by G. G. Goodson
Cave diving and snorkeling in Ginnie Springs had not been discovered in North Central Florida, and the Santa Fe River saw few canoes in 19Forty something. Drinking whiskey was like death--a mystery. There were private clubs and lounges, and there was Frank’s place, a beer joint with a hard-liquor license. Free from the foofaraw of club membership, strangers mingled with the regulars at Frank’s--a place that did not exist in polite circles.
The permanent smell of sweat and cigarette smoke, decaying bathroom deodorant disks and cheap perfume was the norm. Mismatched chairs and wooden tables smelled of tobacco juice and chewing gum; their surface was always sticky. A jukebox ground out HankWilliams as couples slow danced through swirling sawdust under two bare, yellow bulbs. Pickup trucks with no place else to go circled the low, shotgun building situated at the end of dry ruts just off the highway. A tourist court hidden by a thicket of trees lay sprawled out back. On weekends silent shadows slipped through weeds wet with dew to gamble and engage in “social” activities there.
The 15 year old boy stood nearly 5’8” and weighed about 130 pounds. He was no Charles Atlas. His hair was thick and black--combed in the style of the day. His eyes were light green in a face tanned by hours in the sun working odd jobs in and around the county. His aura and movie star smile attracted girls and grown women to his flame--he did not need his status symbol, his fiddle.
His deep baritone voice was not the typical country sound, but his fiddle was. The son of a champion musician, he was the crown jewel of his family. He always wore dress slacks, a white shirt and wing-tip shoes which his tall and plain (he called her ugly) young sister polished faithfully. The town’s drugstore cowboys were in awe of him, for he was Frank’s first cousin.
On weekends he and his 15 year-old cousin "bounced drunks" (their words) at Frank's "jook" (everybody called it that) with the assistance of the Sheriff's office. The boy snitched cigarettes and beer and danced with all of the ladies. He slept in the back room within earshot of the rowdy crowds, never too far from his tuned fiddle and well-rosined bow.
With a terminally ill husband and three children to care for, his mother took a second job. An elementary school teacher by day and a drugstore clerk by night, she soon heard the full story of the boy, his fiddle and Frank’s place. Confronting more than a few of his adult female admirers, his mother swiftly (and with threats to do bodily harm with her pistol) shut down his refractory fan club at Frank’s.
Broken-hearted by his father’s death and with a burning desire to be famous, the boy left home shortly after his sixteenth birthday. He occasionally telephoned his anxious mother to describe his musical tours with Lash LaRue, Sunset Carson and Eddie Dean.
It would be years before he returned to his family. He went back to school and married Betty. They had a child, Norma Jean, he called “Skeeter-Bo.” He became a prominent business-man and community leader with strong ties to the FSU School of Music. Always living a bit uncomfortably with his youthful escapades, he eventually withdrew from public performances and played his fiddle in private. In the winter of his life he drove his Corvette to the golf course but sat in his Chevrolet truck in the garage to listen to a local classic country radio station.
Heart disease was his constant companion when he joined his mother in Heaven on August 3, 2001, but he lives on in the hearts of his wife, daughter, sister and brother.
Encased in mahogany, glass-door cabinets, his six fiddles now keep silent watch over a library of his television performances and recordings. It is there his haunting version of “Orange Blossom Special” can still be heard. His name was William Robert, but we called my brother Buck.
Sleep well, my brother. I wish I could polish your shoes again.
BIO: G. G. Goodson writes online using the penname “RiverDancer.” She says she has no credentials other than she is a retired Corporate Director of Human Resources. She works occasionally as a Surface Mine Safety consultant. RiverDancer and her husband have lived in the panhandle of Florida all their lives.
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