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Saturday, June 15, 2024

My memories of the Florida west coast of the 1930s

By Bobbie Hart O’Neill

 CSMS Magazine Staff WriterI was 10 years old in 1933, when my parents came down from up-state New York. Then, Florida was beautiful and almost entirely green. I’m sure it still is. My father was a machinist, and took work where he could find it. My father was an English man and my mother was Indian. We lived in Tampa for a very short while. I only went to school there for a very short while, as I was getting severe asthma attacks. It was the largest city I had ever lived in, and got lost one day coming home from school. That scared my parents and me half to death. I don’t ever remember going back to school there after that. I do remember we had a milkman named Red, who was a Seminole Indian.     I also remember sneaking out of the house one evening just before dark to go down the street to look at a neighbor’s fishpond. I had never seen one before, and while I was watching the fish, people were coming out of the house and I had to hide behind a bush so they wouldn’t see me. I never did that again!!! I also remember the festival on Tampa Bay for Gasparo the Pirate and his ship.    Then we moved to Dunedin and lived in part of a house that was in a citrus orchard. I slept outside on a cot in a screened in back porch, where I almost froze to death. It must have been a fairly cold winter, as the smudge pots were going most of December and January, which of course did not help my asthmatic attacks.     I went to school when I could breathe, which wasn’t very often. There was a black couple who tended to the orchard. They lived in a shack. The woman’s name was Rosa, and I remember she could not read or write, and that startled me. She made lye soap and washed clothes in a great big pot of water, which hung over a fire pit. She was actually my best friend down there.     My mother’s friends were also from New York State, and they lived in a trailer with five kids. I remember going to Clearwater to the ocean. I remember going somewhere around there to watch Greek sponge divers – Tarpon Springs?         I also remember going out with school friends to play in a meadow where there were those big cactuses called Spanish daggers. There, we watched with great astonishment a stream with a big black snake swimming in it. That impressed me, as I had never seen a swimming snake before, let alone a black one.     My father fished so we ate a lot of fish. I also remember those awful canned salmon sandwiches. Canned salmon was cheap. It was during the Great Depression, and everyone I knew was poor. My mother had taken me to a doctor for my asthma, and she would stuff cotton soaked in argorol solution up both sides of my nose for about an hour to take the mucous out of my sinuses. That was a real bummer to undergo once a week. That was the extent of my treatment for asthma. Note: Bobbie Hart O’Neill, 84, is a retired print media journalist with more than 40 years experience in the field. She has worked as a reporter, feature writer, columnist, public relations writer, magazine/newsletter editor and publisher. She is a current contributor to CSMS Magazine. She now lives in Yuma, Arizona.

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