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Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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At berry stand, tart comes with the sweet
By ANDREW SKERRITT
Published June 15, 2007
As the traffic got busier and more fancy houses cropped up along Hale Road, the small homemade sign seemed increasingly out of place.
But people noticed it and for the last 27 years they responded to its invitation. From April until June, folks would drive from St. Petersburg and New Port Richey to Land O' Lakes in search of fresh blackberries.
Betty Franzel would be waiting for them in the small, makeshift fruit shed. If they didn't pick where she sent them, she'd let them know. She never had much patience for fussy pickers who complained about the size or the quality of the berries. But still, they were her customers and each spring she looked forward to the same old faces who came for the fresh berries to make pies, jam and cobbler.
But this has been a slow, dry berry season. Customers have been scarce, like the rain. The berry crop is just about picked over. And Betty Franzel is tired. On Saturday, she'll open the field and fruit stand for the very last time.
"I'm 87 years old, " she said this week as she stood at the fruit stand in the middle of the 3-acre berry patch. "I'm too old to do this."
Franzel belongs to a different kind of Land O'Lakes, one that's disappearing fast.
When she and her husband, Walter, first arrived in 1947, Hale Road was a sandy wagon trail. Now a steady flow of cars speed by heading for U.S. 41 or Collier Parkway.
Sixty years ago, the only dwelling around was a log cabin in the woods.
The couple built themselves a homestead and raised a son and a daughter. Walter, who served stateside in the Army during World War II, spent decades in the Army Reserves and worked as a state auditor. He died in 2000.
Betty's life has always been this 45-acre expanse of pasture and ponds called Shadow Acres - for Copper Shadow, the first of the palomino horses that she and Walter used to raise and show.
Both of her children have long moved away, but a granddaughter and her family live nearby. This land will not survive another generation undeveloped. She's resigned to that.
But she plans to be around for awhile. Her mother lived until she was 97; her grandmother, 98.
Plus, there's still work to do. This week's rain will boost her hay crop. The Angus calves have to be sent to market. And the blackberry plants? Her farmhands will mow most of them down and let the Bahia and Bermuda grass grow for hay.
She'll keep two rows of berry plants for herself, though, so next year she can make berry cobbler. She uses a simple recipe from a friend:
A stick of butter melted in a casserole dish; mix together a cup of self-rising flour, cup of milk, and a cup of sugar and pour the mixture over the butter. Add a quart of blackberries on top, then bake at 350 degrees for an hour.
That kind of treat never gets old.
Andrew Skerritt can be reached at 813 909-4602 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4602. His e-mail address is askerritt@sptime
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