Human Flower Project

Post Cards from Paradise


In the late 1940s, Florida beckoned Midwesterners with sunshine, bananas and flowers. It still does.


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Dear Mom,

Red your letter today in the large envelope. Been busy to day with garage will write tonite. Chas & I are real carpenters

Love Jimmie”

January in Shepherdsville, Kentucky, gets cold and gray, and awfully bare. February’s like that too.

So good for Jimmie he headed from Shepherdsville south to Wauchula, Florida, to look for work and the sun. We came upon a half dozen post cards he sent to his mother (who’ll remain nameless), and on a frigid winter night we sat back for a voyeuristic tan.

Florida is the prime winter getaway for Kentuckians. Thanks to our friend Carolyn, we spent a delicious spring break in Naples one March of junior high school, staying with her grandmother Mimi. Lots of folks head for Sarasota, Delray and other spots along the coasts if they can, but we’d imagine back in the late 1940s, when Jimmie made his trip, snowbirds weren’t quite so common.

imageAnyway, Wauchula isn’t on the coast. It’s inland, right about at the center of the state. Florida minus beaches was still heavenly—at least as portrayed to Jimmie’s mother. All his messages back home feature discovery and images of Florida’s dramatic plants and scenery, making his mail tiny human flower projects.

“I am going up town now for oysters and Bertha wants me to frie them and show her how,” Jimmie wrote January 12, 1948. This penny post post card shows tall, shaggy cypresses on a lagoon behind several hedges of pink and white azaleas. A lady in a white antebellum gown and bare shoulders is just about lost in the flora, though we trust Jimmie’s mom would have spotted her. Did Stephen Foster write any tunes about Central Florida, by the way? as this gal looks just like the ones on the post cards from My Old Kentucky Home in Bardstown.

In the late 1940s, after the war, there must have been quite a building boom in Central Florida. The tourist industry burgeoning and car culture accelerating, Wauchula might have become Orlando, but it never did.  According to wiki, it’s best known for a baby swapping scandal at the local hospital. As of 2000, the population was about 4300.

We don’t know if Jimmie stayed, but he sure did seem to be enjoying himself—and “Chas” and presumably Bertha too. He was especially keen to share with his mother the tropical plants and flowers he was seeing, to fascinate and cheer her through the long Kentucky winter.

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“I have drove almost 100 mi, continious through the evrglades with a row of Australian pines like this,” he wrote 3-16-47.  “They are used for wind brakes on the Highways. See the cocoanut & banna leaf marked x.” We don’t see the x on the “Avenue of Australian Pines and Hibiscus in Florida” but it doesn’t matter. The topiary, palm fronds, and shrubbery covered with scarlet flowers would have been impressive enough.

imageA card of “Banana Tree Showing Bud and Fruit” is dazzling: “We have a few like this in Wauchula,” Jimmie relays. “Will send you some of various things of interest day to day…”

This was before cell-phone cameras and facebook, though the IM impulse seems much the same, just tenderer. 63 years from now, will people enjoy our twitter messages and blog entries half as much as we’ve been relishing Jimmie’s stream of tropical post cards?

“This is very typical to the many fishing spots I have been since here,” he writes 3-22-47, sounding a bit like an old hand. For Mom back in Shepherdsville, a curving path through coconut palms, bright pink and yellow blooming shrubs peeking among the tree trunks, would have been anything but typical—a world apart. Exoticism radiates from all these images, and from “Florida’s tropical flame vine” which seems to have smothered a very large obelisk.

Our favorite among Jimmie’s cards is a forest of “Stately Royal Palms.” Two girls in hairbands, short-sleeved shirts, shorts, white socks and tennis shoes hold hands among the trees. Though the girls’ pose is meant to be leisurely, they’re bizarrely dwarfed (like our lady in hoop skirts). The scene is surreal, vaguely ominous. The great trees with their horizonal stripes sprout beyond the frame, and in the distance there’s a dab of blue sky and a blotch of red. The setting sun?  The world’s largest azalea? A runaway flame vine? Or perhaps the garage Chas and Jimmie built, now on fire?

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“Dear Mom, Enjoyed your letter and the clipping of Humdinger’s new car. The boys at the Goat Shed also got a kick out it. Awful crowded here 4 pm before they had the 936 mail made up. Got a nice card from Uncle Oscar and Aunt Jennet, will write you letter tomorrow night or Sun. I feeling fine. Love, Jimmie”

What a dear son, even if he wasn’t shoveling snow off mom’s front porch. Far from home, in a “Goat Shed” yet “Feeling fine” is about right, without rubbing it in. Tonight in Shepherdsville it’s 18 degrees—63 in Wauchula.


Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 02/09 at 11:32 PM

Comments

Julie, you would appreciate this scholarly article “Postcards of Phoenix: Images of Desert Ambivalence and Homogeneity” by Larissa Larsen and Lily Swanbrow.  Read abstract at http://lj.uwpress.org/cgi/content/abstract/25/2/205

Posted by Georgia on 02/10 at 03:09 PM

Fascinating study, Georgia. Seems people were looking for a tropical paradise in many places after the war. I wonder what the Pacific theater of WWII may have done to heighten the interest in and desire for tropical landscapes.

Relatedly, South Pacific, the play and then the movie, were huge hits in the 1950s. Bali Hie and all that…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=81NROmUb7o0

Thank you, as always -
J.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 02/10 at 09:53 PM

Sunshine and warm weather…When I left Kiruna, Sweden on Sunday (120 miles north of the Arctic Circle) it was - 4 F. I woke-up in Indianapolis yesterday morning and it was -3 F. Spring comes along incrementally.

Thanks for the postcards!

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 02/11 at 10:31 AM

Thanks for some old Florida.

Posted by Victor Gordon on 02/15 at 01:22 PM
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