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DUNCAN U. FLETCHER

     High School

          

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Clint Sykes on Life at the Jacksonville Beaches, Florida  and Fletcher High School, 1939-45.

Correspondence in December, 2001-February, 2002.

    My first year at Fletcher started in September, 1939. My father had a teaching contract at Fletcher. We had just moved to the beach (115 17th Avenue N.). It must have been September 2. We were having sandwiches made from those FINE rolls and cold cuts from Arnaud's Bakery [Arnot's] at Pablo Avenue/1st Street. We heard on the radio, a popular appliance in those days, that the Germans had just invaded Poland. Flunkem U. Betcha had just opened. It was for grades 9-12. I began grade 9 and graduated from grade 12 in May, 1943. All of these were the war years—the ''big one.'' All of these were wonderful years.
I was the first SYKES born on this side of the big pond. My folks must have planned it so that I was born on JULY 4, 1925. All my relatives were from England. I was too young to understand that England, France, et al., declared war on Germany that day. We still had family in England and knew they'd be in harm's way. We had gone to see ''Lucky Teeter's Auto Show'' at the football stadium (later to be the Gator Bowl) in Jax the Sunday when Pearl Harbor was  bombed. A policeman directing the traffic jam leaving the stadium told us what had happened as we inched along bumper to bumper. Even this news didn't really register on me at the time, but I'm sure I knew it was serious. And ——IT WAS!!!
I distinctly remember a ship being torpedoed straight east of the 5th Avenue pier. The noise rocked us out of our sleep. We saw "tracers" being fired by the submarine at the hapless ship. A few days later machine gunned life rafts and other debris washed ashore at "the inlet" just south of  P[onte]V[edra] Beach. Then, there was the time the Nazi saboteurs landed just south of P[onte] V[edra] Beach. The F.B.I. tracked them and picked up all their contacts, and them, in Chicago, N.Y. City, etc. But you knew all that. Dad was asst warden at the beaches, so as his "gofer" I got to patrol with him——"executive privilege," I guess.
  

These news items explain the beach was closed to non-defense vehicles for awhile and the board barricades kept car lights from shining out to sea at the ramps to silhouette the ships at sea.

My pass to get onto the Beaches. It was checked by the military at the Intracoastal Canal on the old beach road---by bus or car. Back then, there was only one main road to the beach. A-1-A south of Ponte Vedra to St. Augustine was closed. The Army had gun emplacements along that route.

 

Mabry: What did Fletcher kids do on dates when you were  there? Go to dances? The movies?


I was slow, ugly and unwanted. I have no idea what kids did on dates in high school. Next time around I'll know more and do better, but I'm sure ugly will stick around.

Mabry: Did you play sports?

Sykes: I was too small at  5' 3'', 98lbs to play football and too short and uncoordinated to play basketball. I did earn letters in tennis and bowling. These weren't the "fames" the girls were seeking. I was good at Monopoly and building model airplanes. I excelled in kick-the-can," body surfing, swimming, delivering my newspaper route, but these talents weren't  shared by my classmates. When you look up "dull" in the dictionary, my picture will be above it.
    My mode of transportation was a bicycle. This wasn't a popular mode of transportation of the beautiful, lovely, popular All-American girls in my class. Things improved as I aged, but I couldn't find out how to turn the calendar back.
    I spent many hours delivering my paper route from Pine Street in Neptune Beach southward to 15th Avenue in Jax Beach. Also, I worked at "Stewart's Grocer" at 15th Avenue at First Street. One could wonder how I consider these (1939-43) as the best years of my life.

In response to seeing  a late 1950s' picture of the boardwalk:

 

Yea, that looks familiar. The old roller coaster is gone, not to forget the pier and ''The Flag'' on the boardwalk at 5th are gone (near the Sandpiper Pool and Bathhouse). And, LOL, that looks like a nor'easter is brewing!! LOOK---we had a nice wide beach. The last time I was there in 1998 they were pumping sand to make a beach that at low water ebb must have been about 50-feet wide at most.
    Wish I was there. I have an idea on how to put in steel-reinforced concrete pilings for the new pier that would last forever and a day. I haven't bothered to patent the system or discuss it. I gave up development of a cold drink called 6-UP, and you know what came after that. As I told you, I put the story of my life on the backside of my business card....
    During W.P.A. days my grandfather worked on building the new Beach Blvd. The bridge across the canal, and WW II, were the holdups on finishing that project. He would tell of eating the oysters in the marshes for lunch.
    Who would do that today?? Most of that land has been developed for housing and marinas.
It's been fun reminiscing with you.

    This photo is in my files. I had graduated from a bicycle to this Cushman motor scooter to deliver my paper route. If everyone paid their delivery bill, and they seldom did, I might have cleared $15 a week. On Friday afternoons we delivered the Star Edition. It had a section  for the ''black Americans.'. I threw about five of these for the maids, chauffeurs, of a few of the wealthier families. One reason the boardwalk dried up was due to the fact they couldn't hire anyone to be ''Molasses and January'' or ''Amos and Andy''. There was nobody for the tourists to throw 3-balls for a quarter to dunk them in the tank. ''Bubba and Cockroach'' were white so they couldn't generate business. Then, they went so far as to outlaw gambling on the little mice racing into multicolored holes on the spinning lazy-Susan. Bingo parlors were taboo. Carneys selling those trick deck of cards where every other card was the ace of spades were banned. The whole economy of the Beach was crippled!!!
    Oh, for the days of cotton candy, saltwater taffy, candied apples, hotdogs, hamburgers and rides on the Tilt-a-Whirl, bumpcars and the roller coaster. I never won a cupie doll swinging the maul trying to get that weight to go up that slack wire to ring the bell. And, we didn't complain that the sights were bent on the rifles at the shooting gallery. Ce la guerre!!! (Hope my spellchecker will correct my French). Mrs. Edith Merrill used to check my spelling at Flunkem U. Betcha in those good ole days.

    The high school was brick red. Our class was the first to use the new school. We had the ''honor'' of being the first class to start the ninth grade and go through to graduation in May, 1943.



    Frank Doggett didn't let us roam. No swimming, no trips, and I think we had to ''skip'' to have our Senior Day at the pool across A1A from the Ponte Vedra Inn. '
Course, these were the war years, so gas, cars, tires, busses, etc. were rationed or in very short supply.
    I never did see Fletcher painted white. My ties to the beach thinned after graduating from the U[niversity]of F[lorida] in 1947 and career moves took we ever westward, save for trips home to visit my folks who had moved into South Jax.

I knew he [Frank Doggett ] was scholarly. Two classmates of mine taught at Fletcher---Fred Coney Allen , and Elizabeth "Betty"  _____ (whoops, a memory glitch). Fred lives in Atlantic Beach, Betty Hunter (remembered her last name) passed away in the past few years. We lived in a small garage apartment at 115 17th Avenue North in Jax Beach. I think our rent was $35 a month. I'd go back for a LONG visit at that price, but in 1998 a motel on the bulkhead at 15th Avenue socked it to me for $75 a nite (A.A.A./Senior Citizen rate). No, I furnished my own bedfellow----my wife. It was Mattie's last enjoyable trip---she passed  away 6-months later (January, 1999) after a 5-year struggle with dreaded cancer. She shared my love for Jax Beach, although she swam like a rock. But,,,,I ramble......

Mabry: Did you lose classmates in WWII?

Sykes:  Otis Boxx of Mayport is the only one I knew [who died in WWII]. Carolyn Gates, a classmate, I think lost her brother ''Red''---a Fletcher cheerleader. In a sense, we were lucky not to have lost other close friends and classmates.


Don Mabry: How many people in your class?

Clint Sykes: Just counted those in class picture. About 47. A later class about 67.   So, 4 grades averaging 50 would make a total of 200. Andre Biolinki taught math, so if I'm wrong---it's his fault. Your total sounded more like the census for the Beaches, which I always thought was only 2,500 people. Funny how too many people ruin things.... It just occurred to me. If Fletcher was ever painted white, I bet those @#$!?*&^ blamed it on me!!!
    Someone used to set fire to the sedge grass and palmetto on the vacant lots. We chased rabbits fleeing the fire trying to whop 'em with our  broomsticks. Just being there made you the #1 arson suspect. But, t'wernt me----all I did was chase rabbits. There were other furry things to chase (meow), but I didn't get into that 'till I got to college. I promise you I never hit one of those with a broomstick... But, I ramble.....

Mabry: Guess we all wish we were young and innocent again. Of  course, we know that it was you hitting those rabbits!

Yea, guilty, but I never set the fire. We didn't have TV.  My Dad was in the "top pay" group--a fat $1,900 a year.  He taught at the U.of F., and the girls college in Milledgesville, GA during summer breaks. I can assure you that his students didn't call him "Leslie"--even at home I knew him as "Mr. Sykes."

Sykes: My most vivid memory? My father taught at Fletcher so I was not welcome in most cliques.

My Children. I'm proud of them. All three daughters live in Lufkin {Texas]--two married with two children each, and ...

I retired from the U.S. Forest Service after a 40 year career in Forestry. Assignments were in Florida, Mississippi, Georgia, Tennessee, Louisiana, and Texas. My parents left Jacksonville about 1975 and moved here so my contacts with my few high school friends virtually ceased.

The teacher who most influenced my life was Mrs. Helen Merrill, English--she was tough on us but it benefited us throughout life.

Yes, ''Helen'' Merrill was my most feared teacher. We dubbed her teaching method as ''A test a day the Merrill way''. She would sit and grin at us as we suffered the ordeal of her daily exams. I've told the story that we swapped papers and graded each others exams. At the end she'd ask, ''Clinton, what did you make??'' I'd proudly announce ''82''. She'd  retort to the class, ''anyone who made more than 82 passes''. It seems I set the grade curve for the class. If I had told her my test grade was ''50'',  she'd say that anyone who scored over 50 passed.

Mabry: Did you go into Jacksonville very often?

Sykes: No, we didn't get into Jax very often. As I've mentioned, gasoline/tires were rationed. You didn't get far on 3-gallons a week, and those tires had to last a whole ''wartime.''. New cars were not to be had. Then, my paper route kept me busy six days a week. We'd go into Jax to visit my maternal grandparents at 2165 Dellwood Avenue in the Riverside subdivision.

Mabry: A friend asked about "tokens" and rationing during WWII. Do you remember anything about that?

Sykes: I don't remember ''tokens'', not to say they weren't used. Nor do I remember how many pounds of sugar you'd get for how many ration stamps. It did bring about the use of honey as a sweetener in coffee, cooking, etc. Somehow  I think we got 3-gallons of gas for one A-stamps per week. The C-stamps  were issued to some business users---worth an extra 5-gallons of gas per  week. Meat/butter, and a few other items were rationed, but I don't recall  how many stamps it took to buy what. Forget it if you needed a new car or tires. We lucked out---Dad bought a new DeSoto car about a month before  rationing began. It, and its tires, carried us through the war rationing years.

[Mabry: By April 1942, there was a limitation of a half pound of sugar per person and by November, rationing of coffee had started. Every person fifteen years old or better was permitted one pound every five weeks. See the ration book.]

 Photos From the 1940s

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