- Historic Sites
"The Woods Were Tossing With Jewels”
A Childhood in the Florida Wilderness
February/march 1981 | Volume 32, Issue 2
Mama was out in the garden again in no time, and what with papa’s field of tomatoes, we soon had produce to send to market. We shipped, as contracted, with Edgar Watson. Immediately trouble arose. A messenger came from the sugar plantation bringing papa a ridiculously small sum of money for his part. Papa told this man to go back and tell Watson how much was still owed, and that he, papa, would be coming for it. The poor messenger was terrified and begged papa to let the matter drop. “He’ll just shoot you, Mr. Martin. That’s the way he settles an account. No one argues with Edgar Watson and lives to talk about it.”
The next day papa went to see Watson. Hal and Bubba accompanied him. When they drew up to the dock in their boat, papa told the boys to sit tight while he went in the house. Watson’s whole living room could be seen through a wide screen. It was an armory; the walls were lined with guns. Papa did not carry a gun.
In the argument that followed the boys could see everything. Perhaps they thought of the skeletons under their boat as Watson became more and more strident. Then came a moment when Watson started backing toward his wall of guns. Papa was unrelenting; he demanded his money, and Watson’s arm rose toward a pistol. At the height of this tense moment a smile broke on Watson’s face. From where he stood he could see the two boys in the boat fifty feet away, each with a rifle held in small, capable hands and a bead drawn on the man who threatened their father.
“Look,” Watson told papa, but papa thought it was a trick to make him turn around. Watson understood and moved away from the guns and pointed to the boat. Papa grinned at his sons and even smiled at Edgar Watson.
“Do you suppose they thought I’d shoot you, Jim?” Watson asked.
“Do you suppose you’d have had the chance?” papa sent back.
This man who never paid his debts paid my father and walked with him to the landing to get a closer look. All he saw were two nonchalant little boys sitting with their guns beside them, slapping mosquitoes.
That night papa gave each of the boys a special hug and kiss at bedtime. Kissing between Southern men was a general practice in those days. I am glad to say that this practice as well as others continues in our family. Today I can see in my grandsons and great-grandson some of those qualities of courage and caring that my father had in such abundance. It was his and my mother’s way of caring for us that made us all caring of one another. Perhaps this caring is the key to those wonderful times we had in the Ten Thousand Islands when the century took its turn.