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A NEW LIBRARIAN arrived with the beginning of the sixth grade. Dianne Smith took over from longtime librarian Miss Louisa Hutchinson, who had — horrors! — gotten married very late in life and retired.

The new librarian was brimming with ideas, including a reading contest for sixth graders. For months we had to choose books from a reading list and then be quizzed by Mrs. Smith. When it was all over, the smartest girl in our class had been bested by Danny Henderson, who would soon move with his family to Esto.

A picture of the winners appeared in the weekly Holmes County Advertiser — a high honor in itself — with a story that explained: “The purpose of the reading contest was to acquaint the students with the best books in the library in the hopes they would discover the pleasure of reading and would be encouraged to do more reading on their own.”

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“I’D NEVER EATEN in a restaurant,” remembers Esto’s Joe Bob Clark. “When I started dating in Bonifay, in my junior and senior year, I’d never eaten in a restaurant. I’d seen somebody order coffee and a Boston cream pie. Every time I got a date, I carried her to the old City Cafe and we ordered Boston cream pie.”

“It was just an innocent time. We didn’t know any better. We were poor and didn’t know it. Still happy.”

4H

A PHONE CALL tonight from Esto reminds me to wish a Happy Father’s Day to U.T. Kirkland, who was a father figure to many of us Esto boys. That’s T, as we knew him, in the middle with (from left) Wesley Brockway, Stevie and David Godwin, Charles Crutchfield, Dean Newman and Ray Reynolds.

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Esto native E.W. Carswell wrote a respected history of Holmes County.

Dear Mrs. Tison,

I was sorry to read in your column in the April 12 Advertiser that you’re without a copy of Holmesteading, my pal and fellow Esto native E.W. Carswell’s history of Holmes County we published in 1986. So I’m sending you one of my two copies of the second printing in 2003. I hear a third printing may be in the works, and I hope it happens.

Judge would be pleased his book is still being read and discussed — especially by one of his kinfolks in Noma, Bill Tom Gavin, who cited it to you. The book was the culmination of his lifetime of listening and learning about the county’s history from people who were there when it happened. As we said on the dust jacket of the first edition: “It captures both the facts and the feeling of life in Holmes County. Few places as small and rural as Holmes County are fortunate enough to have a native son like E.W. Carswell to bring their history alive and record it for present and future generations.”

We typeset and pasted-up that first edition after hours in the backshop of the Advertiser. Judge’s wife Catherine — who taught me to type — was our ace proofreader and indexer. The Advertiser helped us spread the word about the book, which got rave reviews and soon sold out.

Even after Judge died in 2001, his book was still in demand. When the county library got down to a single copy — “People would check them out, but they wouldn’t bring them back,” library director Susan Harris said — a second printing was arranged. Esto’s own Joe Bob Clark raised the money and made it happen as head of the library board. (Joe Bob always laughed that nobody in Bonifay thought people from Esto could read and write well enough to publish a book — and then he spearheaded the project to create a library annex and got it named for another of Esto’s finest, A.J. Dixon, the county’s first rural mail carrier.)

Holmesteading was our last project before I moved temporarily to California 30 years ago. I keep my autographed copy near a picture of Judge at his Royal typewriter. He wrote a beautiful inscription recalling our “publication adventures” that concludes: “And it has been fun. My best wishes go with you always.”

And they have. He still smiles down on me every day. I hope the library is able to arrange a third printing of his book.

VIMEO | E.W. Carswell talks about Holmesteading, his history of Holmes County, in an interview with Florida Public Radio.

MissVann

Lynelle Vanlandingham’s pointed finger and raised eyebrow were legendary.

MANY STUDENTS from Esto and other Holmes County communities who went to school in Bonifay had Lynelle Vanlandingham as their civics teacher in 9th grade. She was from the old school, and misbehaving in her classroom was never an option. She’d point her finger and raise her eyebrow and everyone would fall in line.

That technique worked until the very end. Her fellow teacher Mrs. Dianne Smith — who first taught 9th grade English and later became the senior English teacher at Holmes County High School — recalled a visit with Miss Vann at the nursing home in Bonifay shortly before her death in 2016.

“Nelle remained as feisty as ever,” Mrs. Smith said. “I visited her in the nursing home just a few days before she died. I asked her then if she could still raise that eyebrow like she did to control students. She showed me that she could — and said she used it on some of the nurses when they did something she didn’t like.”

Read More: “Lynelle Vanlandingham was a treasure

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Homemade ice cream under the pecan trees.

IT WAS 30 years ago today — exactly — that my mother died.

She had tried again to quit smoking, and had succeeded for almost a month. But when she’d come home from the shirt factory a few days earlier, driving the 10 miles south across the Alabama-Florida line, as she’d done nearly every working day since she was 16, she sat down on the back steps and smoked a cigarette. The aneurysm in her brain followed.

All the way to the hospital, she kept saying, “I knew I shouldn’t have that cigarette.” My brother Bobby called that night to say, “We have a problem.” Somehow I knew I should take a suit and tie. By the time I got across the country the next night, the doctors said it was unlikely she would recover. We never talked again. She was gone by the end of the week.

A death in Esto requires food. Fried chicken, potato salad and chocolate cake soon began to arrive from the neighbors. Two days later, at her funeral, flowers crowded the front of our church. Afterward we went outside to her waiting grave in the cemetery. We are neck-hugging people. When Mr. Bass, the ancient patriarch of our church, came slowly walking up, I hugged him close and cried. It wasn’t supposed to be this way, not so soon, or so fast, or so unexpectedly. “Well, son, it’s hard to lose your mama,” our neighbor Clyde Griffin said in his big loud voice as he wrapped his arm around my shoulder. And then he lightened the mood, unintentionally. “If she’d a lived,” he said, “after that aneurysm, she’d a never been nothing but a vegetarian.”

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MOTHER HAD BEEN in intensive care for a week. Her eyes were closed, but she seemed to move at times. The doctors said her ruptured brain was dying, that the movement was involuntary.

Still they kept her alive. They said there was no hope of recovery, but still they kept her breathing. It didn’t seem right. “They should let her go,” I told my friend Susan, who phoned in every day. “She’ll go when she’s ready,” Susan replied.

I had to leave the hospital. I drove home to Esto. It was late on Sunday afternoon. As I pulled mother’s car into the driveway, the weak winter sunlight was slanting through the pines. I walked around our acre, through the trees, past the barren garden, by the modest tin barn, as the sun went down. As I walked into the house, the phone was ringing.

“Better come back,” my brother said.

Mother died that night as we stood holding her hands.