By way of background, as a young boy growing up in 1950s Florida, I was fascinated by the stories and experiences of my ancestors, their recollections dating back to the time of statehood. Their accounts of exploration of all parts of the state were of particular interest to me. Starting in my teenage years, I began to record some of their memories, names, and dates that might someday be important to others.
Also, despite the limited roadway infrastructure in the state during my school years, my father regularly took me to remote places in Florida for extended stays that friends of mine couldn’t even imagine – locations with springs, sinkholes, swamps, forts, Indian sites, rivers, lakes, and bays. This further fueled my interest in reading as much as I could about other people having come to the state, for example, pirates, Spaniards, and the Timucua and Seminole Indians.
When it came time to consider prospective colleges, I had the opportunity to visit the Naval Academy. Maybe it was a coincidence that the school had been founded almost simultaneously with Florida achieving statehood in March of 1845. Nonetheless, to me the campus had an appealing aura; it was clear that tradition and heritage distinguished the Academy from other colleges. Fortunately, Florida Senator Spessard Holland later awarded me an appointment to attend the Academy.
My four years at Annapolis taught me important new lessons in how the past might be honored in the form of “place,” including in literature. After a subsequent time in the submarine service, my wife Susan and I returned to Florida. Through the years, I earned two masters degrees, one in business and the other in engineering, and a doctorate degree in education. Susan and I held (and still hold) full-time jobs while raising our four children, each of which would themselves attend service academies and become military officers.
During the 2000s, with the children no longer living at home and armed with fresh awareness, I found new time to devote to my earlier passion of discovering and documenting all things Florida.
My first major authoring endeavor involved a multi-year effort to write and publish a historical fiction novel of 1863 Florida: "Salvos on the Backwater." Salvos was a tale about the hardships of the state at war, written from a civilian’s perspective. The novel won the 2008 Patrick D. Smith Award as the best Florida historical fiction novel. The novel would also win two first place Royal Palm Literary Awards – one for best novel, and the other for best book fiction or non-fiction.
Soon thereafter, on occasion I was asked to speak about my Salvos book, and I also came into possession of a small collection of Civil War artifacts from north Florida to go with the presentations. One of these artifacts happened to be a small, discarded campfire harmonica from the 1860s. As a personal challenge, I then took it upon myself to learn to play Civil War songs on a new harmonica while traveling to and from work. It wasn’t long before I could play dozens of tunes from memory. About that time also, I acquired period-correct Florida 1860s civilian attire for my speeches and attendance at Florida Civil War remembrance events.
Figuring out a way to use standard computer software to document Civil War music was my next challenge. My aim was to put together a rugged, portable booklet to help others learn to play 1860s songs on the harmonica. I entitled the booklet "Harmonica FUNdamentals with Civil War Songs." And, of course, Stephen Foster’s 1835 Way Down Upon The Suwannee River, the state song of Florida, is included in the booklet.
Deviating from my 1860s historical emphasis, I next wrote a long manuscript with new research, “Florida’s Early West Point Cadets,” a story documenting the state’s first 40 appointees to West Point. This work is significant given Florida’s and America’s turbulent 1800s. During that century, Florida had witnessed conflict after conflict on her soil, starting with the First Seminole War. The state’s citizenry were consequently much adept at waging war, including her youth. Many of these young men would later go on to contribute their significant war fighting skills to the fledgling nation. Presently, “Florida’s Early West Point Cadets” is pending publication by a leading journal.
My present focus is producing children’s picture books, which are out and to-be-out on Amazon and BarnesAndNoble.com in hardcover, softcover and eBook formats. "When Cal Went to Juniper Springs" and "When Cal Went to the Family Reunion" are now available to the public and another book is in the works. Stay tuned!
My research and stories have taken me on a long and enjoyable journey. I am hoping these writings and activities will help slow down the fading of old memories. My goal remains to produce stories that inspire others using lessons of the past – lessons about the remarkable toils, mishaps, successes, and character of those who preceded us. I intend to write about this as long as the Good Lord lets me.
April 22, 2014,