Chapter 3: Tilling the Soil, Chapter 4: The War Years
Farming in the South Florida community proved brutal, for Anthony didn’t have the first clue about cultivating the soil. He was a man who knew everything. But in spite of knowing everything, he lost a lot of money plus his entire tomato crop to an early morning freeze that struck South Florida back in the late 1930’s.
Subsequently, after the tomato disaster, Anthony thought a change in venue was warranted. Instead of farming tomatoes, he switched to growing potatoes after learning that the short Florida cold spells did not affect them. It really wasn’t Anthony’s idea it was Sam’s.
Historically, the potato had two known enemies: bugs and water. The bugs could be controlled with pesticides. However, controlling the rain was entirely another matter. In farming a farmer had to have a lot of luck and Anthony had his fair share, because he made a lot of money.
After a short time, Anthony recognized that switching to potatoes had turned out to be a smart choice. By devoting all his time and talents to potato farming, Anthony introduced the red bliss potato to South Florida. This feat earned him a sterling silver cup, with the inscription “Potato King of South Florida” presented by the Potato Growers of South Florida.
After receiving the trophy, Anthony, a proud man of Italian heritage, was a tough man to live with. Being crowned the Potato King made his ego swell beyond control. He became impossible to live with.
Sometimes that ego left a bad taste in the mouths of the other farmers, when discussing the hardships of farming with him. He was a man who was never wrong, always calling to mind the trophy which, by his own definition, made him an expert in the field of potato growing.
The land Anthony farmed was considered by him to be a prime piece of Florida farmland. But contrary to that, most of the locals considered this property to be a bust, because there were too many rattle snakes.
Anthony’s assumption of the property was correct as it turned out to be ideal for farming potatoes. There was seven to eight feet of top soil covering most of the land. The locals were also correct in their assumption about the snakes, because indeed there were a great many of them , too many of them to count. Tragically, one morning, Anthony’s dog, a German Shepherd named Prince, died after being bitten by a large snake.
Eventually, the fields were cleared, and the snakes moved on to higher ground. This was a welcomed relief for the farm hands who worked on the tractors. In time their greatest fear the rattlesnake, became a faint memory.
Sunday, December 7, 1941, a radio news bulletin announced the Japanese attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, plunging the country into World War II.
America needed potatoes, and Anthony along with his two sons, Sam and Eddie, worked around the clock in order to grow the potatoes much needed by the American government
Although being very young, I can still recall going to the farm to play, while my mother and father worked in the potato fields. After the potatoes were harvested, they were placed in large vats of water. The farm workers would set up potato boxes, with sharp knives in the middle, in order to cut the potatoes in half. This was done so the seeds could be used for replanting in the coming year.
The smell from the over-ripe potatoes was unbearable. They smelled worse than a pair of dirty old socks. Unfortunately, with the odor came the rats and when I say rats, I mean they were as big as a house cat. I have never seen rats so large.
Anthony had to hire a man with a 22 caliber rifle, in order to protect the workers, since many of them were afraid of being bitten. Later in the season, Anthony tried farming peppers. He would pick the green ones and discard the red ones. To this day, people pay three times as much for red peppers, believing they may have a different taste. I can only state a fact: They are the same pepper, which had ripened and turned red.
As time went by, farming in the hot blazing Florida summer sun proved brutal for Eddie, Anthony’s youngest son. He worked in the fields with the rest of the farm hands, while Anthony and Sam stayed in their air-conditioned office, barking out the orders. Sam was the oldest and therefore the prodigal son.
Accordingly, an atmosphere of jealousy simmered within the family as Anthony, along with his wife Caroline, continually added fuel to a never ending fire by showing unusual favoritism to some members of the family.
Eventually, this favoritism pitted brother against brother and cousin against cousin, tearing at the very fiber of family life. Today I can point my finger to what caused all the trouble, MONEY!
Florida began a sensational growth with the return of its soldiers, along with their families. Eventually, these families became the backbone of a population explosion, which consumed not only south Florida, but the entire state from Jacksonville to Key West.
People came from all over the country, to chase the American dream of owning their own home and the Florida sunshine.
Shortly afterwards, the police department expanded from a one officer force led by its chief, George Wiegand, to five full-time officers. The fire department also expanded from a one-man fire department led by its chief, Arthur Melton, to a two-man force with the hiring of Earl Rogers as the assistant chief.
During this period, the city began to bustle with the addition of new businesses, which sprang up along the Interstate. Unfortunately, with all this growth, the Florida East Coast Railroad cut a path right through the heart of the city. Property east of the railroad became the business district while the property west of the railroad housed dense undergrowth full of snakes.
The Fuchs Baking Company, which began its existence in Homestead, Florida, decided to move to South Miami in 1934. The company settled in the Old Riviera Theatre property once owned by the Robert Dorn family.
Some years later, the Fuchs Baking Company developed a way to make bread. The process was called Holsum. Which prompted the company to changed its name to the Holsum Bakery. It was owned by Charlie Fuchs. a man with vision who became the driving force in the town’s growth.
It wasn’t long before Holsum became the city’s largest employer, by hiring hundreds of the local residents. Eventually, Charlie Fuchs was able to take his small bakery and turn it into one the largest bakeries in the state of Florida and Puerto Rico. He was a community leader who acquired the reputation for getting things done.
Charlie was instrumental in trying to get Ed Ball, a DuPont heir, President of the Florida East Coast Railroad, Florida National Banks and the St. Joe Paper company, to re-route the F.E.C. railroad line, which cut the city in half.
Tragically, in 1949, Charlie’s life was cut short by an air boat accident, and his dream of the city being undivided died with him.
During the city’s early growth, the chief of police, George Weigand, was forced to resign after a questionable shooting in the black area. He was replaced by Chuck McKinney. Sergeant Ernest Tatum became chief after McKinney retired to open his Mack’s Cycle Shop.
Shortly afterwards, and under Chief Tatum’s guidance the city became somewhat stable. The local hang outs were the Dixie Pig, Smithy’s, Heads, (Holsum Restaurant), Bill and Ted’s and Tyler’s, a meeting place where all the local rednecks could discuss fixing the problems of the world.
The Modell Service Center, a hot rod hangout, handled all the heavy-footed youths, who thought their automobiles were the fastest.
A local judge named Elmer Thompson made himself available to administer punishment, when the heavy-footed youths were caught breaking the law. Judge Thompson was considered by the young men of the city as being one tough old geyser, making the law breakers that In the 1940’s the city was considered a redneck farming community, and living there was like living in a giant fish bowl. Every time I got a little frisky, the community watch dogs would squeal to the family, which put my “devil may care” attitude into a tailspin.
My dad, when learning of my antics, would ground me indefinitely. Unfortunately, I had more ground time than a gopher and I seemed to be on everyone’s shit list.
I can recall one fourth of July, while the Chief of Police, Mr. Earnest Tatum, was enjoying the holiday celebration, of sneaking under the bleachers and setting off a string of firecrackers right under his seat. Suddenly, when the firecrackers exploded, the chief began jumping up and down imitating the Miccosukee shuffle.
The crowd became hysterical, making the chief angrier than a grizzly bear. He chased me around the Community Center and if he would have gotten his hands on me he would have made dog meat out of my skinny frame. It was the first time in my life I was really scared.
Luckily, and being fleet of foot, I ducked underneath a nearby automobile, while the chief, standing next to the car shouted,
“I know it was you and when I catch you I’m going to skin you alive, you little bastard. ”
Despite being afraid, I felt those were harsh words to be saying to a nice little kid like me.
Remorsefully, I began praying that the chief didn’t know who the “you” he was referring to was. I thought, “maybe, just maybe, I’m going to get lucky.”
I decided it would be in my best interest to avoid going near the police station for the next three months.
One afternoon, while returning home from school, a strong arm collared me. The strong arm belonged to none other than the Chief of Police Mr. Earnest Tatum
“Where were you on the fourth of July?” the chief growled.
Looking the chief directly in the eyes, I answered, “I was in New York, and if you don’t believe me you can ask my mother.”
Tatum, momentarily smiled, for he somehow knew that I was lying through my teeth and released his grip on my skinny neck probably thinking he could catch up with me at a later date.
Unfortunately, the chief was absolutely correct in his assumption, for the later date came somewhat sooner than I would have liked to remember. The chief caught me driving my motor scooter 40 miles an hour in a 25 mile an hour zone. Joyfully, the chief took great pleasure in issuing me, his favorite juvenile delinquent, a five dollar summons. This summons broke my little heart since five dollars at this time was a lot of money.
Incidentally, a gallon of gas cost 25 cents Ice cream cones were five cents and a loaf of bread was twenty five cent.
Read chapters 1 and 2 > http://www.communitynewspapers.com/south-miami/south-miami-where-everyone-knew-your-name/