The steamy, sweltering banks of Florida’s Ocklawaha River don’t look much like Glory Land to young Eve Stewart, despite her father’s proclamation. But it’s here that Eve, her three siblings, and their parents will settle in July, 1875. Within a few years, Eve’s father, Hap, has made good on his assurances. They have a large, weathered clapboard house and a comfortable life, thanks to Hap’s job on a steamboat.
Eve and her twin sister, Ivy, are blossoming into young women. Yet as Ivy grows more involved in medicine making under the tutelage of a neighboring black woman, her path leads away from the family.
Eve, an aspiring writer, loves her home though she longs to see the wider world beyond its swamps and shores. But when she discovers a secret Ivy’s been keeping, Eve must decide between protecting the family name or saving her sister. With the help of a half-Creek Indian tracker, Max Harjo, Eve sets out to find Ivy, beginning a journey that will dare her to follow her ambitions and her passion wherever they lead.
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Claimed by the RiverOcklawaha River South of Palatka, Florida October 1883
The snagboat had cleared most all the debris away except for one thick submerged branch. Though it was hardly visible, it was long enough to get caught in the stern's recessed paddlewheel and bring the riverboat Jocelyn to a jolting, shuddering stop. The wooden vessel creaked as if in pain. Hurrying down the steps from the pilot house, Captain Odell Franks muttered obscenities under his breath so as not to offend his high-paying winter clientele. These lily-white, overly dressed, strange-speaking northerners were responsible for half of his yearly income. He thanked the good Lord for them but also gave thanks that he only had to serve them for half the year. I'd once overheard him telling the landing master at the Lake Weir landing that they were "stuffier 'n an attic on an August afternoon. But, at the same time, they's chillier 'n a bass on a Janu'ry mornin'. Strange bunch, they are." He laughed, shaking his head.
Coming alongside my father, who was the boat's steward, I looked over the stern with him to see what was hanging us up. Captain Franks joined us. "Branch?" he inquired. When Papa confirmed that it was, the captain turned around and shouted up toward the pilot house. "Emmitt," he addressed his colored wheelman, who stood at the door to the pilot house, a small four-sided structure that made up the third level of the boat. "I'm gonna have ya move 'er a foot or so, but hang on 'til I tell ya. First, I want your boys jumpin' on in and havin' a looksee. If they can jostle that thing loose, at least a little bit, the wheel might spit 'er out."
Emmitt's two boys were the captain's usual deckhands. Moses Hailey was seventeen, though Papa had said more than once that he possessed the level-headedness and skills of someone much older. Louis, his brother, was a year older and different from Moses in every way. Whereas Moses was slender and quick — both in movement and mind — Louis was broad and slow. It was clear who was in charge, but Louis seemed happy enough to let Moses regularly take the lead. Moses hoped to follow in his father's footsteps as a pilot on a riverboat one day. It was one of the most prestigious and best paying jobs a colored man could have in Florida. I heard Papa say one time that he didn't know who was prouder of Emmitt's position; his sons, his wife Mayoma, or dear Emmitt himself, especially given the fact that some of his family had been slaves on an indigo plantation in south central Florida. The Haileys had reason to be proud of Emmitt, and I understood how they felt. My family and I were just as proud of Papa, and the job that he did.
My father had gone from being a dirt farmer to working on a steamboat in the well-respected position of steward. Papa said he'd come to realize that he belonged on the water all along, and not in some field. He'd started out on a smaller steamboat, the Revere, soon after we'd finished building our pine clapboard house, which was set back a ways from the bank of the Ocklawaha.
Our home was two-storied with a front porch, which was considered pretty fancy, but Papa said he wanted to build the house big enough and fine enough the first time so that we'd never have to build another. My parents had a bedroom downstairs, and Ivy and I shared one of the two rooms upstairs, while our brothers shared the other. Mama wanted to paint the place white, or at least white-wash it, but there wasn't enough money to do it after putting the window glass and screens in. Papa told Mama that Mother Nature would paint it just fine in time, and she had, only her color choice was the dull gray of constant exposure to the elements. In stark contrast to the washed-out color of our home was the color-infused cabbage palm and live oak hammock it sat in. Varying shades of green foliage were broken by the brightness of an ever-changing variety of flowers. Ancient live oaks, hung heavy with Spanish moss, swayed in gentle rhythm with the slightest breeze. And cabbage palms and sables were scattered throughout our yard, along with magnolia, sour orange, grapefruit, and tangerine trees. We figured that someone had started planting a citrus grove years before, but had given up for whatever reason. What was left were a variety of citrus trees that still looked beautiful with their white fragrant flowers in the spring. To our delight, we found that the fruit could be used in jams, jellies, and preserves as long as it was sweetened up with something, which was usually honey.
Our home was located several miles to the south of Silver Springs. It was convenient for Papa's work, and convenient for our family, as well. Silver Springs had a well-stocked general store, catering to patrons who knew everything about everyone in the area, including who was hiring at the moment. Such was the case one morning when Papa learned that the captain of a small steamboat was taking on men.
Papa happened to be at the store buying nails and lard when the notice was posted, and after reading that the job required no experience whatsoever, he hurried down to the dock and was immediately hired on as the Revere's new stoker. For the entire trip, he did nothing more than shovel coal into the firebox to fuel the boat's steam. Trip after trip, from Silver Springs to Palatka, that's all he did. It was hot, backbreaking work, but it kept the family fed, and allowed us to add eight more chickens to the four we'd brought from Thomasville, as well as a new milk cow, plus the materials needed to build a hen house and small corral for our horse and cow.
The Revere's captain was well-seasoned and knew a good man when he saw one. Early on, it was apparent to him that Papa was a good-natured, jovial fellow, who could be put to better use working alongside the passengers instead of being hidden away in the belly of the boat. Papa was only too glad to come up on deck. He said that "feeding that furnace in the month of August, in Florida, was near 'bout as hot as feeding the fires of hell." Mama scolded him for saying that, but she quieted down when Papa told her that she ought to go try it herself and then say whether or not he had a right to describe it so.
As the boat's steward, Papa's job was to make sure that every passenger was well taken care of and comfortable. Papa was good at his job, and every captain knew it, often trying to steal him away from whatever boat he was on at the time.
Papa took extra care with the passengers who seemed most vulnerable, like the elderly and the unescorted ladies. It was a rare thing to see a woman traveling alone, although Papa said that Yankee women did it more often than Southerners. When I asked him why that was so, he said, "Southern women are given a greater sense of modesty and decorum at birth, but Yankee gals are born with a bigger sense for adventure and bigger opinions about everything, too!" I told him it sounded to me like those northern women had more exciting lives than the southern ladies did.
The majority of travelers from the north came seeking relief from the harsh winters and to see the glories of central Florida's crystal-clear springs. By far the most popular was Silver Springs. The water had amazing clarity so its many mysterious caverns and caves could easily be seen, even those at great depths. And from those depths came many thousands of gallons of water bubbling up each day, so the spring remained full and cool and crystal clear all the time. The water filling the springs came from underground rivers, and the sandy spring bottoms, with their green ribbons of grass, filtered the water, giving it the clarity they became so famous for.
Some of the locals were none-too-pleased with the arrival of the Yankees in late autumn, especially those who brought contagious diseases, like tuberculosis, with them. Mama said it'd be bad enough to come down with one of those sicknesses living in a big city, but at least those folks had big-city doctors and big-city hospitals to tend to them. "Here, though, there ain't nothin' much to keep the ailin' goin' other than prayer and a pinch of pity," she complained. But fears and resentments could usually be tempered by the money the northerners readily spent.
"All right, boys." Captain Franks turned his attention from the snagged branch in the paddlewheel back to Moses and Louis, standing at the railing outside the pilot's house. "Y'all go ahead and jump on in, but stay outta the way while your daddy's tryin' to move 'er a tad. Then, when I say, y'all try dislodgin' that piece of shit — pardon me —" He quickly nodded to the fancy northern folks who stood around the promenade deck watching with great fascination. "You stay down here and watch them boys, Hap. I'll go up to the house," he said, referring to the pilot house.
Captain Franks knew that if any damage occurred, there would be less explaining to do and less hell to pay if he'd been at the helm at the time. When the captain started to mount the ladder-style steps, Moses and Louis ducked beneath the railing and dove into the foreboding water with practiced ease. Even though it was noon and the land was lit by the sun's strongest light, the rays barely penetrated the water, and with the darkness of the boys' skin, the two disappeared below the surface as if they'd been swallowed whole by some monstrous open mouth.
They surfaced and quickly swam toward the bank, well out of the way of the paddlewheel; then Emmitt tried to back the boat up a couple of feet. A terrible grinding noise accompanied the slight movement, and the boat was immediately stilled. "A'right, you boys," Captain Franks yelled down to them. "Give 'er a try. See if y'all can get that bastard — pardon me" — he nodded again at the northerners and turned back to the boys — "outta there. At least see if she'll budge any with a little encouragement."
Both boys took a deep lungful of air, then disappeared below the surface. Soon scraping and knocking sounds could be heard coming from beneath the boat. Suddenly, the branch — whose size had undoubtedly been reduced some by its interaction with the paddle wheel — popped up to the surface like a bobbing cork. The boys each grabbed an end and dogpaddled with it to the bank, where Moses dragged it up and well out of the way of any other unsuspecting vessels. The two swam back to the boat and climbed up a rope ladder that Papa dropped to them. As soon as they were back on board, my father gave the house the all clear signal, and the freed paddlewheel began to turn and churn the water into thick white foam as a resounding cheer went up from the passengers. The Jocelyn was underway once again toward her home port of Silver Springs.
"Only eighty-three seconds late." Satisfied with the boat's arrival time considering the hold up from the snag, Captain Franks snapped the cover on his gold pocket watch closed, tucked it back in his navy-blue vest pocket, then climbed down from the pilot house. As the steamboat's engine was shut down, allowing the boat to drift the last several feet toward the dock, Moses and Louis threw lines from the bow and stern to two men on the dock, who tossed the looped ends over vertical log pilings.
At Silver Springs landing and general store, folks were always milling around to see if any work might be available, and there was a constant flow of people coming and going on the boats. Many of those arriving needed to be driven somewhere, like the town of Ocala, which was just six miles to the east, or the Silver Springs Hotel, as well as a smattering of private dwellings. And waiting for the opportunity to serve them all were local drivers in buggies and wagons of all sorts and descriptions, lined up in the shade of a stand of oak trees just to the right of the white, two-storied building that was the store. With eagle eyes, the waiting drivers scanned the new arrivals as they made their way down the docks, watching for hands to shoot up in the air, hailing a ride. Then the first driver to spot the signal shot forward in his conveyance, making a mad dash to the dock before another driver could beat him out of a fare.
Since the general store was a stop on a stagecoach line, those needing transportation to towns farther away could find a list of times and destinations on a schedule posted above the ticket window next to the front door. Mr. Carmichael Brody owned the place, but also acted as ticket agent. He'd hurriedly step up to the window and don a visor whenever a customer was in need of a ticket. Brody was tall, big and bald, but if Mother Nature had short-changed him on a full head of hair, she made up for it with a thick, bushy mustache. The man loved peanuts and ate them throughout the day, snitching them from the large barrel that sat at the end of the counter. Because of that, Mr. Brody always had bits of peanut skins stuck in his mustache, and I wondered why his wife, Adele, didn't insist that he either shave the food-catcher off or at least run a mustache comb through it.
In big part, the flurry of activity at the landing was centered on outgoing and incoming cargo. Men off-loaded the shipments coming from the north, much of which were textiles and steel, and on-loaded cargo from our area, such as uncut logs, produce, and citrus. The freight would make the journey up the Ocklawaha, to the Welaka River, and finally the St. Johns, which would run to Jacksonville. Then the cargo was loaded onto trains from there.
Between the general store and the landing house, where the riverboats went for repair, hunters and trappers hung their freshly killed and dressed meats on racks. They were always ready to haggle over prices with anyone interested, but because they were a rough bunch, both in looks and in character, the asking price was most always paid without much negotiation. There was usually a variety of game available, as well as fish, alligator, and turtle. Some of it was fresh, but most was smoked, and though the fresh meat was by far the most desired, the smoked meats and fish lasted much longer.
There were also hides and furs to be purchased. Even though most of the passengers from the north had shed their heaviest coats of leather and fur once they crossed into the southern waters, there were still those who sought out the fine-quality skins. They shipped them to family back home or had them made into new winter clothing to be briefly worn in the south's short-lived winter. Though the majority of the time it was mild in central Florida, it wasn't uncommon for the temperature to drop well below freezing, and because the humidity was usually high, the cold could chill a body to the bone and kill vegetation overnight. It was a fear that the citrus grove owners and farmers dealt with from December through mid-February, for a deep freeze could wipe them out and turn a small Florida town into a ghost town.
Sitting on the porch in front of the general store were some of the local farmers, their wives and daughters, and widows and single women, selling live chickens, fresh eggs, and vegetables that were freshly picked, pickled, or canned. Mama and Ivy were often there. Mama always had eggs to sell, courtesy of the more than twenty-five chickens we owned by that time, as well as some of her canned goods. And Ivy brought to market honey that she harvested from the bees she'd started keeping. More sought-after than Ivy's honey, though, were the herbs she collected and the remedies and homemade medicines she made from them. Over the years, she'd learned the art of medicine making through the wonderful tutelage of Mayoma Hailey, Moses's and Louis's mother, and Emmitt's wife.
Mayoma had been born and raised in the area and had learned the skills of medicine making from her mother, who'd learned it from her mother, a full-blooded Seminole who died en route to Oklahoma during the forced march on the Trail of Tears. Mayoma's mother, Betty McIntosh, had been given to a colored family right before the government flushed the Seminoles out of the area, but because many colored people were part of the forced march, too, a small number of families moved deeper into the woods where they'd be harder to find. It was there that Betty grew up, eventually married, and had Mayoma, who then learned the ancient knowledge and skills needed to make vital medicines, elixirs, and tonics. Once there was no longer the fear of the government rounding up any more red- or brown-skinned people, Betty and Mayoma began bringing their medicines and herbs to the general store at Silver Springs. It didn't take long for the women's natural remedies to become highly sought after, especially since the area couldn't seem to keep a doctor for long, even though illnesses and injuries were as commonplace and plentiful as rat snakes in a barn.
Excerpted from "A Corner in Glory Land"
Copyright © 2017 Janie DeVos.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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I really enjoy this authors writing. I just finished 1000 Apple Trees and hope there is a sequel. Also read the art of breathing before that and not sure if that is related.