A Retirement Far Too Short

In 1991 my parents and my aunts, Ann (Damato) Duncan and Rita (Damato) Pye, came to our home in Orangeburg, South Carolina, to visit. In response to my questions about my ancestors taking part in the Civil War (in hopes of getting some scholarship money for our son who was a high school junior), my aunts and daddy told the following account about their grandfather, Edward E. Dow. I recorded the conversation on a cassette tape which I still have in my possession.

Although he had been a miner all his life, my great grandfather, Edward E. Dow, sold his home and land in Saginaw, Michigan, and moved his large family by train to eighty acres of land they had purchased sight unseen in Putnam County, Florida, around 1913.  They leased two train cars for the move – a box car for all their possessions and a passenger car for the family to travel in. Neighbors came to the property, which was about halfway between Rodman and Welaka, and had a house-raising for the family. Some of the young men may have come to check out the several marriageable young ladies who had just arrived, but no wedding bells rang for a while. So the Dows began life in Florida in a newly built two-story house.

Ed worked in the local forest industry as a lumberjack for a local lumber company (Rodman Lumber / Sawmill). He had an accident one time when a tree fell on him while working in the woods, and he injured his back and could no longer work as a lumberjack. His two oldest daughters had already gone to Jacksonville to work, and his wife, Bell, decided she could take in sewing in Jacksonville, and the girls could live with her instead of the YWCA. When she had enough money, she would send for the family to move to Jacksonville. But what would they do about provisions for the remaining family of her husband, two sons and six daughters, ranging in age from about seventeen to seven?

They made a deal with the owners of Millers’ General Store, somewhere in the vicinity of their home. The Millers would provide whatever needs the family had, and the Dows would deed the land and house to the Millers after Ed recovered and the rest of the family moved to Jacksonville. That is indeed what happened.

State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/147618

State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/147618

When he had recovered enough to work again, Ed found a job with the Seaboard Air Line Railway[1] in Jacksonville until he was ready to retire. In 1924 their unmarried son Walter had been in Miami when a hurricane forced him out of town. He and a friend went to New York looking for work and pulled into a parking garage. Walter backed into a board which broke, and he fell down an elevator shaft and sustained injuries that resulted in his death several days later.

Ed and Viola Bell had bought ten acres in Kenwood from their daughter and her husband, Eileen and Bert Dressler. Their retirement plans were to start a chicken farm and have three chicken houses ready to go when he retired. They had built a house on this property. However, when their son Walter died, they incurred hospital and funeral debts which delayed Ed’s retirement plans. He worked three more years for the railroad to pay off the debts. In the meantime, Viola Bell had moved to their property in Kenwood to maintain the house and property, so Ed lived with his daughter Flossie Damato and her family in Jacksonville during the week while he worked and rode the train to Palatka for the weekend. When he had paid off the debts, he retired and moved permanently to their house in Kenwood on a Friday.

The following Tuesday,[2] after the couple had eaten lunch, Ed asked Bell what she was going to do. She said she was going to clean up the kitchen and lie down to take a nap. He said he was going out in the chicken yard to fix a hand water pump. When she finished washing the dishes, their daughter Eileen came in and suggested they go for a walk. Bell said she needed to tell Ed because he thought she would be lying down. When they walked out and found him, he was “stretched out”; he had had a cerebral hemorrhage.

Duval County, Florida, death certificate no. 14706 (1927), Edward E. Dow; Department of Health. Bureau of Vital Statistics, Jacksonville.

Duval County, Florida, death certificate no. 14706 (1927), Edward E. Dow; Department of Health. Bureau of Vital Statistics, Jacksonville.

I have great respect for this man who sacrificed his own dreams and plans to fulfill obligations incurred for his son. None of us are guaranteed the circumstances in life that we may plan or dream of, but may we, like my great grandfather Dow, make the responsible choices.

____________________________________________

[1] My aunts said it was the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad, but that entity did not come into existence until 1967 when the Seaboard Air Line Railroad (changed to Railroad from Railway in 1946) merged with the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad. See http://railga.com/sal.html

[2] Both my Aunt Ann and my daddy stated that this happened on a Monday. However, a perpetual calendar tool online revealed that 6 September 1927 was actually on a Tuesday.  See http://www.infoplease.com/calendar.php?month=9&year=1927&submit=Go

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