Oral history records more than genealogy.
Oral history has so much more to offer than a picture or a chart.
Visiting with Uncle Roy was like I never knew who he was. He was always quiet. Roy started talking about driving the family truck called a skeeter from the cane patch to the cane mill while granddaddy made cane syrup. Roy started relaying the stories grandpa would tell while he stirred and skimmed the syrup. None of us ever saw Uncle Roy work with his hands, let alone tell a story. No one objected now because grandpa was gone thirteen syrup seasons ago, the skeeter was long ago sold for scrap and the only one left to tell the family stories was Uncle Roy.
Having never heard an Uncle Roy story we gathered like biddies around a clucking hen to hear those familiar stories one more time.
Earle had come home from the service using a skiff up the Caloosahatchee from Fort Myers. Passing ole man Storter’s boat launch Earle couldn’t miss the 14 foot crocodile beached on the sand.
Daddy, “We have never seen a crock this far up the river!” Earle exploded as he described the behemoth at the neighbor’s landing.
Quickly Eugene and son paddled back down to the sunning crock’s sauna. The small patch of blood on the side of the crock’s head told the story of the illegal kill. It was illegal to kill a crocodile or alligator but not illegal to sell their hides.
Eugene quickly aimed the crock back toward the water and began dragging and tying the beast to the boat. Once in the water the duo paddled vigorously back home.
The crock was quickly skinned and the hide salted and froze. The carcass went back into the river but the skull was grandpa’s trophy that everyone wanted to see.
The Storters accused, grandpa denied, and the feud was continued as the two never got along.
There hasn’t been a crocodile seen as far north as Fort Myers in 60 years. We’ll never know who killed the giant. But granddaddy splurged for Christmas, I got a real bow and arrow set, and sister got a store bought doll. Usually we got an Orange and peanuts in a sock. We kids will always remember the crocodile Christmas when we got candy too!
Roy cleared his throat and said Storter’s hog got loose and ambled over to the fermenting sugar cane grindings at the syrup mill. Grandpa had a gun everywhere he went. The hog was drunk and snoozing within 10 foot of the syrup kettles. Grandpa shot it right behind the ear and it never moved.
Grandpa throwed the oak firewood under the syrup kettle started the blaze and filled the kettle half full of water.
30 minutes later the hog was scaped and hanging on the gamble. Just like a skilled surgeon grandpa cut off the bacon and hams for smoking and the rest was cut for roasts and sausage. The hot water made for easy cleanup. We all circled the warm cast iron kettle as grandpa started his next yarn.
Storter drove up in a huff with a mad on. “Gene, you seen my butchering bar hog, he got out this afternoon?
“No Bob, we been here all afternoon, cleaning the syrup kettles.” Storter left the same way he came, In a huff!
Grandpa’s stories were world famous,
he told them to snow birds, flatlanders and greenhorns by the hundreds while he fed them free barbeque in hopes of selling them some of his newly developed canal waterfront property, illegally cut into the river. But grandpa didn’t record his stories and neither did I until I heard Uncle Roy retell the silent tales of my grandpa. Oral history is always favored over a few words typed on a paper. The voice makes the story come alive and with character.
If only I would have taken the time to get my parents to tell their life story on recording, I could have passed that legacy on to my children. I would give anything to hear my parents voice again. Oral history says it best with a flair of human nature thrown in! Build an audible legacy, legacytoo.com