I made no secret of the fact that if my family and I moved to Florida, I would not be working outside the home, but would, instead, sit under a palm tree and read books. They were willing to go along with that. My vow lasted all of one week and I became stir-crazy.
We settled in the quiet little farming and ranching community of Arcadia, in DeSoto County, some 50 miles south of Sarasota. We enrolled our eldest, Michelle, as an English major at the University of South Florida, in Tampa, and our youngest, Kerry, age 12, in DeSoto County’s Junior High School.
There were no palm trees in our county, just giant pines. I had been doing a radio program for women in Washington Court House before moving south and I decided to do the same kind of program in Florida, hiring on at the local station.
I had been broadcasting for a year there when I saw an ad in the morning’s paper, (The Sarasota Herald-Tribune) for a “mature woman to write local news.” I was 37 at the time and willing. I made an appointment with that paper’s managing editor for an interview.
I was tall and still thin, my hair was still dark and I donned my best navy blue suit and motored north to seek my fortune.
The managing editor, Mr. C. Edward Pierce, had come up through the ranks at the Miami Herald. He had been hired to make a “city paper” of Sarasota’s morning edition. (There were by then, seven morning editions in seven surrounding counties, with each bureau pouring its heart out on page 1-B.)
Mr. Pierce and I bonded immediately. I got out some clippings of stories I had written for other papers long ago and he said they weren’t important to him. “I’ll know in two weeks if I have anything going for us in DeSoto County and I won’t leave you hanging.” Fair enough.
I drove home, smug in the knowledge I was going to be paid well for my “little stories” about life in “no-man’s-land…”
Ha! Almost before I got the door to my new office unlocked, all hell broke loose! A company planned to mine phosphate there; a group of doctors on the west coast planned to build a town in some wilderness acreage and there was always some dangerous criminal escaping from the three local prisons or G. Pierce Wood Mental Hospital. All of that gave me pause…I went to my office each morning in fear of being fired because of my lack of knowledge; what did I know about mining? Or building a town, or chasing gangsters via helicopter?
I “burned the midnight oil” studying up on all of those subjects I had not learned about in college I never attended. Mr. Pierce kept sending me raises and votes of confidence. I couldn’t stand the suspense. One bold morning, I asked, Mr. Pierce, am I giving you what you want out of this county?” He replied,”You certainly are! Keep up the good work.” So I did for almost 20 more years.
Came my first vacation at the end of six months. (I was given two each year.) We decided to go to the new Disneyworld, near Orlando. I could hardly sleep the night before and when we awoke the next morning, it was raining – a steady, unrelenting deterrent to fun with Mickey Mouse and Pluto.
“Honey,” asked the man who had taken me in spite of my many hangups. “Don’t you think we should reschedule the trip?”
“Absolutely not!” I said, with feeling. “I may never get that close to a Disney park again!” (And I never have.) So we donned raincoats and were soon on the famous monorail into the beautiful and intricately-planned resort where we could be kids again.
Walt Disney had an unhappy childhood, with few luxuries. He was never close to his father, who failed in farming in Missouri. But the creator of so many beloved characters for both movies and television was always looking and planning ahead. He amassed a vast empire of cartoon characters, feature-length movies and television series. According to his biographers, he was always two people – the child at heart and the domineering boss who demanded excellence from his myriad of employees or showed them the door. He coped with strikes, being unable to pay back his banks if a movie failed at the box office and, in his last years, the lung cancer that took him from us.
I stood outside “Cinderella’s Castle” that rainy morning and felt a lump in my throat. Little did I ever dream a girl from a small Ohio town would ever visit such a magnificent attraction…
When we arrived back home that day, the rain had not stopped. In fact, it went on for almost a week, flooding the famous Peace River. I was called back to work to write about the devastation. I traveled through it all in an air boat that was so noisy I couldn’t hear for days… I took roll after roll of film. I remember vividly seeing a rooster walking around on a roof of his owner’s house, crowing for help… I was technically on call 24/7, vacation or not, so I learned to “get lost” whenever I had a few days off. I didn’t usually take the two vacations a year I was allowed because the company would send some beginner out of journalism school who’d alienate my best news sources before I got back to town.
Writing for a newspaper is great fun and excitement. But it can be challenging and frightening as well. I am thankful I gave my all for so much of my life.
Jean Mickle is a local resident who writes columns for the Record-Herald.