by Damien Lamar Robinson // Based on a True Story
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, North Jacksonville, Florida, was a mix of old-fashioned charm and coming-of-age. It was a small version of the American dream. The streets were lined with pastel-colored houses, some with white picket fences. The air was heavy with the melodic sounds of jazz and the distant rumblings of rocket launches from Cape Canaveral. A piece from a different time, however, is one house on Magnolia Street that still connects the past to the present.
The Johnsons, a family, lived in one of these homes with their three daughters: Edith, the oldest and most responsible; Leona, the middle child and most naive; and Bonita, the youngest and most outspoken.
The patriarch and breadwinner of the family, Leo, was always dressed in a perfectly tailored suit and had his hair perfectly combed back. He looked like he was straight out of a classic post-war noir movie. Everyone in the neighborhood knew how punctual he was. He was smart, a good man, and worked hard at the print press downtown on Bay Street. He was the silent strength of his time.
Leo’s wife, Elizabeth, grew up in the 1930s and 1940s, a time of great change. She stood out with her short Afro and polka-dot dresses, but her fiery personality was what really made her unique.
Back then, Elizabeth, being the mother of six children, was not content with not being a stay-at-home mom. She felt envious of her offspring and their freedoms. She was also a “fuss box.” She had a fiery and short temper. Finances at home were getting tight, and with three girls at home, she had to work part-time as a seamstress at a downtown tailor. It helped her make ends meet.
Every weeknight, Leo would get off the bus at ten-after-six after a day’s work at the printers. When he returned home to his beloved daughters, his “Mama Gals” would be waiting for him at the door. He looked like he was looking forward to spending the evening with his family, but he had other plans.
Leo couldn’t wait to quietly pull out the gift from Mabel Celeste at “The Shine House”, who was known to make the best moonshine in Duval. He would then take a sip of the smooth liquid, and it would take him away from all of his troubles, if only for a moment. He could feel the warmth…