Coke or milkshake at the soda fountain. I’d
look at the latest “Saturday Evening Post,” “Colliers”
and “Women’s Home Companion” magazines or go to
the pharmacy at the back of the store to watch
Daddy make prescriptions until he was ready to
go home for supper. Dinner was the midday meal
in those days.
Drugstore and Palace Theater
on Main Street
The Rexall drugstore is long gone, but in its
place is Michael’s Couture Salon, a beauty parlor
as it would have been called in those days. The
entrance was exactly as it had been with large
plate glass windows on either side of the front
door which was set back at an angle. The original
white hexagonal tiles were still at the entrance.
We found it amusing that Daddy’s old drugstore
had been replaced with a beauty salon since our
mother had been a beautician.
We went inside. I approached one of the hair
stylists, and told her about writing the new book
and why we were there. She introduced herself
as Sue Murphy and said, “I’ve worked in the salon
since it opened and knew all about it having once
been a drugstore.” Sue offered to give us a tour.
When it was the Rexall drugstore, just inside
the entrance, on the right-hand side of the room,
there had been a newspaper and magazine rack,
and along that wall was the soda fountain, followed
by booths for luncheon customers. There had been
wire café tables and chairs in the center of the
long rectangular space. On the left-hand side
of the room were the tobacco counter and cashier.
Long glass cases with cosmetics, perfume, stationery
and Sheaffer fountain pens and various other sundries
lined the wall leading to the pharmacy, which
occupied the entire width of the back end of the
Glynda and Uncle Ed Hatcher
at Rexall Soda Fountain
Apparently, a lot of the original wooden cabinets
and shelves were still in place when the owner
of the salon rented the space about fifteen years
ago. Sue wanted to keep them, but the owner wanted
to modernize and tore them out. Sue took us back
to where the pharmacy had been located, and the
sliding glass window where a customer would drop
off a prescription to be filled was still there.
That room is now used for pedicures and was occupied
with a customer so we couldn’t go in, but Sue
showed us the stairs to the loft above where all
the medical compounds had been stored.
Sue said that there had been one last remnant
of the former drugstore, a rubber tube that ran
through the ceiling from the room above, down
to the pharmacy. The pharmacist would pour various
powder compounds through a funnel into the tube
which would flow into a bowl or dish in the pharmacy
below to be mixed by hand into medicine, a far
cry from the billion dollar pharmaceutical industry
of today. Unfortunately, the tube had been removed
as well, but Sue’s description was exactly as
I remembered it.
We went to the little kitchen and bathroom in
the very rear of the store that still had 1950s-looking
linoleum on the floors. There was a hallway with
a large plate glass window that ran down the left
side of the pharmacy area leading to the back
door that was also unchanged, except that the
window had been lined with a pink neon light.
I could feel Daddy’s presence. I could hear his
laughter and warm mellifluous voice echoing through
the back rooms of the old pharmacy.
And, as we walked back toward the front door
of the salon, I thanked Sue and said, “I’m so
grateful to you for taking the time to let us
reenter Daddy’s world.”
Leesburg has gone through a major historic renovation
in recent years following the national redevelopment
trend of historic downtown areas, most well-known
among them, the work done in Savannah, Georgia
and Charleston, South Carolina. According to Hector
Abreu, a professor of historic preservation at
the Savannah College of Art and Design, “The historic
redevelopment trend and its long-standing popularity
stem from humanity’s need to preserve its legacy.
A lot of it goes back to us being interested in
preserving part of our collective history. To
allow these buildings and structures to be torn
down and destroyed, we are allowing part of our
history to be obliterated.”
Leesburg was always a small town. It was first
settled by Evander Melver Lee in 1857, but the
city of Leesburg was not incorporated until 1875.
The population in the 1940s was only a few thousand,
and according to the 2007 census, there were only
19,835 residents, mostly retirement age.
Yet, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, it was
the hub of social life in central Florida. Two
sets of railroad tracks brought visitors from
around the state to Leesburg’s Main Street, shops
and hotels. In 1890, an Opera House was built.
Touring companies would travel from Miami by train
to perform in it.
In 1922, the Palace Theater was built in Neo-Classical
style architecture on the corner of Fifth and
Main Streets. It was a three-story building. The
Masonic Temple was housed on the top floor, and
the second floor was used for doctors’ offices.
Our dentist, Dr. Charles Rivers, was located there.
I hated going to the dentist, but from drinking
Coca-Cola in my baby bottle, I had a mouth full
of cavities as a child. And one of my favorite
treats after school on a warm sunny day was a
slice of fresh baked white bread spread with softened
butter, and sprinkled with granulated sugar. The
origins of a sugar addiction that still prevail
to this day.
The theater was originally built as a silent
movie house with 344 seats, but was converted
to accommodate sound in the early 1930s after
the release of “The Jazz Singer” with Al Jolson
in 1927. The Palace Theater was one of the first
to show “Gone with the Wind” in 1939.
We went inside the theater which was being remodeled
into a dinner theater style venue. The stage remained,
the ceiling was still covered with the original
pressed tin, and the wall sconces were reproductions
of the art deco fixtures of the past. The floor
was being leveled; however, there was one bank
of seats on the right side of the theater that
had yet to be removed. Mother and I would always
sit in seats on the aisle in one of those rows
when we went to the movies. The theater seemed
much smaller than I remembered, but it still possessed
its original grandeur. In its day, the Palace
Theater was the A-movie house in town.
The first movie I ever saw was at the Palace
Theater when I was six years old. It was “The
Yearling,” adapted from the novel by Marjorie
Kinnan Rawlings. It tells the story of the Baxter
family and a boy who adopts a fawn as a pet. It
stars Gregory Peck as the father, Jane Wyman as
the mother and Claude Jarman, Jr. as the pre-teenage
boy. After the Civil War, the father, who had
been a rebel soldier, settles his family in Florida
where they became pioneer farmers.
Mother was a movie buff and had gone to the picture
show almost every day when she was in high school
in North Carolina. Her favorite actor was Adolphe
Menjou. He was suave and debonair, and very alluring
to a country girl like my mother. She took me
to see “The Yearling,” I suppose, because it was
a popular film based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning
story about a Southern farming family that may
have reminded Mother of her own childhood.
I remember crying when the deer was shot and
killed, but Mother put her arms around me and
held me close. We stayed through to the end of
the movie, which culminated with the mother, who
had been haunted by the deaths of her other three
children, overcoming her fear of losing her last
child. She had withheld her love from the boy
for fear he would end up dying, too. Now she was
filled with happiness and emotion, knowing that
the fear of losing her last child was finally
over. She asked for his forgiveness and showered
the boy with motherly love and affection.
“The Yearling” was filmed in the Juniper Prairie
Wilderness in the Ocala National Forest less than
a hundred miles from where we lived in Leesburg.
It was nominated for seven Academy Awards and
won Oscars for Best Art Direction and Best Cinematography.
And Claude Jarman, Jr. was awarded a special miniature
“Juvenile Oscar” for Outstanding Child Actor of
Jim, Kitty and I continued our leisurely stroll
around town, crossing Main Street and walking
half a block down Fifth until we came upon the
Opera House. Located in what was the largest building
in downtown Leesburg when construction was completed
in 1890, it covers the entire block between Fourth
and Fifth Streets.
I remember one Saturday morning, when I must
have been about six or seven years old, I participated
in a talent show. We performed on the stage of
the Opera House and the program was broadcast
“live” on the local radio station.
My talent was tap dancing and it was a solo performance.
After the program, Mother and I walked around
the corner to the drugstore. As we entered, I
was greeted with applause from Daddy and everyone
in the store, customers and staff alike. They
had all listened to me tap dancing on the radio.
We visited the Leesburg Heritage Museum (Historical
Society) located on Sixth Street which originally
was a gathering place for the Woman’s Club until
1946 when it was sold to Paul Lassiter to house
the Lassiter-Ware Insurance offices. Being there
brought up painful memories of stories Mother
had told me when I was a teenager about Daddy’s
infidelities, including having had an affair with
Paul Lassiter’s wife among several other women
Our next stop was the “Sinful Sweets and Treats”
shop on Main Street. We enjoyed double scoops
of homemade ice cream sitting outside on wood
and wrought iron benches in a garden facing City
Hall, which has also undergone a major restoration.
Behind City Hall is Fountain Lake Park where
Jimmy and I and other babies were taken in our
strollers for afternoon outings by colored nannies
in starched white uniforms who worked for our
parents. In our day, the lake, actually a shallow
pond created from a swamp, was called “Swan Lake.”
It’s only about four feet deep. From the time
it was created, the lake has had a waterspout
in the center that sprays a fine cooling mist
in the air; hence, the name Fountain Lake. There
were swans who called the pond home for many years,
but they were dispatched in the 1990s after several
“swan attacks” occurred when people got too close
to the males during mating season.
When Jimbo and I were older, we would walk by
ourselves to the lake to have a picnic before
going to the Fain Theater on Saturday afternoons.
I’d make sandwiches with Vienna Sausages, sliced
lengthwise, on white bread with mustard and mayonnaise
with homemade “bread and butter” pickles on the
side, or pickled watermelon rind that Mother would
put up every summer. As a young girl, watching
the swans glide elegantly across the pond, I thought
Swan Lake was an enchanted place.
Elementary School. From left to right sitting
on floor: Cathy Giles, Suzanne Moore, Jane
Clair Morris, Mary Ellah Kramer, Madge Clements.
Seated at table: Jane Clark (in plaid dress
behind Jane Clair) and Martha Jean Webster
sticking her head out in front of teacher
Mrs. Battle. Upper right from top down:
Teacher Mrs. Mattox, Jackie Moore, Martha
Ballou and Allen Brown.
Before returning to the motel that afternoon,
we drove back by our house on Perkins Street,
stopping first at Lee Elementary School. The original
building was constructed in 1915 and had twelve
classrooms with the auditorium as a separate building.
I attended the school from kindergarten through
the fifth grade. It was an elementary school until
1974 and has since been used as an adult education
school, hurricane shelter, and as temporary classrooms
when Leesburg High School was being expanded.
I walked to and from school every day, sometimes
with my classmate Allen Brown and his younger
brother Randy. One day on the way home, just outside
the entrance gate on the corner of Perkins and
Lee Streets, Allen came over and punched me right
in the stomach so hard it took my breath away.
I started to cry, and they ran off laughing. They
had to walk right by our house to get to theirs,
and when I got home I told Mother what had happened.
She said sweetly, “Now listen here, honey, the
next time those Brown boys come to our house wanting
something to eat, they aren’t going to get a thing.”
Mother fed anyone and every thing that showed
up on our doorstep: stray dogs, cats, children,
friends, neighbors and strangers. One weekend
morning, Randy Brown came to the kitchen through
the back screen door and saw a country ham and
biscuit sandwich on a plate sitting on top of
the stove. It was left over from breakfast, and
Mother was planning to have it for lunch, but
Randy said, “Miz Morris, if nobody’s gonna eat
that old biscuit and salty ham, can I have it?”
And, of course, she gave it to him.
But the most profound memory that arose while
we were at Lee Elementary School was the day my
fifth grade teacher, who was a very nice but somewhat
homely woman, had taken me out of our classroom
for a little chat. She knew we were leaving Leesburg
after that school year ended. We sat in the stairwell
between the first and second floors, and she started
out by saying, “You may have heard some nasty
rumors about your father, Jane Clair, but I want
you to know he is a good and generous man. When
one of my children was very sick, the doctor called
him, and your father got up in the middle of the
night and went to the drugstore to prepare the
medicine for my son. He would give people the
shirt off his back if they needed it.”
I was surprised by her comments, but felt comforted
by her kindness. Not long before that day, I had
been at the home of one of my friends and was
visiting with her father who said, “It’s too bad
you and your family are leaving Leesburg, but
your father has a bad reputation so it’s probably
for the best.” A bad reputation? I asked Mother
what it meant, not telling her what had happened,
and she said, “It’s when someone has done something
that would offend the Lord or hurt someone else.”
It turned out that Mother had given Daddy an
ultimatum - move away from Leesburg or she was
going to divorce him.
That night, back at the motel, I sent Martha
Jean an email:
“Martha, oh, Martha, words cannot describe the
joy I’m experiencing in reconnecting with you.
All my life, I have felt a hole in my heart because
I was ripped away from my best childhood friend,
YOU, and it is so karmically interesting that
we should be reunited at this time, precisely
at the moment I’m beginning to start writing a
new book, “GROWING UP SOUTHERN Stories from
the Attic of Childhood Memories.”
“After we moved away from Leesburg, I never
felt like I was ‘at home’ wherever we went. We
lived in four houses in Tampa and I attended two
different schools (grades 6-7-8) during the three
years we were there. We moved to Lakeland my freshman
year in high school (grades 9-10-11-12) and lived
in three different houses. My family life was
so unstable and chaotic that I had no sense of
roots. My whole world had been turned upside down
“But today, when I heard you say, ‘Jane Clair?’
I felt like I was home again, back where I belonged.
I have come full circle.”
The next morning, I received her reply:
“What a blessed treat to have you call me yesterday!
Today is my 67th birthday, and having you drop
back in my life just now is more delightful than
you can know!”
Park parade: Martha’s brother David
(with Japanese flag), Jane’s brother
Jim, Jane Clair with arms crossed, and Jimmy
Cole pulling Martha Jean in an American
“Since you called, I’ve had memories of hopscotch
on the sidewalks, parades around the neighborhood,
bike rides, and playing marbles in the sand near
our houses. We used to play toy cars with Jimmy
Cole, our next door neighbor, who had asthma attacks
and was very sickly sometimes. We played cowboys
and Indians, and put on plays and made our brothers
be in them, too.”
“I was never blessed with a girlfriend to share
with after you left so the rest of my childhood
involved many boys and I didn’t like it much.
I was so upset when you left Leesburg and moved
to Tampa and we all lost track of you. I’m thrilled
that you’re living in Northern California and
am looking forward to seeing you in person very
Martha and I have many of the same memories,
but I also remember nearly biting off Jimmy Cole’s
ear the time he stepped on one of my toy cars
and squished it flat as a pancake. I don’t know
what possessed me. He ran home screaming bloody
murder. His parents never let him play with me
again, and I was in big trouble with Mother and
Daddy. I think they took my toy cars away for
a couple of weeks as punishment.
When we were children, Martha and I loved to
sing and play the piano; we still do. Growing
up we both sang in our church choir and high school
chorus. Martha was an accompanist for the school
chorus her last two years of high school, and
together with Shellie Griffis, Susan Hope and
Karen Walker, sang in a quartet called the MisChords
during the 7th through the 12th grades. Music
is the great healing balm, the food of love, and
continues to be an important part of our adult
Martha plays “romantic” piano music professionally
at a local restaurant on Whidbey Island. She reminded
me that we used to walk around the block (Sunshine
Park triangle) holding hands and singing “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah”
from the Disney film “Song of the South” at the
top of our lungs.
“Song of the South” was one of my favorite movies
as a child, which I also saw at the Palace Theater.
Based on the Uncle Remus cycle of stories written
by Joel Chandler Harris, it’s a folk tale in which
Uncle Remus, an elderly Negro man, relates the
vivid stories of the adventures of Br’er Rabbit
and his friends in the Briar Patch.
I could easily relate to the character Ginny.
Her mother used her wedding gown to make a beautiful
dress for Ginny to wear to her friend Johnny’s
birthday party at his grandmother’s Georgia plantation.
When the day of Johnny’s birthday arrives, he
comes to take Ginny to his party, but on the way,
her two older brothers get into a fight. Ginny
is pushed during the scuffle and ends up in a
mud puddle. With her dress ruined, she refuses
to go to the party, and, without her, Johnny doesn’t
want to go either. His parents have separated,
and his father won’t be at the party. Uncle Remus
discovers the two dejected children and cheers
them up by telling the story of Br’er Rabbit and
his “Laughing Place.”
It was the first live-action film from Disney,
but the anthropomorphic animal characters appear
in animation. “Song of the South” was controversial,
with blacks and whites alike, from the first day
it was released. The NAACP acknowledged “the remarkable
artistic merit” of the film, but decried the supposed
“impression it gives of an idyllic master-slave
relationship” even though the story is set after
the American Civil War.
Uncle Remus was a wise man, a philosopher who
told stories to children that communicated values
and moral ethics in a way that I could understand.
It wasn’t preachy or condescending, just plain,
straight talk. I learned many of the verities
of life from the movies I saw as a young girl.
“Song of the South” has never been released
in its entirety on video or DVD in the U.S. because
of content that could be construed by some as
racially insensitive towards African-Americans,
which I completely understand, however, it has
been released in its original form in the UK and
When “Song of the South” premiered in Atlanta,
Georgia in November of 1946, James Baskett, who
plays the role of Uncle Remus, was unable to attend
any of the festivities because, at the time, Atlanta
was a racially segregated city. Due to the personal
efforts of Walt Disney, however, James Baskett
received an honorary Oscar in 1948. The hit song
from the film, “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah,” won the Academy
Award for Best Song.
Growing up Southern, there was latent racism
in my family. My great-grandfather in North Carolina
had owned slaves until after the Civil War, and
segregation was still a way of life when I was
born. I remember when water fountains were designated
for whites and colored people, and Negros were
relegated to sit in the back of the bus.
I had been raised by a black woman who was truly
loved as a member of our family. As a child, I
didn’t realize what lay beneath the surface. I
learned a song in Sunday School that we sang every
week. I believed it was true.
Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world.
Red and yellow, black and white
They are precious in His sight.
Jesus loves the little children of the world.
So when did He stop loving everybody?
I had been taught that two things were considered
to be impolite topics of conversation: religion
and politics. Racism was never openly discussed
in my family until during the Civil Rights Movement
in the early 1960s when I was in college. It came
up in subtle, insidious ways that reflected the
societal attitudes that were prevalent in the
South at that time.
My parents were comfortable with the separate-but-equal
theory, but with the integration of schools, their
lifelong assumptions were being challenged. They
didn’t consider themselves bigoted people, but
I felt they were hypocrites. Their beliefs created
a huge “generation gap” between us. The racism
issue was swept under the rug, causing a rift
between me and my parents that lasted for several
years. I was ashamed and embarrassed by my heritage,
and it was one of the reasons I dropped out of
college and moved to New York City, and ultimately
But, on November 4, 2008, when Barack Obama was
elected President of the United States, I was
overwhelmed with joy. The subliminal veil of guilt
that I carried for the sins of my ancestors for
nearly half a century began to diminish, and I
felt like a new day was dawning on race relations
Within twenty-four hours of being reunited with
Martha, I heard from Madge Clements and several
other childhood friends. Madge related an interesting
story. When she attended their 45th Leesburg high
school reunion, Madge ask almost everyone if they
knew what had become of Jane Clair Morris. No
one knew. She went on to say, “For a number of
years, Sally Galt, Jane Clark and I have gone
to Crescent Beach, south of St. Augustine, for
a week of R&R, just us girls. Last summer we talked
about you and wondered where you were.”
Madge asked, “Do you remember when Cathy Giles
and I came to Tampa on a Greyhound bus for a visit
shortly after you left Leesburg?” I had forgotten,
but remembered when she mentioned it. That was
the last time I saw them.
After their visit, the circumstances in my life
changed dramatically. I came down with a mild
case of polio in the 6th grade and had to wear
a brace on my left leg for two years. My favorite
cousin jumped off the roof of his dorm at FSU
his first week in college and died. I went through
puberty the following summer. I felt alone and
lost. It was the end of the innocence of childhood.
Daddy had taken a job at Walgreens, but not as
a pharmacist. He was managing their liquor store,
which was like letting a fox guard the chicken
coop. We were so poor that our car was repossessed
several times when Daddy couldn’t make the payments.
When we had a car, Mother would drive him to work
every morning down Bayshore Boulevard going past
Tampa General Hospital where she had been confined
to the psychiatric ward for six months shortly
after Jimmy’s birth, suffering from severe post-partum
depression and a nervous breakdown caused by Daddy’s
adultery and betrayal. It pains me to this day
to think what the quality of her life must have
been like at that time.
The three years we lived in Tampa had been traumatic,
but I told Madge, “When I met Elvis Presley during
the 8th grade, things began to change for the
In further conversations with Madge, I asked
if she had ever heard anything when we were kids
about my father having a “bad reputation.” She
hadn’t, but said, “As I’ve talked with other childhood
friends, I’ve learned that we were not always
fully cognizant of our family life or problems
of even our closest friends. In ‘those days,’
parents were generally careful not to include
children in adult conversations. We just played
happily and didn’t really pay much attention to
problems unless they interfered with our fun.
Now, I think of those as the Golden Years!”
Jane Clark wrote, “Oh my goodness, is this really
Jane Clair Morris? I think it is so neat to hear
about you. What a fabulous life you have led since
leaving the sleepy little town of Leesburg! I
swore when I left college in Missouri I would
never return, but, alas, I took my husband and
three children back there to live so my children
could have the wonderful childhood I remembered.
All three of mine graduated from Leesburg High
School. My oldest son, Clark, and my only daughter,
Alice Jane, both live in Jacksonville near me,
but my middle son, Jon, is still living in Leesburg.”
I’ve been invited to attend the 50th LHS Class
Reunion in March of next year as an honorary member.
No time was wasted in sending the registration
form to Judy Cromwell, another of my classmates
that I remembered. I’ll be there with bells on.
In some inexplicable way, I feel much closer to
them than any of the friends that I graduated
with in Lakeland.
Growing up in Leesburg, I was under the impression
that we were rich. I could take my friends to
the drugstore, and we’d order anything that we
wanted at the soda fountain. I always had money
in my pocket, and shiny new shoes. Mother was
an excellent seamstress and made most of my clothes
until I graduated from high school. When I was
five years old, she made a complete bridal gown
ensemble, including gloves and a veil, for the
Halloween Parade on Main Street. She wrote in
pencil on the back of the photograph my comments
that day: “Mother, I don’t mean to be bragging,
but honest to God, I think I’m beautiful.”
The proverbial question in the South is “Who’s
your Daddy?” I thought my Daddy was a pillar of
the community. He owned the Rexall drugstore;
he was a member of the Country Club and went to
church on Sunday. I idolized Daddy when I was
a little girl and he adored me all of his life,
but I was devastated by his fall from grace, which
I didn’t understand for many years to come.
sitting in basket of Daddy’s bicycle
and our dog Blackie
Daddy wouldn’t think twice about taking us out
of school to go to Asheville, North Carolina,
so he could play in a golf tournament with some
of his political cronies like Congressman Sid
Herlong and Senator George Smathers. When he was
investigated by the FDA for practicing pharmacology
without a license, his friends came to his defense.
He wasn’t arrested or even fined, but was only
required to have a licensed pharmacist on duty
at all times to oversee his work. Daddy threw
a big party in the drugstore to celebrate and
came dressed as a “jail bird” in black-and-white
stripped pajamas with a red heart-shaped pocket
on the shirt.
Within less than a year of selling the drugstore,
Daddy had squandered all the money he received
from the sale, and Mother had to go back to work
as a beautician.
During high school, Mother worked her fingers
to the bone to make sure I had beautiful clothes
to wear which she made on a pedal sewing machine
from patterns of the latest fashions. More than
anything, I wanted to look good and fit in.
Capezio shoes were all the rage at the time,
and Mother scraped together enough money to buy
a pair. They were black leather. It wasn’t long
before I’d worn holes in the soles of my shoes.
Daddy cut out an insert made of cardboard to put
in each shoe so my feet wouldn’t get cut or scratched
or wet if I got caught in the rain.
As a teenager, when I learned more of the details
about Daddy’s shameless philandering, I developed
a smoldering anger toward him because of the pain
and heartache he had caused Mother. I was terribly
conflicted about my feelings because I loved him
so much, yet I felt he had brought such shame
and disgrace on our family.
There was no one to talk to about these feelings
which I hid and internalized. It made an imprint
on my subconscious creating a mistrust of men
that lasted most of my adult life until one day
I woke up, through my spiritual practice, to the
realization that the only person who was suffering
from clinging to these afflictive emotions was
Mother had forgiven Daddy all along, and, in
their later years, they were good friends and
companions. By that time, I had learned a lot
about forgiveness from Mother’s example. At a
time years later when I was visiting from California,
after reading out loud a story in the local newspaper
about a bigamist in Florida who had gotten caught
for having two families in separate towns, Daddy
made the comment, “There but for the grace of
God go I.” We never talked about it, but I let
go of my anger toward him, and felt we had reconciled
long before his death at the age of seventy.
Since returning to the place of my birth, what
I’ve come to understand about my childhood is
that I lost my identity when we moved away. I
didn’t know who I was or where I belonged. I had
lost the intimate bond that was created in those
very early formative years of development where
I experienced a strong connection and identification
with my peers. We had our own little soul tribe.
There was never any doubt in my mind that my
parents loved me, unconditionally, but that knowledge
wasn’t enough to create a stable foundation for
a life of my own. I know my teenage years would
have changed no matter where we were living, but
somehow, I always felt cheated out of my childhood.
Maybe these are some of the reasons why I was
so driven to be popular in high school and college,
and why, as an adult, the core of longing was
to be part of a community, and know who I was
in the world.
Being reunited with my childhood friends, I’ve
been able to look at my life from a new perspective,
recovering a sense of wholeness. I feel reconnected
to the rich experience of place and time growing
Recently, I learned that many of my Leesburg
friends have suffered terrible losses in their
lives. Cathie Giles’s brother committed suicide,
Jane Clark’s brother, Yates, was knocked out of
a tree and became a quadriplegic, and her parents
died in a terrible house fire caused when her
father fell asleep in a living room chair while
smoking a cigarette.
Jane wrote that “...those things really did happen
to me and it has truly impacted who I am today.
As I have tried to teach my own children, it is
not so much what happens to you in life as how
you take it. You can let it ruin you and give
up, or you can decide to move forward and let
it help to make you stronger. Since my divorce,
I am definitely a stronger person than I was while
married. I have lived on my own a good many years,
before and after my marriage. I rather like living
alone, and enjoy my own company most of the time.
And, I love reading and painting now that I have
retired from teaching.”
There’s no getting around it, loss is part of
the fabric of life.
Yet here is SynchroDestiny, working its magic
and creating great feelings of joy and happiness.
It seems like a miracle that my childhood friends
have welcomed me back into their lives with open
arms. In the program that Martha created for their
45th Leesburg high school class reunion, I found
a poem written by one of my classmates:
THE GOLDEN THREAD
By Shellie Griffis Lyon
Love, like a golden thread
Runs shining through the fabric of our lives.
Binding the rough edges of failure,
Darning the holes left by death,
Stitching a fine seam of purpose,
Until at last the garment, though mended
Is whole, has form, and catches the light.