Hoke Smith Bowden, born in Enterprise, Alabama in 1906; moved to Fort Myers, Florida in 1920. In the 1950's he opened the first Supermarket in Venice, Florida. He was my Grandfather, and I am thankful for the Life Lessons that he taught me, and the Example that he set for me.
Granddaddy was named for M. Hoke Smith, a powerful Southern politician who became Governor of Georgia the year after Granddaddy was born, and M. Hoke Smith's uncle, Confederate Hero General Robert Frederick Hoke.
Hoke Smith Bowden of Venice, Florida
Everyone called him either "Smith" or "Bowden".
In the early 1900's, Florida was entering a financial boom. My Grandfather's father wanted his family to profit from it. The entire family moved to Fort Myers, Florida just after World War I.
My Grandfather was the youngest; he was only a teenager. He worked at the Soda Counter in a Fort Myers, Florida drug store. Most afternoons during "the Season", three prominent American men would come in to enjoy a Coca-Cola for their afternoon break. These men were Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and Harvey Firestone!
Mr. Ford, Mr. Edison, and Mr. Firestone would talk with my Grandfather while they sipped on their cokes.
Granddaddy credited their sage advice with his later success in business.
Granddaddy opened the first Supermarket in Venice, Florida, his own IGA Foodliner.
He later opened a second IGA Grocery Store in Englewood, Florida
Man of Honor
In a proposed Business Venture, he was going to work at an Auto Dealership. At the Dinner Table one night, he said, "the managers and the sales people in that Trade are dishonest - I want no part of it. I am backing out." And he did.
Man of Faith
Granddaddy was a devout Christian. He not only professed Christianity, he lived it. He took us to the Methodist Church and Sunday School, read the Bible, and led his grandchildren in Prayer.
Dress for Success
My Grandfather lived in a time when Gentlemen wore coats and ties. Granddaddy always wore a white shirt and a tie, unless he was at a picnic, or at the beach. He wore a Jacket to the dinner table, and insisted that we children be "properly dressed" before sitting down to eat.
Granddaddy (left), Mr. Hightower, and Mr. Cousins
Man of the Outdoors
Granddaddy took us to Myakka River State Park every Sunday afternoon. He would cook up a pile of Sirloin Steaks on a huge Charcoal Grill. We would have a big picnic lunch. Then Granddaddy and his friends would throw Horse Shoes; us children would run off to catch minnows and climb trees.
Granddaddy would cook a lot of Steaks on a Large Grill.
He was opinionated about Steak:
"Some people want their steak well-done. That's a waste, because when the color goes, the flavor goes. But if that's what they want, then give them what they want."
Granddaddy also had an opinion about Steak Sauce, which he refused to serve: "That is to cover up the taste of Bad Cuts of Meat."
Vacation by Automobile
In the early 60's, Granddaddy piled us into his 1958 Buick Roadmaster, and we went to Highlands, North Carolina. We drove on to Cherokee, NC and Gatlinburg, Tennessee. I remember "going up" on the high mountain roads.
He took us all the way to Kentucky, before returning to Florida. It was a great adventure for Granddaddy, Grandmother, Mom, my sister Marjorie, my brother Joe, and me.
Collector of Giant Sharks' Teeth on Venice Beach
In the late 50's and early 60's, on Venice Beach, you could pick up shark's teeth by the bucketful.
Sometimes, you would find a Megalodon Tooth, as big as your hand.
Granddaddy would say, "When my family came here, those Megaladons were pretty common... but now they are about gone, and I predict that in time all these teeth will be gone."
Granddaddy was right... the shark teeth are no longer lying all over the beaches of Venice Florida, The Shark's Tooth Capital of the World.
Respect for All People
In 1960, Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus relocated their winter headquarters to Venice! The Circus Performers would buy their Groceries from Granddaddy's IGA Grocery Store.
One day I was at the store. Some of the giants and the midgets from the circus came in to shop. I was staring and pointing.
Granddaddy took me into his office and said, "Freddie, those people are different on the outside, but they are just like you and me on the inside. Now you go back out there and say, 'Hi' to those nice people, and introduce yourself. Come on, I'll go with you."
I met some wonderful people that day.
My Grandfather is buried in the same cemetery as John Ringling.
His grave is about 100 feet from Mr. Ringling's Mausoleum.
Rosy had been with my Grandparents for a long time (before my day). She was our maid, our nanny and our housekeeper. But she was a whole lot more...
When I was 5 or 6 years old, I called Rosy a very ugly name (something I had heard in school). Rosy cried and walked out of the room... I was heart-broken; she was a Mother-figure to me.
When Granddaddy came home, he sat down with me on the back patio. "Freddie, Rosy is our employee; Rosy is a different color than we are. But Rosy is our Family. She loves you as much as her own children. You have hurt her very badly today."
Granddaddy rolled up a newspaper and gave me a spanking, but that did not feel as bad as the shame and sorrow of hurting my Family.
The next day when Rosy came in, I ran up to her crying and apologizing. She picked me up and hugged me and said, "It's okay, Honey". I think that Rosy was crying, too. (Rosy and I stayed close the rest of our lives, until her passing a few years ago).
Granddaddy's friend Faye Miles
Miss Faye was the owner of the El Patio Hotel in Venice.
Miss Faye was the last of the last people that I knew from my Granddaddy's generation. My brother Joe and sister Marji "re-discovered" El Patio several years ago. We enjoy staying there when we go home to Venice. Miss Faye always talks about "Garland" (my Grandmother) and "Bowden" my Grandfather. She talks as if they are in the room with her... then she sighs, and says that she misses them.
I last saw Faye Miles in the summer of 2010. She was 102 years old, she passed away a few weeks later. The El Patio Hotel was recently Sold.
True Friendship - Mr. Barone
Mr. Barone was a science teacher, and the engineer for the only radio station in town. He would sometimes come by the house; Granddaddy would go outside to meet him. They would argue. Their conversations were animated and heated. I didn't know what they were talking about.
My Grandmother would see me peeping out the window; she would say something pleasant, such as, "your Grandfather and Mr. Barone are friends, but they don't always see eye to eye".
But I did not think that Mr. Barone was a friend of my Grandfather. Why would a "friend" argue whenever they were together?
In 1968 my Granddaddy died unexpectedly. He was only 62 years old.
There was a Viewing at the Venice Nokomis Methodist Church.
Mr. Barone stood for a while by my Grandfather's coffin. Then he knelt down, and wept openly.
He came over to my Grandmother... tears were running down his face. Mr. Barone said, "I loved Bowden like a brother... he was my friend... he was my best friend."
His funeral was held at Venice Nokomis Methodist Church, the same church where my Grandfather had lain in 1968.
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Granddaddy's House at Palermo Place
Granddaddy's house was a 1926 Model Home, from the Glory Days of Venice, Florida.
When my parents got divorced, Mom and my brother and sister and I lived in this house with our Grandparents.
In the year 2001 I contacted the owner about Buying the house. It appeared to be in disrepair. "Not interested at this time, but if we ever sell it, we will let you know." In 2007 they called. "You can have it for $575,000". I guess nobody had told them that the Market had crashed.
But could we see it? When we got there, the lady fumbled with the keys... she said, "My husband bought this in 1968, but nobody has ever lived in it... I came by the other day... before that, nobody has been inside in probably 30 or 40 years."
Walking into Granddaddy's house was like stepping into the Past. The furniture was gone, but absolutely NOTHING had been changed. My brother was with me... we were both overcome with emotion. We had not been here in 40 years, but Granddaddy's house was just like we had left it when we were children.
Regrettably, the house needed major repairs. We passed on buying it.
The house was recently sold to a gentleman who is a master at restoring historic houses. Last year he and his wife gave me a tour of the completely restored house. George had restored the house to perfection.
The house is in a Historic Preservation District, so everything had to remain "period". It is absolutely gorgeous!
In the year 1968, my Grandfather suffered a heart attack.
Mom had told me that Granddaddy had been weakened by "The Consumption" (tuberculosis) when he was young, and that he was not as strong as he looked.
Granddaddy passed away at age 62.
I thank God for my Grandfather, Hoke Smith Bowden. I only had him for 12 years, but they were wonderful years.
He taught me much, and to this day I often think, "What would Granddaddy say about this?", or "What would Granddaddy do?"
Rest in Peace, Granddaddy.