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.

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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.

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THE DOORBELL RANG. It was a mailman delivering a priority mail box. Inside was a treasure: old family books and papers from Elijah Curtis Young, the only relative of my father I ever knew, who died 40 years ago, in 1976.

I was never sure exactly how we were related, or even if we really were. Throughout my childhood, Curtis would stop and visit every fall when he came through Esto on his annual trip home to see friends and relatives in Georgia and Alabama. Usually he brought along oranges or grapefruit as a treat from South Florida.

As it turns out, we were related. Curtis’s mother was a Reynolds, according to the family Bible. Lennie Jane Reynolds, born December 3, 1882, married Stephen F. Young, born May 17, 1866. Elijah Curtis was one of four brothers and sisters. He married Elizabeth Hayes on December 27, 1934. I would know them as Curtis and Lizzie, and they were important beyond measure in my young life.

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Inez and her chicken and dumplings.

INEZ WAS ONE of Esto’s Wells sisters. “She always wanted to give,” remembers her sister Jeanette. “She had a big heart.”

I remember her big heart and big hug, which usually came with a big smile and a raucous laugh. But not the day she came to see my mother lying in the intensive care ward. Only family members were allowed to visit, which didn’t concern Nez. “I’m family,” she said, and walked right in with me.

Mother had been there a few days by then. She’d had an aneurysm in her brain and was showing no signs of recovery. The doctors acknowledged she sometimes moved her arms and legs, but said it was involuntary. As Nez and I stood by her bedside, she seemed to grab at the arm of my sweater.

Nez was absolutely certain the doctors were wrong and assured me: “She knows who you are.”

Mother died before the end of the week. But I never saw or thought of Nez again without remembering that reassuring moment in the intensive care ward. I always hoped to see her when I came home to Esto. One visit she’d heard I was in town and stopped by early in the morning to say hello. My sister-in-law told her I was still asleep.

“Well, wake him up,” said Nez. I’m glad she did.