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For their own good
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.
BROOKSVILLE - From his 3-acre plot just off Spring Lake Highway, Samuel Stokes has withstood the occasionally lean economic times of the fruit-picking business, the intrusion of Interstate 75 and the usual assortment of personal setbacks for nearly 60 years.
There's no way a fire is going to run him off. Not now, at 83, with a wife and seven decades of tireless devotion to this soil.
"I ain't going nowhere," Stokes said with a laugh Tuesday, a day after a fire gutted his home in the Twin Lakes area south of Brooksville.
"If I leave here, I'm going to fly away."
The Monday afternoon blaze drove Stokes and his wife, Alice, from their single-wide mobile home at 27492 Church Road around 4:30 p.m. Alice Stokes had been cooking chicken and then stepped outside, according to an incident report.
Alice Stokes soon noticed the kitchen was on fire and yelled out to alert her husband, who was sitting in the bedroom. "I was afraid," she said. "I knew my husband was in there."
But Samuel Stokes heard the commotion outside and quickly made his way out of the bedroom, past the burning kitchen and out the front door.
Stokes said he tried to douse the flames, but to no avail. When firefighters arrived minutes later, the home had already been engulfed. The Stokeses could only watch as their home of the past four years burned almost completely to the ground.
"I miss my home," Samuel Stokes said. "I would love to build another one here."
Not surprisingly, Stokes has a deep attachment to this serene tract along Church Road in Twin Lakes, one of Hernando County's oldest black settlements. He moved here from Wildwood in Sumter County in the late 1940s, hoping to work as a fruit picker and live with his uncle.
He built a home in the early 1950s and moved into a mobile home a decade later when the land was needed to build I-75. Stokes inherited the property when his uncle died in 1975, and he lived in a couple of other mobile homes over the years before settling on the latest one.
The fire drove Stokes and his wife out of their home but not off the property. For the moment, they have wedged themselves into a smaller mobile home, one of several they own on the land that houses members of their fledging ministry, New Life in Christ Church of God Twin Lake Inc.
"I've known Sam for almost 30 years, maybe longer," said Johnny Fickling, who lives on the property. "I know this hurts him. This is not a good start to the new year for him, for sure."
On Tuesday afternoon, Alice Stokes poked around each of the homes, doing chores while her husband entertained a guest and watched his two dogs, Jericho, a dachshund, and Tupelo, a chihuahua, wrestle in the dirt.
Samuel Stokes has started thinking about the future, about when he will be gone and his wife will need a sturdier place to call home.
"I hope I can leave her a home," he said. "I want to leave her in a better place."