Susan Bowers Davis
The Life and Times
MEMORIES OF THOSE SCHOOL DAYS IN FLORIDA
It was 1967, or about that time, when integration began to take place in the public schools in St. Lucie County. I attended the historical Ft. Pierce Elementary School and had been there for all of my schooling to that point. In my memory, there was confusion when I arrived at school that morning. Being 9 or 10 years old, I had no idea of the political upheaval going on between blacks and white in America. I just like having fun. This day was going to be fun, no classes. Instead, everyone reported to the auditorium.
The auditorium was a huge place. It had a stage covered with a rich velvet curtain that I recall took the three biggest boys to pull it open. The wood flooring was well worn and the windows were so big. It was bright in the vast room, and as the students came in, I realized that many must have been absent. My teacher was missing and someone's mother was supervising us. We sat in the auditorium the whole day, singing, counting and playing simple games. It seemed like a big party. I found out later that the teachers had gone on strike because of the pending integration. Parents and some administrators had organized our activities for the day, and so it was for a few days.
My parents decided to enroll me in a private school that was in the next town, Vero Beach. I had to take an entrance exam and pick out clothes that fit their strict dress code; navy skirts or jumpers, white blouses, navy or white knee socks, and dress shoes. There was not much room for self-expression in the clothes we wore.
Sixth grade and I was going to a private school 30 miles or so away. It didn't sound too bad until I learned about the bus ride. The bus would pick me up a little after six in the morning and we lived west of town, so we would snake our way through town and then go up A1A to the school. Most of the other kids from Ft. Pierce that went to this school were from the upper class families. There were the Griffins, Platts, and Adams, among others. The bus ride was about one and a half hours each way, so we got to know each other well.
My favorite part of the bus ride was the long trip up the beach road, A1A. That was long before all the beach development and high rises that litter the coast now, were built. Back then it was a deserted place. The road opened up on the east to the ocean and you could see the waves and the sunrise. On the west side of the road was the overgrown land. Each morning we would count the bunnies that were out feeding and it was not unusual to see 40 - 50 rabbits on a given morning. It was always a thrill when we'd count more than ever before. It made the ride interesting.
In the afternoon, the bus would not go back on A1A. It went west to Vero Beach and traveled the back highway so that we were west of town and traced its entire route, just like in the morning. Sometimes we would do our homework; there was plenty of time to get most all of it done before we got home, which left more time for playing.
The school itself was different than public school had been. We started each morning off with "chapel". The Pledge of Allegiance, a short devotional, some announcements, a song, and then a prayer started each day. Everyone gathered in one area, usually the courtyard. I thin it was a time when teachers would inspect the students for dress code violations because my brother usually got pulled out and reprimanded for not having his shirt tucked in. He had to wear a tie. He hated it worse than I did.
The teachers were not too friendly. They rarely smiled. In sixth grade, the classes included history, grammar, science, physical education, art, and some type of math. There was Mr. Broad for grammar. He stood out as the typical grammar geek. He was tall and blonde with large buck teeth. We hammered him with insults when he wasn't paying attention. Something happened to our history teacher midway through the year and another lady came in to cover. We spent the rest of the year reading the novel, "Nicholas and Alexandra" which I've never forgotten and loved. Science was with the oldest man in the world. He swore he owed his longetivity to swimming in the ocean each and every day. Mrs. S. (no one could pronounce her name) was the P.E. Instructor. The uniforms were hideous, one piece jobs. They were blue with bloomers and a skirt with snaps up the front. They were not flattering in the least. Math with Mr. Olney was always hard. He was old too, but very quiet and smart. No one gave him any trouble. The best part of the sixth grade was art with Mrs. Curzon.
Mrs. Curzon loved my brother. He was so artistic and eager to try anything she threw at him. I just wanted to not embarrass myself. She was generous in her praise and encouraged us, no matter what our skill level. We designed album covers for our favorite song. Mine, like many others my age, was to a song called "Dizzy". You can imagine the artwork that resulted.
Not all my years at that school were positive. There was the time the Minton boy got on the bus and wiped his shoe on my head, saying he had to get the dog poop off. I cried for days. He had to write a letter of apology, big deal. Then there was the Christmas break that my history teacher, who was also the headmaster of the school, gave us a book about 90 pages long to complete over the holiday. The book was a few pages of background about political cartoons and then page after page of cartoons. Our assignment was to write a paragraph about each cartoon explaining its humor. My Mom tried to help me during our trip to West Virginia and back, but the assignment didn't get completed. She wrote a note stating that we had spent countless hours on it but that the assignment was probably a bit more than should have been expected during a break from school. I got a "D" on the assignment and my Mom got a nasty reply.
The last year I attended the school was the first year they had the new "Upper School" which they built about three miles up the beach from the "Lower School". They recruited new teachers and staff. My homeroom teacher was Mr. Burris, head of the student council and lead science teacher. The two most popular kids in the class were running for student council representative and he suggested that if I were to run, I'd surely win since their votes would be divisive. He was right. I became the tenth grade representative.
Mr. Burris also let us use his car once. We always walked across the street for P.E. on the beach and he was in charge that day, so a few of us took his car and went up the road for ice cream. None of the other teachers ever let on if the knew of the deed. It was great.
My social life was the pits. Here I was going to school in another town and didn't know most of the kids around Ft. Pierce. Weekends were boring and I wanted a change. The local private Catholic School was just down the street and many of the Ft. Pierce kids were begging their parents to leave the school in Vero and to go to John Carroll High School. It worked, and I walked to school for the eleventh and twelfth grades.
It was there I met Rick Dixon. He was a big guy, very athletic. He worked at the sports store that one of my girlfriend’s dad owned. We played ping-pong a few times, and he asked me out one Friday night. I already had plans and told him so. He didn't ask me out again after that, although we were friends all through the remaining years of high school.
It was the summer after my junior year in college when I ran into him again. He was at a softball game I had gone to watch. My cousin was playing and his brother's girlfriend was too. My cousin and I were house sitting a doctor's house on Indian River Drive for the summer, and I bet him I could still whip him at ping-pong. He came over the next night and things haven't been the same since. We dated that summer, got engaged that fall, and married the next summer, 1979. We'll celebrate 22 years of marriage this month.
Susan Davis (Dixon).
B.S. Degree from Western Carolina University in Speech and Hearing Science. M.S. Degree From Nova University in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Current member of the American Speech/Language and Hearing Association.
HOW WE CAME TO LIVE ON OUR FLORIDA PLANTATION.
How we ended up here? It was the Lively blood that moved me. Seclusion, privacy, room to stretch, room to be myself; that's how I see the home we settled in. Our quest for land began with a dream years ago when the children were young. We lived in a suburban neighborhood outside the city limits with trees and room to run and play. By the time Daniel was born in 1986, houses were going up everywhere in south Florida. The faster they went up, the cheaper they seemed to be. Quite a few of the surrounding homes were rented out because there were so many of them - and prices began to drop.
The neighborhood was turning into a haven for rootless young families. They didn't care what the neighborhood looked like because they were moving out in a few years anyway. We found ourselves in the midst of a community of transients.
In 1996 I was working in Okeechobee County. The commute took about 50 minutes each way. Here, in out small seaside town, 10 to 15 minutes was more reasonable. We began to question our situation. All around us the "snowbirds" from up north were showing up. (Snowbirds equals retirees) It was the lake that attracted them, that and the weather.
We began a serious search in western St. Lucie County. A friend told us about a 25 acre parcel and talked about it. It sounded perfect. It turned out that the woman who owned the property was anxious to sell and the price was right. There was only one problem - access. There wasn't any. A road could be built but that cost so much it took away from our ability to build a house. Our hopes for this place evaporated.
We were "outdooring" one day, riding horse on a friends place, when we discovered that there was another 25 acres just south of the area we had been looking at. It was beautifully treed with red maple and oak, and there was wild life; quail and the sound of wild turkey. Then the ordeal of property search began; I checked records at the Appraiser's Office and found that those 25 acres had been split into four lots back in the 1960's. All of the owners were local (Miami). Again, we discovered that these parcels were landlocked. We sent all of those owners a letter explaining the landlocked situation and made an offer to purchase. Two agreed. But access was still the problem.
We negotiated with one owner who had a grove on the parcel. We knew he didn't want any traffic running through his piece, so we came up with the idea of buying a 30 foot canal running against the property line. He agreed, we bought it. We filled in the ditch, all 1600 feet of it.
We designed our own home in the woods and I think the best part of it is the big screen porch across the front. It's an open design and we love it. It's our plantation.
Susan is a supermom from Florida. She isn't one of those fictional supermoms you read about or see on TV; the sort that trucks the kids to school and heads some corporation you've never heard of and tries to do the laundry while you know she really doesn't do laundry. Susan is a real live person doing the tough stuff.
This is the teacher among us, the one who is willing to instruct the kids after we've failed to instruct them ourselves. She is the one who handles those tough kids from those "other" families. Not impressed? Okay, I have a photograph of her wrestling a twelve foot alligator, she battles jumping spiders and just plain ignores snakes, helps manage a herd of cattle, cleans house and does the laundry, does genealogy and researches for me, accompanies the family to two competing baseball teams (dad coaches one teams and son plays on the other), and cooks the occasional seafood brought home from fishing trips and deposited in the kitchen sink. In her spare time she goes to church, handles church social events at her home and prepares the food for those hungry church parishioners. More? She helped build the barn and designed the home she lives in. Now she mourns the departure of her daughter lost to adulthood and college, deals with a constant stream of visiting relatives, then goes on vacation and clicks photographs of tombstones in obscure graveyards. And she wants to write a book.
Susan, the Supermom.