The Judge

I’ve almost quit writing my stories.  No, it’s not that the well ran dry.  I’ve been sick with a cold.  Ideas and memories flood the channels but it’s getting harder to remember the exact dates and times.  Some stories lead to the next, while others run together.

The Dinsmore Cemetery is still right where it always been.  Right across the street from Aunt Irma’s.  Only now it has more of my friends and more important, more family members.  I can remember as a little kid, hiding Easter eggs in the cemetery.

When I got bigger, one of my friends Wayne Taylor got the job from his Uncle Billy who was an ATF agent, to mow the grounds.  Billy was married to Camille.  Her brother, Dewey Pendarvis was our judge.  Being caretaker of the cemetery came under his jurisdiction in those days.

All of that was way before consolidation.  I think that happened in ’68.  I say think because I don’t want to let facts get in the way of a good story.  Wayne’s Uncle Billy caught me joy riding in Mom’s Cutlass one night.  I’d wait until my parents went to sleep, then I would coast backwards out of the driveway, start the car and drive off without the headlights.

I didn’t have anywhere special to go.  That time of night, no one to go see.  I traveled the roads that I knew best.  The dirt roads that ran through the woods and the alleys that were barely visible between buildings.  Some times it was hard to distinguish the path in the dark and I would drive up under clotheslines by mistake or take a cow trail into the pasture.

It was all in fun, there was no mischief on my part.  I thought I was getting old enough to drive and wanted to check it out.  I saw headlights in my rear view, the rabbit in my blood wanted me to push Momma’s Cutlass to the limit, but the blue lights setting on the dash of Uncle Billy’s unmarked car brought me to my senses and I stopped.

Before consolidation, things were different.  The cops could take you home to your parents.  Once, while Dad was in Viet Nam, the Judge took off his belt and gave me and my brother swats for joy riding in some elses boat. Usually the judge’s secretary would make a court date and I would show up with my parents to tell my story.  By that time my folks had more than taken care of the punishment.  The Judge said this time my punishment was to help Wayne Taylor mow the grass at the cemetery every two weeks, for a month.

The problem with that is, although Wayne got paid $15 every two weeks, he didn’t cut half the grass.  Some of it hadn’t been cut all summer.  We were raised in two different kinda families.  If my Dad told me to cut the grass, that meant if I had to,  get down and cut it with a pair of scissors, that grass had better be cut.  Wayne, well he would hit a root with the lawnmower or a stump and just say “Oh well, that lawnmower is tore up, that’s as far as I can go.”

Part of our chore was to assemble the old plastic flowers and metal flower stands in a pile so that they could be hauled off occasionally.  Like I said, this was before consolidation, we didn’t have a normal refuse service back in them days.

I worked for my parents in the Trailer Park on US 1 and Dunn.  The Silver Dolphin.  Dad was in the Navy, mom was sick a lot.  I was the oldest son.  I had a lot of obligations.  I learned that when I did a job, there was no one else to come behind me to clean up the mess.  I had two younger brothers, they were my crew but often enough I had a hard time getting the sense of emergency across.  Like keeping the trailer park maintenance up to snuff, repairs done, picking up the empty drink bottles from trailer to trailer on Tuesday, because the Coke man came on Wednesday.   When Dad was overseas in Viet Nam, it was on our shoulders.  The local swimming hole was across the highway, Dinsmore Beach by the boat landing.  The lure often robbed me of helpers.  Being able to pay the family bills had a direct reflection from our efforts.  If the work didn’t get done, the bills didn’t get paid.

The judge had a work force of some kind I reckon.  His nephew Woodrow Pendarvis was his constable.  Woodrow was married to Elizabeth Hildebrand.  The Hildebrand’s were kin to us by marriage through mom’s sister, Aunt Irma.  Aunt Irma lived across the street from the cemetery.

The other constable was Mr Cauffman.  He and his family live on Old King’s Road out past Plummer Road on the west side of the train tracks.  Mr Cauffman’s wife was the school crossing guard.  We would see her every morning in front of the elementary school, waving to us on the bus as we rode to of to Paxon High.  Ms. Cauffman had a bright red Cutlass with a black top.  She dyed her hair black and wore it in a bee hive.   She would try to wear outfits that matched the colors of her car.  On rainy days she wore a black raincoat and carried a black umbrella.

I went to Dinsmore Methodist with her kids, they weren’t overly friendly, typical Methodist I guess.  Memories sometimes play tricks on you.  This was so long ago, I try to remember things as they happen but that not always the case.

I remember that back in those days Sherwood Forest was all white.  I could go to the Sherwood Teen Club and get a new girlfriend anytime I wanted.  The neighborhood was packed full of white families.  The weren’t any buses.  I had to walk.  It was about 6 or 7 miles.  I worked, so I always had a few bucks.  A couple of the older guys in my neighborhood would come get me, because I would have a couple dollars for gas or they knew that I wasn’t afraid to ask girls to dance.  Aunt Irma had a second job behind the sandwich counter at O’Steens Pharmacy.  I could always take a girl in there and get a milkshake and fries courtesy of Aunt Irma.

On Saturday afternoons, me and my cousin Earl Hildebrand would wash, vacuum and wax Aunt Irma’s Oldsmobile, then we would mow her grass, making ten apiece for the day.  Oh it was good to live in a small neighborhood and be some kind of kin to every body.

Pre-consoloidation, yeah things weren’t that bad.  In Dinsmore we had our own post office, we had our own judge and police officers (constables). Everyone bought groceries from either Mr. Tiller at his Banner Foods or from Steve’s Groceries.  Mr. Rowell even built a “Yummy Burger.” There were so many churches in our area that we had our own softball league and ball park.  Once a month the churches would take a bus load of kids down to Strickland’s Landing or Crystal River.

Many years before the Seaboard Coastline dug out the ditches alongside of the railroad tracks, we use to have floods after weeks of heavy downpours.  A lot of the roads weren’t paved back then, it made such a mess.  One year, It may have been ’67, everything flooded.  From Old Kings Road to US 1 the creek over flowed.  I remember diving off the handrail of the Old Kings Road Bridge only a foot or so into the raging water and swimming all the way to the bridge on US 1, with the help of a swirling current, dodging debris and being careful not to get hung up in barb wire.

The north end of the cemetery had once been a potter’s field where the local Negroes had been buried back in the day.  For what ever reason, mostly neglect, the woods had overgrown this section.  It never got mowed, the tombstones rotted away, no one came to pay their respects.  Dinsmore had it’s negro quarters. It was on the east side of Old Kings Road just before you got to Plumber Road.  We called “The Quarters.”  It was a peaceful settlement, they lived in solitude.  I think the Carter’s owned the land, but I can’t say for sure.

Old Tobe lived there and his wife Willie Mae.  When the physical labor was too hard for me to do by myself, Dad would go get Tobe to help me.  We laid lots of sewer pipe, removed quite a few stumps and poured a few cement slabs together.  Willie Mae was a big help to Mom once she got sick.  She would help with the laundry, iron our clothes, keep Momma company, wash windows just whatever needed doing, she would do it gladly.  I loved using her pan fried cornbread to sop up the pot liquor, because when Mom got sick she always wanted a mess of greens.  I only like the turnip greens but she fixed mustard and collards that she grew in her front yard.

The trees had grown so high and the brambles so thick in the neglected section of the cemetery that you couldn’t walk, when the floods came, these shallow graves floated to the surface. The caskets had long since fell apart. I was swimming off the bridge. I can remember Judge Pendarvis asking me and a couple others to help him gather the body parts and put them in separate piles to try to keep them from being lumped together.  It was a mess alright, dried bones float alright.  You couldn’t tell if they were black or white.  It was morbid.  When the flood waters went down we searched the woods from Old Kings Road, all the way to US 1.

The judge got a small bulldozer and cleared the woods, the north side of the cemetery all the way to the creek, a couple hundred yards. I think they found more bodies and grave sites. If I remember right, these bones were re-interned at Restlawn Cemetery.  Much higher ground.  I always thought that a memorial should have been put on this site.

One day while me and some friends were scouting the path between Old Kings Road and US 1. we heard a lot of laughing and giggling coming through the brush, just the other side of the tracks.  Many years before, this site had been a moonshiner’s den.  In the early ’60’s they had got raided,  Wayne Taylor had told me that his Uncle Billy had a hand in it.  Coming from US 1 there was an old logging road, but coming from Old Kinds Road it only had an old cow path used by moonshiners and car thieves that would hide their cars in the woods and strip them down.  I remember sun bleached bags that once contained sugar strewn across the ground and scattered concrete blocks laying on their sides with weeds now growing through them, that once must have held the still up off the ground.  In the back ground through the brambles we could see splotches of bright red and shiny chrome.

Boys being boys, we got curiouser and curiouser.  We had to find out what this cackling laughter was all about.  The noise was so loud that no one could hear the three of us sneaking up on ’em.  Low and behold were we surprised. Backed up in the bushes was a familiar car.  On it was Mrs Cauffman spread across the hood of her Cutlass, face up.  The only clothes that I could  see that she had on was a pair of black knee high boots.  Behind her was the Judge holding her legs aspraddle.  The antenna on the fender was whipping back and worth with the rhythm as the judge was driving it home.

My buddy had been going with Mrs Cauffman’s daughter Karen, but they had broken up.  After we retreated back in the woods a few feet, he couldn’t resist the urge to toss a few pine cones their way.  No, not the big brown pine lightweight cones but the heavy green hard one ones that hurt if you get hit with one.

I never told a soul about what I saw.  It wasn’t the first time I seen someone down this road doing the same thing.  This was old Toogie Lane and Rosa Braddock’s favorite spot.  But seeing the Judge and Mrs. Cauffman together, boy that was a real shocker.  Secrets are hard to keep though in a small town.  We weren’t consolidated yet.

Soon it was big news.  Constable Cauffman went to the county commissioners and ratted out many counts of malfeasance on the judges part.  I don’t remember if Cauffman quit or got fired but the judge had to serve about 6 months in jail and his nephew Woodrow became a corrections officer.  Woodrow’s wife Elizabeth became a supervisor at the Driver’s license Office.  The judge’s youngest son Bobby sells cars at Duval Honda.

Soon after, Mrs Cauffman’s daughter Karen told her Dad that I attacked her on the school bus, when all I remember doing is offering her my seat so that she wouldn’t have to stand. She and her Dad came by our house demanding some kind of satisfaction.  I told her Dad that he better leave our house before I kicked his ass.  I can remember my Dad telling him, “you’d better go before I let him.”  The next day, I had to fight Karen’s new boyfriend in the hallway at school and after that his cousin and then his cousin’s best friends.  Let me say this, boys that don’t have to work, ones that don’t know what self sacrifice is all about, well they can’t fight.

Aw, that was many years ago.  Too many.  I hope I remembered everything right.  We’re consolidated now.  The city of Jacksonville had a vote, the whole county against us, guess we was out numbered.  Now we get free garbage pickup.  We lost our Post Office but the city gave us a dump to replace it.  The state built 235 houses along Sibbald for black families so all of the white families in Sherwood Forest moved out.  After the federal gov’t provided more financing for black owned  housing projects we got a few sidewalks.

The cemetery now has over 600 filled grave sites, a lot more of my family and friends than I care to admit.  Uncle Bud, well he is out there raising daisies, Aunt Irma is in an Urn. My nephew Clyde is out there too along with my cousin’s wife Patsy and my nephews and nieces too many to name.  The trailer park is still there but just barely.  The last flood almost washed it down the river.  My Dad sold it a long time ago.  It’s been so long that no one remembers, who poured those cement slabs and dug those sewer lines.

Time to go now. I can smell my wife’s cooking, I can’t wait.  Turnip greens and cornbread.  I hope I didn’t let the facts get in the way of me telling a good story.

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