For the next few months, I’m excerpting chapters from the first of two books about my early years in family medicine in Kissimmee, Florida – The Best Medicine: Tales of Humor and Hope from a Small-Town Doctor. I hope you, your family, and your friends will follow along and enjoy this trip back into the past with me and my family.
CHAPTER 10B – OUR TOWN
Dan and Boots picked us up one Sunday afternoon for a guided tour around town. “Our small-town business district has only one movie theater, the Arcade, and two breakfast joints,” Dan said.
“I like Mrs. Mac’s,” Boots said. “Dan likes Joanie’s. So, we split our breakfast dates between them.”
“Look at the horse!” Scott exclaimed from his car seat.
“That’s Makinson’s Hardware, the oldest retail hardware store in operation in the state,” Boots explained. “It was founded in 1884 by W. B. Makinson, and everyone is drawn to the life-size horse model out front. Been there as long as I can remember!” She pointed. “Barb, here’s Shore’s Men’s Wear right next door to Town and County Women’s Boutique. No need to run to Orlando for dress clothes.”
“There’s a real horse!” Scott bellowed.
Sure enough, there was a horse standing outside a store on a side street.
“That’s the Saddle Rack,” Boots said. “When Dan and I were kids, lots of stores used to have hitching posts out front for folks who rode their horses into town. This is the only one left. It’s one of two Western stores in town. The other one, Goold’s Department Store, was the first store in Florida to sell Levi jeans.”
Barb pointed to the McCrory Dime Store. “Remember, Walt. We had one of those in downtown Baton Rouge when we were growing up.”
“It has been here almost fifty years,” Dan said. “We have a surprise for you guys, but first I want to show you the redbrick Osceola County Courthouse. It was built in 1890, and it is the oldest courthouse in active use in Florida.”
It was an imposing structure. Its architectural elements included a cupola above the entrance, round arches on the portico and above the doors, and segmental arches above all the windows.
Dan pulled into a lakeside park. “You have to see our most unique and auspicious tourist attraction.”
“Dan,” Boots moaned. “Can’t we skip this atrocity?”
“They need to see the good, the bad, and the ugly,” he replied, laughing.
“It qualifies for the last two characteristics,” Boots said.
“The Monument of the States!” Dan exclaimed, pointing toward a fifty-foot-tall monolithic conglomeration of various-sized squares and rectangles, each containing words and objects.
“It’s hideous,” Barb whispered.
“Walt, it was conceived by a retired physician after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor as a symbol of America. It was built by volunteers, using donated stones and artifacts sent by the governors of forty-three states, as well as everyday citizens from every state and twenty-one countries. It is made of more than fifteen hundred stones and includes meteors, stalagmites, petrified wood, teeth and bones, and even a rock from President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s estate in New York. It’s called The Most Unique Tourist Attraction in the World.”
“Well, it’s certainly unique!” was all I could think to say.
“Look,” Barb said, pointing, “near the top. It says, ‘Harvard Medical School.’”
“I graduated from Harvard,” I told Dan. He looked surprised.
“I thought you went to LSU.”
“Well, we call LSU Harvard on the Bayou.
As we drove north of the city limits, Barb leaned over to me and whispered, “This town is darling.”
Boots pointed out the headquarters of the Tupperware Corporation.
“A man by the name of Earl Silas Tupper founded it,” Dan said.
“Thus, the term Tupperware,” Boots added. “It’s now world-famous for home parties where they sell their air-tight plastic containers used for food storage.”
“I have a bunch of them,” Barb said. Her voice deepened as she imitated a popular advertisement: “With their patented burping seal, which distinguishes them from their competitors.”
“You’ve been watching far too much TV,” Boots said, laughing.
“Right up here,” Dan added, “we have another of Kissimmee’s world-famous attractions, Gatorland. Boots and I would like to take you all if that’s okay,”
The kids cheered as we pulled up and parked. We walked through a giant replica of a gator’s mouth widely open. As Dan bought tickets, Barb pointed to a sign that read, “The Alligator Capital of the World.” A high-school student gave us a brief tour.
“Gatorland houses countless alligators and crocodiles of all sizes, from babies, known as grunts, to fourteen-foot monsters. Don’t miss our two-thousand-foot-long swamp walk over our breeding marsh. The producers of the movie Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, filmed just last year, used our breeding marsh as a set for parts of the movie. We have tall observation towers there so you can be on the lookout for our rare albino, or leucistic, alligators.”
The kids laughed in glee during a show called the Gator Jumparoo in which some of their jumping alligators would lunge out of the water to snag pieces of chicken held four to five feet above. I enjoyed the Alligator Wrestling Show; however, Dan, Boots, Scott, and Kate most enjoyed the ride around and through the attraction on a small steam-driven train. As we left the park, Scott, but not Kate, had pictures taken with a baby alligator (with a band holding its powerful jaws shut) and a boa constrictor!
“This is old Florida at its best!” Dan exclaimed as we drove away. I had no reason to argue. Our admiration and affection for the Autreys were growing daily. I secretly wondered if they might not become honorary parents for us and grandparents for our kids.[i]
TO BE CONTINUED
[i] For this chapter, I refreshed my memory with the following: (1) “Makinson Hardware—Oldest in the State of Florida,” Osceola County, tinyurl.com/yxo9c2h5; (2) Annie Tin, “Five-and-Dime’s Demise Saddens Loyal Customers,” Orlando Sentinel, June 16, 1990, tinyurl.com/uyr6k8q (subscription required); (3) “1890: The Red Brick Courthouse,” Ninth Judicial Circuit Court of Florida, tinyurl.com/y5cduufs; (4) “Monument of States,” Wikipedia, tinyurl.com/wwkh7yy; (5) Roobini Aruleswaran, “Tupper and Wise—Inventive and Innovative,” Innovation Excellence, tinyurl.com/yxq5psqn; (6) “From Tails to Tales: Stalking a Dream,” Gatorland, tinyurl.com/ycofdwmd; (7) Lauren McFaul, “Reptiles Get Star Status at Gatorland,” Orlando Sentinel, October 13, 1984, tinyurl.com/y33qwdk4 (subscription required); and (8) “Osceola County History: A Step Back in Time,” an insert supplement to the Osceola News-Gazette, January 20, 2020.
This excerpt from The Best Medicine: Tales of Humor and Hope from a Small-Town Doctor is provided with the permission of the publisher Baker/Revell. You can learn more about the book or purchase a copy here.
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