by Jim Harris
Warner Robins, Georgia, USA
Many young boys headed in the wrong direction in life never get a second chance to straighten their lives out. I did, thanks to a man who loved and cared for young men needing that second chance.
In the summer of 1958, I was sent to live with Jasper on his small farm in Myakka, Florida. Uncle Jasper, as we all called him, had a penchant for taking young boys who had gotten in trouble with the courts or came from broken homes, as I did, and turning their lives around. He was a widower and lived a simple farm life. In the morning, we milked cows, fed chickens, tended goats and sheep, only then returning to the house for a typical country breakfast before going to the fields to work for the rest of the day. The work was not unusually hard, but each of us had our chores to do and there was no fooling around.
Jasper was a man deeply rooted in the traditions of the past and a devout Christian who played the pump organ every Sunday in the old Methodist church we attended. He baked his own bread, drank milk from his own cows and goats, churned his own butter, and gathered eggs from his henhouse.
Uncle Jasper spent his early years as a school teacher in Sarasota County and had started the Vocational Agriculture program in the schools. He was always willing to allow school children to visit his farm and learn a bit about how things were done in the old days. Many of those children had never touched a goat or a sheep, heard a rooster crow, or met a milk cow. He built a shotgun cabin in his backyard out of lumber from old cabins in the area and furnished it with genuine family antiques. That way, the school children could see how their forefathers had lived. Years later, discussing “his boys” with a newspaper reporter, he confessed that one of his boys had gone astray. Wondering what tragic sin the boy had committed to warrant such concern, Uncle Jasper replied that the boy had taken strong drink. Such is the way we were raised by Uncle Jasper.
These days, I work as a corporate trainer. The old shotgun cabin has been relocated to a state park nearby, and school children still make regular visits to see how it was long ago before the days of electricity and television and video games. Thank you, Uncle Jasper, for helping me, and so many others like me, get our lives back on track.