Let’s Learn from Fernandina Beach of the Past

By Linda Hart Green
Linda Hart Green

“Why did people here turn so ugly?” mused Lisa Williams, her big green eyes open wide. Lisa is one of the artists who rents studio space in my gallery, Shady Ladies Art. We sat down with a glass of wine after closing time. Both of us had experienced a frustrating day.

Lisa is a longtime Fernandina resident. She is clear to say she was not born here. “That’s different,” she cautioned me.

I asked if we could talk about how she sees this community now and how it is different from when she first moved here a few decades ago, at age 27. She was eager to do so and gave me permission to use her name and her observations.

Here are some of the things she experienced as a young wife, mother and business owner of a wallpapering business. “First of all, everybody knew everybody and I mean everybody!” she said. The island’s permanent population was that small.

Things were so quiet in the winter, restaurants closed for three months. People with service industry jobs (which Lisa said was just about every young person on the island) had to budget to make it through that time. At one point, she tended bar at the Down Under restaurant in the summer and made a dollar extra for every dozen oysters she shucked. On a busy night, she could make $100.

“That’s a dirty job and they are hard to open,” I said.

She replied she can shuck oysters like nobody’s business and was glad to do it to help feed her two young boys.

“We had the mills and the hospital for regular jobs. We were glad for the tourists. We didn’t call them that. We called them visitors. We welcomed them,” Lisa said.

It was a great place to raise her boys who had free reign of the island with other children. Parents watched over each other’s children and if yours misbehaved in public, you’d know about it. One day, she was driving home from work and saw a boy break a glass bottle and throw it on the lawn of the funeral home on Atlantic Avenue. She pulled her car over to the curb, rolled down the window, and shouted, “You wait right there! I am going home to get a broom and you are going to clean that up.” He waited, head hung down. She came back and he cleaned it up.

The driving force was community, according to Lisa. “Everyone cared how they acted in public because you didn’t want anyone to talk bad about you. If you acted out, the people who saw you knew 50 people who knew you, and word would get around. People were accepting of differences. Color, class or politics. We didn’t want any hurt feelings. We had respect for each other. We wanted to be good neighbors.”

She is quick to say it wasn’t perfect. But people put things aside to work together.

“And what about now?” I asked.

“The changes are a gut punch to me,” she said, her eyes tearing up. “I don’t understand why people turned so ugly.”

Yet she did have some ideas of why. “Social media is one reason,” she rolled her eyes. “People say things on there they would not say to your face.”

And obviously, the island has grown, she acknowledged. While the population is still relatively small, people don’t know everyone like before. There isn’t the same sense of mutual responsibility and caretaking, she said. Then there was the change in politics, and next – boom – COVID.

“It was a one-two punch,” Lisa said.

Her observations reminded me of a portion of one of my favorite poems, “Red Brocade,” by Naomi Shihab Nye.

The Arabs used to say, when a stranger appears at your door, feed him for three days before asking who he is, where he’s come from and where he’s headed. That way, he’ll have strength enough to answer. Or by then, you’ll be such good friends you don’t care. Let’s go back to that.

We can’t recreate the past, but we can learn from it. We can examine our values and our behaviors in public. We can be good neighbors. We can show respect and not intentionally cause hurt feelings. Let’s go back to that.

Linda Hart Green is Pastor Emeritus of Emmanuel Church, Ridgewood, New Jersey, and co-owner of Shady Ladies Art Studios and Gallery in Fernandina Beach. She holds an M.Div. and a Certificate in Pastoral Leadership Development from Princeton Theological Seminary.

Editor’s note: The Observer welcomes thoughtful commentaries when submitted. The opinions expressed in any commentary are solely those of the writer.

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Mark Tomes
Trusted Member
Mark Tomes(@mtomes)
11 months ago

As someone who spent much of his childhood in Fernandina, got away to get a different perspective, and have now returned, I can say that the mythical viewpoint portrayed of our community in this article belies the reality in past years of underlying racism, good old boy politics, major pollution from the mills, and oppression of any deviation from the white social norm. (I find the ugliness that the author comments on to be more spoken aloud today than behind peoples’ backs, as it was before.) But fortunately, our community has become much more accepting (as a whole) of people who are different from the norm. I find in our community that people still care for each other, the definition of normal has broadened, and overall we are better than we were. Now, if we could just get some affordable housing and more bike paths on the island. 🙂

lehartgreen
Noble Member
lehartgreen(@lehartgreen)
11 months ago
Reply to  Mark Tomes

True, Mark. I just reflected from one person’s experience as shared with me. Agreed on the worthy goals you name for our future.

herman_wood
Active Member
herman_wood(@herman_wood)
11 months ago

The good old days weren’t so good for many people. Despite that, there are many, many things that we would do well to remember that are mentioned by Lisa . Civility would be a great starting point. Thank you for writing this!!

oldtimehockey
Noble Member
oldtimehockey(@oldtimehockey)
11 months ago

Social media is the problem? Social media is the platform that allows us to vent our frustration. It used to be newspapers…. And letters to the editor. It used to be dear Abby.

No, our problem stems from radical feminism. Women wanted to be more like men thinking the grass was greener on the other side. Contraception, abortion on demand and divorce at will. Women used to be the glue that held the family unit together. Now they’re more likely to break up the family unit. We all know that if you break down the family unit you break down society. Female baby boomers have done more to ruin this country than any other class of people at any other time in our short 250 year history.

You want to go back to the way it was? Start acting like women again and let men act like men. Certainly wasn’t perfect…. But it was much better than we have today. Thanks boomers.

Last edited 11 months ago by oldtimehockey
Paula M
Noble Member
Paula M(@paula-m)
11 months ago
Reply to  oldtimehockey

No words can really reply to this..other than maybe go back to the cave…

rconrad
Noble Member
rconrad(@conrad2k)
11 months ago
Reply to  oldtimehockey

Simply no words to respond to this misogyny.

Mark Tomes
Trusted Member
Mark Tomes(@mtomes)
11 months ago
Reply to  oldtimehockey

Is oldtimehockey just trolling, trying to stir things up? I thought this site was going to require real names of commenters…

Paula M
Noble Member
Paula M(@paula-m)
11 months ago
Reply to  Mark Tomes

Well it takes courage to use your real name.

Mike Phillips
Editor
Trusted Member
Mike Phillips(@mphillips)
11 months ago
Reply to  Mark Tomes

Of course he’s trolling. But we have his name and address. We’re in the midst of an email verification process that should be done this week. And, of course, we know who oldtimehockey is. When we get caught up with the technical stuff we’ll give him a golden opportunity to troll under his real name. –Mike Phillips

RichardCain
Noble Member
RichardCain(@richardcain)
11 months ago
Reply to  Mark Tomes

As the editor says … of course he’s trolling. He’s written an over the top comment … hiding behind anonymity … so everyone can be outraged and post their outrage. For all you know … it is one of your fellow travelers posting this to provide such an opportunity. It is a popular tactic. And then we have “Paula M” talking about courage in using your real name … I sincerely doubt M is her legal surname. But whatever.

Paula M
Noble Member
Paula M(@paula-m)
11 months ago

good article

angeldoccie2003@yahoo.com
Noble Member
[email protected](@angeldoccie2003yahoo-com)
11 months ago

Thank you for posting this Linda

julie ferreira
Active Member
julie ferreira(@julie-ferreira)
11 months ago

Mr. Oldtimehockey— damn those women who wanted to be able to have a credit card in their own name without their husband’s permission. Who were interested in social equality, equal pay, wanted control over their own bodies, spoke out against men’s violence against women through rape, domestic violence and sexual harassment. 

How heinous was that Mary Tyler Moore person who fought tv executives to be able to wear capri pants as housewife Laura Petrie on “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” in the early 1960’s. That certainly messed up everything in society!!!

Sadly seems Mr. Oldtimehockey loves the “Cult of True Womanhood” and all those pious, submissive trad-wives submitting to their husbands like it’s 1959. 

Although change and advancement have been gradual, I personally give thanks to the women who fought a male-dominated system from the 1800’s Suffragette Movement and the 19th Amendment to more modern day equal pay for equal work.

Thank you trailblazers. The cat is out of the bag and there’s no going back.  

Last edited 11 months ago by julie ferreira