Hi, my name is Bobby Lee, that's right, Robert Edward Lee. My mother always called me Bobby. I wanted to go by Eddie in school, to avoid the ribbing from being named after General Lee, but Mama told me that wasn't the reason she named me Robert. Her family always had a Robert in every generation. I was it, and the last one; all of my cousins were girls.
I thought I was going to get out of some of the ribbing because my high school had Navy ROTC. No such luck, they called me general anyway.
After I got out of the navy, I only did one hitch. I felt like I did my duty. I took the money I had put away and won gambling and started a logging business.
My family had a tradition of logging and sawmilling throughout the generations. My Grand Daddy Lee had worked in a saw mill and cruised timber on horseback until the War in France (WWI for those of you not from our part of the country). After that, he ran a furniture store in Miami. He sold out just before the depression and moved back to Georgia just in time to lose most of his money when the banks went belly up. He and Grandma took her cut of the money from the store (she didn't trust banks) and bought a farm. That farm fed my dad's family through the depression. My Uncle JC wouldn't eat peas up until he died because he ate so many peas during the "Hoover Days".
My Great Grandpa Hollis was also in the timber business. He ran a cypress logging crew out of Fort Myers in the early part of the 20th century. Later on, he was a carpenter. He farmed, but it didn't really agree with him. He liked girls, and married three times, widowed twice.
It tickled me that the newspaper would write up a business in town that made an expansion that spent a quarter of a million dollars, but wouldn't mention a new business in the county that spent $350 thousand, hired five people and paid them good wages.
I worked and learned and grew my business until I had three crews and was making some money at it. My Dad was a good businessman and taught me about watching trends in business and the news. In the late nineties, I didn't like what I saw, so I sold my business for a good sum, and went home to decide what to do now. Hell, I was only thirty-two.
I stayed around the house and visited the family for a week or so and was going stir crazy. I was used to working and getting up at 5:00 in the morning.
About that time, Mr. James Edward Thrash decided to retire from farming. He was about 70 and his wife had finally talked him into taking it easy for a while. I bought the Thrash Farm, 1350 acres, lock, stock and barrel for 3.3 Million and traded my Condo at Destin for his old house.
I wasn't broke now, but I was definitely not as wealthy as I was. I sat down and thought about it, and figured that I could "come out" farming if I didn't have to borrow to make a crop. The way I saw it, I had enough capital to make three crops, if I had total failures. I hoped I wouldn't have total failures. I had the land, free and clear, so if I had to, I could sell out and continue to live like I wanted to if I didn't like farming. A fellow told me one time; you could always subdivide it and grow yankees. That was one crop I wasn't interested in growing.
The part of the state where my place was located had a history of growing peanuts and produce. I figured I would try to grow produce, since it had a good record for income production. The home place also had 6.2 acres of pecans (according to the Farm Services Administration people) so I would need to cultivate a working relationship with a couple of families of laborers to help with produce harvest and picking up pecans when it was time.
I checked out the equipment and found it to be in good shape. I guess old man Thrash planned to farm next year and kept his stuff up.
I talked to my friends and family who had been successful at farming to get their opinions about crop choices, planting, and maintenance. Armed with all this information, as well as all the printed matter I could carry from the County Agent's Office, I sat down and mapped the place and planned the fields and rotations.
In October, I began breaking the land to get it ready for planting in the spring. I put out fertilizer on the pecans, and checked closely to see if I had a crop to harvest. I had a medium crop of pecans, so I made arrangements with two families to help with the picking up for a week or two in November.
The Ritters were a local family that had been farm hands for a couple of generations. Tex and Janie had two boys Tex, Jr. and Abel of 14 and 12 respectively, and one girl of 16, Amy. They would all come and help with the pecans.
The Lopez family was my neighbors. They came up from Mexico to work on the produce harvest every summer. They got green cards this year and were staying for the year. Jose and Maria had four children Pepe was 15, Paco was 13, Jaime was 12 and Linda was 17. I think one reason they stayed over was so Linda could finish high school here.
Jose suggested that I have the trees shaken so they could be picked up in a timely manner. Tex was a hard drinker and was just going to show up to work. One reason the Lopez's wanted to work for me was that I could speak pretty good Spanish from two years of high school and my years stationed in the Philippines. Spanish isn't the Philippines official language, it is a hold-over from the Spanish occupation, but you can get along in it.
The next week, after the trees got shaken, we began picking up the pecans. They were in good shape and there were more of them than I thought. Janie Ritter asked me if I could hold back part of their pay so Tex wouldn't drink it all up. I took care of that problem by paying everybody for what they picked up individually, each day. I was only required to keep up with expenditures and didn't have to withhold anything from the checks since they were day labor. I talked to Jose and Maria about hiring one of their family for a regular job on the farm. I needed to have someone to help with the usual things that one person doesn't have time to do on a farm. I wound up hiring Linda to take care of the house and run errands for the farm. It was her Mama's idea that she help me, since she could drive, cook and spoke really good English. It was fine with me. I liked the idea of having a really good looking girl around the house. Linda was just like her name, pretty. One of those beautiful senoritas you always hear about.
I really liked both families, except Tex, and we got along fine.
I actually grossed about $4500 from the pecans after it was all said and done. Janie and her kids worked every day. Tex worked about four days a week. I guess he was too hung over the other days to show up. Both families were happy with what they made picking up the pecans, and I was happy for them. I picked up about half a day every day also. The pecans netted about $250/acre.
Thanksgiving came and went; Linda worked a couple of hours every afternoon. She kept my house clean and was a great cook. She could cook the Mexican food and also had learned to cook country food, what so many people in the 70's used to call soul food.
Two weeks before Christmas, I answered a knock on the door. It was Janie Ritter. She looked like she had been run over by a truck. I asked, "Janie, what happened?"
"Mr. Lee, Tex tried to take our pecan money to spend on whiskey. Amy wouldn't let him have hers. He beat her up and when the boys and I tried to stop him, he beat us up, too," she answered.
I hadn't heard a car drive up, so I asked, "Where are the kids?"
She motioned out front and I saw them all standing out by the road. They had everything they could carry with them wrapped up in bed sheets.
I waved them all inside and we took their stuff and put them up in two of the large bedrooms in the old house. The house wasn't air conditioned, but it stayed fairly cool with double hung windows and ten foot ceilings, along with fans.
They all looked beat up. "What about Tex?" I asked them.
"He got fifteen dollars of my pecan money and went to buy whiskey with it. We packed up our stuff and left him," Amy answered.
Janie said, "Mr. Lee, he don't have anything anyhow, so a divorce is wasted money. If you let us stay here, we will work and help around the place. Amy and the boys are good workers, and I am a good cook."
"Okay, until you can find something better," I answered.