It was a neat little bungalow fronted by a sidewalk and some low hanging water oaks. The street was paved with a rough blacktop with a sea shell filler. The lawn was a beautiful deep green which is characteristic of the wide bladed St. Augustine grass which was so neatly kept. This house sealed in my memory was located in an older section of Northeast Jacksonville, Florida and it was owned by one of “heroes” of life, my Uncle Harry Branch who was married to my Aunt Rhunell, my mother’s younger sister. These two people occupy a special place in my life and memory as well as do their children, Bonnie, Tony, Greer and Nancy.
Uncle Harry was a man “bigger than life” to me. At the time my memories were being made, he was a detective in Jacksonville and I thought that that was the neatest thing in the world. He carried a gun. He had a badge. He was big. He was handsome. My Uncle Harry could fly! I was convinced that under that plain clothes suit, he had a blue outfit on with a big “S” in the middle of his chest. Such was the image my ten or twelve year old mind held of my Uncle Harry. And, Aunt Rhunell was my favorite Aunt. She was and always will be special to me.
I remember that our family would go to 2818 Market Street to visit the Branch family about once a year. I always looked forward to visiting there during Summer school break. When I think of Summer fun, I still think about Market Street, my Uncle and Aunt and my first Cousins. We had a great time. I remember some unique little things about those visits. There was a man across the street who had trained a squirrel to eat pecans or peanuts out of one’s hand. All one had to do was tap a pecan on the sidewalk and the squirrel would appear. Then he would make his way down a tree and cautiously approach. Then he would nervously take the nut from your hand and quickly beat it back up the tree. It was fun to feed the squirrel. I recall that Tony and I used to sit in a little house out in the back yard and watch Uncle Harry’s quail hatch in an incubator. We would patiently sit there looking through a little glass window in the incubator until the little birds would start to emerge. They would come out of the egg ready for life. I was amazed that the little Quail could immediately walk and run. Amazing!
I was always intrigued by the grasshoppers on Market Street. They were huge and were strangely colored. Basically black with yellow and orange highlights made for an unusual grasshopper. I was scared of them because of their size and because they looked so sinister. Outside the side of the house there was a back of reeds with a small sandy play area between the house and the reeds. And, there was a healthy population of little green lizards. Sometimes we would find one that was so small we knew that it had not long been hatched. The girls were afraid of them and the boys loved to chase the young ladies all around the place with a lizard as our weapon.
Every morning after breakfast we would all gather around the t.v. set. My family didn’t yet have a television but Uncle Harry did! It was huge by today’s standards. Actually it served as a piece of furniture. The screen of this television was shaped like a big fish bowl and it only projected black and white pictures. Actually, color t.v. was a number of years away at the time. The cartoons we watched in those days were very basic. Simple drawings in black and white moved simply with mostly mouth and eyes being animated. It was all very, very simple in those days. Each morning before about seven o’clock, the television had a “pattern” being broadcast. When the station came on the air (that’s right, they came on at a certain time and went off at about eleven p.m.), the Star Spangled Banner was played. In the evening after “sign-off” the focus pattern was again broadcast until sign on time the next morning. We were always there for both of those events. The ”Moonlighters” was extremely popular in those days as were Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Programs were simple and family oriented. No cursing and sex in those days. One could get put off the air for such things. Imagine! It was a different era indeed.
For several Summers, Uncle Harry rented a house at Kingsley Lake which was not too far from Jacksonville. Southwest of the city as I remember. It was a perfectly round lake formed by a lime sinkhole. The Branch family and the Harrell family plus some other cousins would have a grand time on our “vacation” at the lake. Swimming all day, playing the pin ball machines at Strickland’s Landing, eating sandwiches in a picnic setting, getting a tan, trying to catch fish with our hands and anything else we could dream up were all the order of the day. We usually stayed a week and it was a wonderful time for all of us which will never be forgotten.
But, everything about the Branch family and our trips to Florida was centered around Market Street. That special little bungalow in the fifties, situated on a quiet street in an older neighborhood is forever emblazoned in my memory. The fun all of the cousins had playing in the yard is something most children either don’t want to do or can’t do today. Yes, it was a different era and it was very special. All of the cousins now have our own children, grandchildren and great grands today. Time continues to tick away. The circle of life continues but there is the bungalow on Market Street still exists in our memories as it always did.
William F. Harrell