Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Times Have Surely Changed in Clay

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Times Have Surely Changed in Clay

Article excerpt

Life in rural areas of Clay County has changed considerably since the turn of the last century.

Around the 1800s, just north of the county line and Orange Park, a young man was growing up.

His name was John Reese. His parents began their lives as slaves on the A.M. Reed plantation called Mulberry Grove. John was born in 1880, the baby of 10 children on a 20-acre homestead his father bought from Reed even before the Civil War began.

In 1939, John generously volunteered his time to share his memories of those early years with an interviewer hired as part of Roosevelt's alphabet soup of government work programs during the Depression. His stories paint a vivid picture of life in rural areas a hundred years ago.

As a little shaver, John's first job was cutting firewood for his mama's cookstove and the fireplaces at the Reed home. With that done for the day, he was free to ramble and watch and remember.

Folks planted all kinds of garden vegetables and something was being harvested year round. Oranges were packed in crates and shipped by steamboat. They were hauled to the big wharf under a canopy of oak trees planted by a black fisherman after the war to celebrate emancipation. Pecan trees with the sweetest nuts were everywhere for the picking.

His mother bought material by the yard and sewed most of their clothing. The children all worked for wages, and the biggest treat was a trip to Jacksonville to buy shoes, coats and caps.

It was not unusual for people to be taken with chills and fever. Before everyone was lured by slick marketing to patent medicines, his mother doctored them with her own remedies made from herbs and roots she gathered. Jerusalem oak and blackroot were steeped into tea in an old cast-iron kettle to cure fever. Another herb called "Life Everlasting" because it stayed green all year was used for fever. …

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