2017-07-13 / Arts & Entertainment News


The tale of Granny, Aunt Cleo, the car and the cow

My great-grandparents, Lilla Chason Griffin and Osro P. Griffin, in Fort Pierce. My great-grandparents, Lilla Chason Griffin and Osro P. Griffin, in Fort Pierce. What is it with my family and cars?

A maternal great-grandfather loved them enough that he built one of his own — he and my grandfather even owned an Oldsmobile and Buick dealership in Indiana.

Driving wasn’t just for the men, either.

The women in my family always have driven — three of my four great-grandmothers drove and both of my grandmothers drove — fast.

My grandmother Dorothy told the tale of how their father bought a touring car of some sort around 1920 or ’21. They cleared an alley and a field in Thomasville, Ga., so he, Aunt Cleo, age 10, and Granny could learn to drive the thing. Everyone stood back and watched, she said.

They moved to Florida in 1923 before moving back to South Georgia to run the family farm. Later, when my father’s family came back to South Florida around 1929, it was my 12-year-old grandmother Dorothy who drove the truck as they headed south.

My Aunt Cleo Griffin Douthit on Palm Beach in 1933. 
FAMILY PHOTOS My Aunt Cleo Griffin Douthit on Palm Beach in 1933. FAMILY PHOTOS Yes, it was another world.

Around 1933, Aunt Cleo and Granny set out on a road trip from Fort Pierce to visit the relatives in South Georgia.

They no doubt were wearing hats and gloves as they zipped along U.S. 1 in Cleo’s tiny American Austin — the 1930s answer to the Mini Cooper.

Florida was open country back then, with towns that gave way to orange groves and pastures, where cattle freely grazed unencumbered by fences.

Indeed, if you were to have asked Cleo and Granny before they left Fort Pierce, they’d have assured you that rural Florida was a bucolic paradise.

And so it was, until they crossed a bridge and met a cow somewhere around Sebastian.

Cleo insisted the cow was grazing at the side of the road on the other side of the bridge. But by the time they had crossed, Cleo had driven the rinky-dink Roadster under the cow, which promptly relieved itself all over Granny.

The cow survived.

But Granny and Cleo were covered in the bovine response to their meeting.

It wasn’t pretty — Granny was heard to say, “Shit!” for the first time. Repeatedly.

The ladies returned home for cleanup.

When they got home, my great-grandfather and my grandmother Dorothy were there.

They tried not to laugh, but how could they not?

Of course, the more they laughed, the angrier Cleo and Granny became.

And so another family story raced into legend. ¦


An early 20th-century humidor

Bought: All Good Things, 330 N. Dixie Highway, Lake Worth; 561-547- 7606.

Paid: $18

The Skinny: I love the expression on the face of this racecar driver from the turn of the last century.

It looks as though he is chomping on a stogie as he navigates the rutted roads of the day.

The jar is ceramic; there’s a place in the lid that would have held a sponge to keep the tobacco it stored moist. Inside, the jar is stained from years of use.

My friend, Jacksonville antiques expert and appraiser Jim Antone, tells me it probably was made in England or Ireland, though it bears no markings other than an impressed number.

Regardless, its design offers a hint at the novelty driving held in the early days of the automobile. ¦

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