tampabay.com

Those who lived it tell the story

The idea: talk and listen to people in their 70s, 80s and older who've been here most or all their lives.

By MICHAEL KRUSE
Published October 13, 2006


BROOKSVILLE - Out Lake Lindsey Road, under the hanging Spanish moss on the tall thick oaks, past the cows and the hills and the general store with the rusty tin roof, Murray Grubbs walks around the grounds of the place where his people stay forever.

"Come back here now," he says. "I'll show you where it all begun."

His great-grandfather is buried here.

His grandfather is buried here.

His father is buried here.

His brother is buried here.

He will be buried here.

Grubbs, 78, a former insurance salesman and Hernando County commissioner, born-and-bred Brooksville, is one of almost 20 longtime local folks the Times talked to for a project that starts today and runs throughout the coming week as this town celebrates its 150th anniversary.

The initial idea was broad: Just sit down and talk on tape with people in their 70s and 80s or older, people born in the '20s and '30s and '40s, who have been here for all or most of their lives, and listen to what they say and what they've seen. The finished product comes in words, photos, slide shows and audio clips on our Web site at tampabay.com. It is the story of Brooksville - the story of Florida, in some ways, in many ways - and it is told by the people who have lived it.

It is not an oral history in a traditional, academic sense, and it's certainly not a political history or anything close to a complete history. What it is, though, hopefully, is a sort of social history - a look at what it was like to live here, then, which is all the more important in a place like fast-growing Florida, where so many people seem to have arrived yesterday and just need to know where the Publix is, and how to get to the 7-Eleven and the parkway, and quick.

Brooksville is a good, small place to get at big, important themes.

A tractor and its straw-hatted driver might still scoot across State Road 50 now and again. But the town is no longer the kind of place where lawyers get paid in peach pie and grouper.

Development has come, and continues to come, and more than ever before.

But Brooksville always has been a fault line.

In the 1800s, according to local historian Roger Landers, it was the far southern edge of the plantation belt. In the 1900s, in the boom of the '20s, and then again post-World War II, it was a place where the New South started to run up against the old. Now, housing developments in and around the town are about to change it, in size and feel, more than anything, arguably, in the last century. Today's Brooksville is the far northern edge of Tampa Bay's exurbs.

The "Greatest Generation" all over has seen this country go from the Great Depression to World War II to everything that has happened since - sweeping, seismic changes, and in a relative snap, from FDR's fireside chats to iPods and blogs. But this generation in Florida in particular has seen even more of that because the last 60 years here have brought more change to this state than the previous four centuries.

Around Brooksville, there are people living, still, who didn't have electricity or running water or a phone until they were in high school.

They are part of this project. They are this project.

Their lives are the tissue connecting the old and the new.

And their personal histories on this land are of this land, the actual, tangible dirt.

"A lot of old families here," Murray Grubbs says in the cemetery.

"All my kinfolks," he says.

He walks from his great-grandfather's plot, slowly, then to his grandfather's, then to his parents', where he stops and stands still. He takes a white handkerchief from the left front pocket of his slacks and wipes the sweat from his face. It's quiet except for the cicadas and the birds as the sun gets high and hot, in this old cemetery, in this old town, in this new state, and the dew on the ground begins to disappear.

Michael Kruse can be reached at mkruse@sptimes.com or 352 848-1434.