Wesley and Nellie

Wesley Call Vickers was born April 27, 1888, in Jackson County, Florida, the fifth of the ten children of Jake and Addie Vickers. He was born at his home just six and a half miles north of Chipley on the old Chipley-Graceville Road (now Highway 77). Wesley was delivered by a “granny woman,” and the older children were told by the granny that new babies were found in a “hollow log!” Wesley’s father owned and operated a family general store and also farmed for a living as he raised his children. The family farm included about 320 acres (50 of which were improved and cultivated), 14 stock cattle, 19 sheep/goats, 20 hogs, and two horses, and so required a good bit of upkeep.

As a lad Wesley walked three miles to and from school each day. He attended school through the fourth or fifth grade (until about 1899) there in Jackson County before quitting to help his father and brothers with the farming chores. This seems unusual that Jake would permit, or ask, Wesley to leave school, especially since Jake was a member of the Jackson County School Board at that time. According to Wesley, he did not always see eye to eye with his father. One particular disagreement between them was over his father’s refusal to provide him with a pair of shoes for school.

Wesley Call continued to work in farming with his father and brothers. He also learned some store clerking in his father’s general store. It was not long, however, before he felt the need to leave home and find work on his own. Wesley left home in 1905 at the age of 17 and began to work first at a planer mill [saw mill] some eighteen miles from home. This didn’t suit Wesley, though, as he was raised on a farm and knew farming best.

Soon he found a farming job working for a man named Henry Nelson in Washington County. His pay was $10 a month plus board. He worked for Mr. Nelson for four or five months in 1905 until the crops were harvested, and then went to work “scraping turpentine.” It is interesting to note that the major turpentine company at that time in that area was owned and operated by a prominent Vickers family of south Georgia. There is a strong possibility that Wesley was working for some of his not- too-distant cousins in the turpentine industry there.

After several months of scraping turpentine Wesley found a higher paying job farming for another gentleman (1906). His pay at this time had increased to $18 a month plus board. Shortly after taking this new farming job, Wesley broke both bones in his leg in a mule wagon accident and was crippled up for about four months. After his recovery he finished out the year of 1906 working turpentine again.

Meanwhile, his former boss, Mr. Nelson, had decided to sell out his north Florida holdings and move south. He remembered Wesley and the good work he had done for him a year earlier. So, early in 1907, Mr. Nelson found Wesley and asked him to come south with him, helping him to move his farm and belongings and in setting up his new farm.

Mr. Nelson chartered a freight car for his farm animals and for Wesley. The animals (two mules, two milk cows, geese and chickens) had to be fed as the trip south would last almost a week. The train left Careyville, Florida on a Monday morning and finally arrived in Punta Gorda the following Saturday evening. After arrival, Mr. Nelson paid Wesley $20 a month plus room and board for a month or two to help him clean up the place and start a farm on his new property in Harbor View.

It was while working that month or so for Mr. Nelson in 1907, that Wesley first saw the girl who would later become his wife. He had hitched up the mule wagon to go down to the school to pick up Mr. Nelson’s three oldest children. As he was waiting for the children, three girls came out of the school house. One of the girls, almost thirteen years old at the time, particularly attracted Wesley’s attention. As the Nelson children arrived, Wesley asked them who that little girl was. When they told him, Wesley’s response was, “That’s a gonna be my wife!” Wesley was almost nineteen years old.

After getting Mr. Nelson’s farm set up in February 1907, Wesley took several short term jobs for the spring months working the turpentine stills, hoeing and fertilizing orange groves, and loading cross-ties at Fort Ogdin. He camped along the Peace River with the work crews loading the cross-ties for side tracks for the CH & N railroad.

When this job finished in July, 1907, Wesley found a better paying job helping to build the tressel to Boca Grande. His pay was two dollars a day plus board. During this time Wesley considered Mr. Nelson’s place his “headquarters” and would return there to stay for weekends. One weekend, shortly after taking his new job, Wesley hoed a young orange grove for a certain Mr. Thomas Samuel Knight. Mr. Knight, impressed with his work, offered Wesley a job on the spot. When Wesley informed him that he had just accepted a job building the Boca Grande tressel, Mr. Knight told him that when he finished with that job he was to come back and work for him.

Wesley finished with the railroad job the next January, 1908, and then began work at the home of Thomas S. and Sara Ellen Knight, where he had also come to live. His pay was $25 a month plus room, board, and laundry. His duties included tending the orange grove and cattle, and helping “Aunt” Ellen Knight with household chores.

Nellie Hilda Falkner was born March 20, 1894, in Medulla, Polk County, Florida, the second child and daughter of Kelly and Elizabeth “Lizzie” Hays Falkner. Her father Kelly had met and married Lizzie in 1891. Nellie’s sister Leona was the first child of the family, born in 1892. After Nellie came Fred Andrew, born in 1896. From all accounts, Nellie’s childhood was a difficult one compared to many of that day. Her mother died in 1897, when Nellie was only three years old. The following year in 1898, her older sister Leona died.

After these losses, Nellie’s father Kelly left young Nellie and Fred with his mother-in-law Penelope Hays and his sister-in-law Ethel Belle Hays there in Medulla. Belle Hays began to raise the children as her own until about 1906. Kelly, who had since married Lula Maude O’Kane and had two more children, Exie Marie and Dorothy, returned about this time to reclaim his children. This caused a major rift with the Hays’ family and Nellie’s father. Kelly then moved his new family down to the Charlotte Harbor area to be closer to his aunt--Aunt Sarah Ellen Knight--his mother’s sister. Kelly’s first choice of a home for his new little family was a board shack down on La Costa Island. Their diet at this time included raccoon roasted on the open coals! It wasn’t long before Maude decided she couldn’t live like that, and took Exie and Dorothy back to Mulberry in Polk County. Nellie’s cousin, Edna Hays Smith, said that Maude later divorced Kelly because she cared more for Vic Hamilton, whom she later married. Maude was 27 years younger than Kelly.

Kelly then rented an old house down by the Wade’s home near the dock in Charlotte Harbor. Nellie and Fred lived around much of the time: Fred at Wade’s home and Nellie at Lee Knight’s or at Aunt Ellen’s. Nellie's father kept bees two or three miles out on Alligator Creek. The place was called the ‘ole Bee Apry. Wesley later recalled some of Nellie’s childhood experiences:

Nellie and Fred had to walk from the Bee Apry out to the Welcome School House out there. About three or four families a livin’ out there with about twelve or fifteen or twenty children. So they had to walk over there to school. Now during the school months and Sunday they’d walk to Harbor View up here. From way out there they’d walk Sunday morning after dinner out to Welcome out this side of Murdock. Sunday evening he’d conduct a Sunday School up here at Harbor View. And he’d take Fred and Nellie--they were little kids--they had to walk from the Bee Apry out to Welcome in the morning and after dinner walk up to Harbor View from way out there at Murdock.

One cool morning in February, 1908, Nellie came to visit her Aunt Ellen Knight. Wesley, who had just started working for the Knights, was helping “Aunt” Ellen with the chores. He describes their meeting with these words:

Me and Aunt Ellen was a cleanin’--she had alot of silverware, knives and forks and spoons. We had bon ami a sittin’ on the back porch a cleanin’ that silverware. I could look through the hall and I saw Maude comin’ around the corner of the house, and Nellie was about thirty feet behind her and about that time I looked through the hall and Nellie was a comin’ through the gate. I said, “Oh! That's my wife!” First time I’d seen her in a year. And she came on around and Aunt Ellen introduced me to ‘em.

Aunt Ellen had a daughter, Betty, who was about Nellie’s age, and it was not long before Nellie was visiting at Aunt Ellen’s more frequently that year. Wesley and Nellie would see and talk with each other from time to time when she would come to visit Aunt Ellen. Apparently, though, they had just one formal “date” which Wesley described like this:

I don’t believe I went with her but one evening. Went over to the house and went out onto the dock, and come back to the house and sit there till about twelve o’clock on the doorstep. I didn’t have enough sense to leave and she didn’t know enough to tell me to leave!

When Maude separated from Kelly and moved back to Mulberry, he moved Nellie and Fred to a little shack about 12’ x 18’ over on Pine Island. Apparantly Maude and the younger children would come to live with Kelly for brief periods of time until she later divorced him. On one of Nellie’s visits to Aunt Ellen’s, probably about February or early March of 1909 when Nellie was just turning fifteen, Nellie and Wesley were washing dishes after a nice supper. Wesley decided to propose to Nellie:

One day we was a washin’ dishes--I’d wash the dishes one time and she’d dry ‘em. She'd wash ‘em and I’d dry ‘em and so on. One day I just (I reckon I was a dryin’ the dishes) I said, “Why in the world don’t you and me get married and start a home of our own?” She said, “Oh my, I’m too young to think about that!”

From this response Wesley felt that Nellie wasn’t really interested in him, and was just putting him off. They did, however, write each other friendly correspondence from time to time. It appears that later that fall (1909), Wesley returned to Chipley where he attended school again. Shortly after Christmas Wesley returned to Charlotte Harbor.

It was during this time that Wesley began to experience a spiritual burden of guilt over his wayward lifestyle and the need for more fulfillment. He describes the circumstances concerning his spiritual conversion and commitment to the Lord in the following words:

It was right at that time--let’s see--I got so where I was just so miserable I didn’t like to, couldn’t stay around nobody--just miserable--couldn’t be satisfied. After supper I’d go down to the dock and out on the dock there would be maybe one or two out there, and go down to the store and there was a bunch of fishermen a sittin’ in the door at Ed Cole’s grocery store and that weren’t no place for me. I headed back to the house--somethin’ told me, said, “You’d better go to prayin’." Well, I was a haran’ to go so I drove out to the end of the row, told the old mule “Whoa!" and knelt down beside the fence and went to prayin’, askin’ the Lord to remove that burden, whatever it was causin’ me so much misery. That went on that way for about eight or nine days I reckon. And I was just so miserable I couldn’t stay nowhere hardly. Went down to the store on a Friday night. Went down to the store and a bunch of fishermen there and that weren’t no place. Went out on the dock and there were two out there--planning their wedding I reckon--they got married pretty soon--Pearl Stevens and Clint Tolsen--the only two. I headed back home and it looked like I couldn’t get to the house. I got to about, I reckon, fifty or seventy- five yards of the house in that sandy road a goin’ down there. That voice-- about seven or eight days before that said, “You’d better go to prayin’,"--well, I went to prayin’, askin the Lord to remove that burden. Well, I stopped in that sandy road about a hundred yards from the house and knelt down there and went to prayin’ and asked the Lord to remove that burden. And something up here spoke to me just like they were talkin’ to me and says, “You’re asking me to ‘give you,’ ‘give you’ but you’re giving me nothing in return. Give me your heart and life and I’ll grant your request.” And that was a voice I’d never heard before. That was Jesus a talkin’ to me--in person. So I said, “Lord, if you’ll just remove this burden from my heart, I’ll get into church and do what I’m called on the balance of my days.” So he talked with me and walked on to the house with me and went up to my room and he talked with me there in that room. I didn’t see nobody but I could hear his voice for I reckon an hour or two. So, finally at the last, this voice said, “Now the best thing you can do is to get married and settle down.” I said, “Lord, I ain’t never seen but one girl I loved and that’s Nellie Falkner, and I don’t know if she cares anything in the world for me or not.” He says, “You go to the Post Office Monday morning and there will be a letter there.” She was a livin’ on Pine Island then. I knew just as well that there’d be a letter there Monday mornin’ and that was on Friday night.

Well, Uncle Tom, he’d go down and get the mail every morning and come down about eight or nine o’clock and I’d go on out in the grove and go to work. After he’d tell me what he wanted done, why he’d never come around to tell me anything unless something new came up. I went ahead and worked the grove like he told me he wanted it worked and so he trusted me to do that. He’d come out in there every morning though, after he come from the mail. Since the voice told me there’d be a letter there Monday morning I couldn’t wait for him to get the mail and bring it down there about ten or eleven o’clock. So as soon as I got the kitchen cleaned up--I washed the dishes and dried ‘em and put ‘em away for Aunt Ellen and so as soon as I got that done I headed to the Post Office. The mail boat was a comin’ right close to the head of the dock out there and Uncle Tom looked at me like he thought I ought to be in the grove. He didn’t say nothin’. He looked at me like “What in the world you comin’ down here for?” Mott Willis was a bringin’ the mail and I went in there and stood at the winder inside. There’s two benches out in front, outside the door--people would sit down on those benches to wait for the mail. Uncle Tom was a sittin’ on one of them with two or three other fellows--there was room for four or five on a bench. But I didn’t stay out there with them. I went on in the Post Office and stood at the little window where he’d throw the mail out. I said, “I know there’s a letter there,” and Mr. Stevens got the mail and there was only three or four letters with a string tied around them. I said, “I know one of them is mine,” and he untied them and stamped them and about the second or third one he throw’d up on the window for me from Nellie. She said, “I’ve decided to take you up on your bargain. Come down and we’ll plan the wedding.” She lived on Pine Island. “Come down first chance you get and we’ll plan the wedding.” So I wrote to her and told her that’s when I changed my way a livin’. I told her that I fooled away all my money, everything I made and I’d have to put it off for awhile. So I had to write and tell her I didn’t have money enough to ride to Ft. Myers and get the marriage license, but I’d be down the first chance I got! She said that would suit her fine because she’d be older then.

That was in February I believe of nineteen and [ten], and she was on Pine Island. And when she got sixteen why that’s when the voice told me there’d be a letter there, on a Friday night to go to the Post Office Monday morning, there’d be a letter there for me. So I went down there about. . . I don’t know how long before I went down on a mail boat to Bokeelia and walked down through the island. So I wrote Nellie I’d come down on the fish boat to Bokeelia and then walk down through there--and we’d plan the wedding. I didn’t go around the road--I cut through the woods. I reckon I sounded like a horse a runnin’ through them palmetta woods. She heard me a comin’ way before I got to the house, and she came out and met me out in them palmetta woods. So I spent the night with them and come back on the fish boat the next mornin’. We walked out on the Pineland dock and it come up a rain and we both got ringin’ wet with water before we could get back to the house. We walked out on the dock and decided when we was gonna get married--get married in December, and that was in February. She was sixteen the twentieth of March and she was ready to get married when she got sixteen. And I was ready all but the finances. That’s when I had to quit my drinkin’ and tobacco and dirty shows.

Wesley and Nellie continued to correspond until the time came for their wedding, Wednesday, December 14, 1910. The marriage was to take place on Pine Island at the home of the Platt’s--the parents of one of Nellie’s close friends on the Island. Wesley had arranged for a boat to take him, Betty Knight, Ellen Morgan, Mr. and Mrs. Summer Giddens, and Mr. and Mrs. Bert Hagins, down to the Island. However, the driver of the boat picked up a friend along the way and they got to drinking. This delayed the wedding party from arriving until about an hour after the scheduled time.  (Wedding picture of Wesley and Nellie)

After the wedding, Wesley had arranged for a fishing boat to take him and Nellie to Boca Grande for their wedding night. They arrived at the hotel there about midnight and then had to be ready for the train by 8:00 o’clock the next morning. For their honeymoon, Wesley took Nellie up to the panhandle to meet his family. The train arrived in Plant City about noon, and then continued on to Tampa, Jacksonville, River Junction, and Chipley. One humorous experience Wesley later recalled, as they stopped for a few minutes in Plant City:

An ‘ole guy there, he was a sellin’ chicken --fried chicken dinners and I jumped off the train and run out and got two and got on the train and he took chicken bones and built meal and stuff up on ‘em, you know, and there wasn’t a mouthful of chicken meat on ‘em! Was all fried up with brown --the prettiest lookin’ stuff you ever saw. Took old wings of chicken you know, different pieces of it and keeps stickin’ the meal on it. Maybe dampened up in batter and then put in and let it kinda brown, then stick it in the batter again till he got it built up in a great big pretty lookin’ piece of chicken!

After spending Christmas at his parents home there in Jackson County, Wesley and Nellie returned to Charlotte Harbor to begin a family of their own. For the first five years or so they apparently rented a small cottage near Uncle Tom and Aunt Ellen Knight’s home. Wesley continued to work for the Knights tending orange groves and cattle. Wesley was 24 years old when his father Jake died in 1912. During these early years (1913-1915) Wesley also served as one of the three trustees for the first school in Charlotte Harbor.

In 1915, Wesley bought 40 acres of land for $400 from Nellie’s great-uncle Thomas Samuel Knight. By 1917, at the cost of about $600, Wesley built the home in which he and Nellie would raise their seven children:

Margaret Elizabeth, born February 12, 1914
Fred Wesley, born April 14, 1916
Mary Ellen, born March 5, 1918
Betty Jane, born July 15, 1923
Tom Kelly, born March 24, 1925
Wesley Call, Jr., born August 26, 1928
Earl Ray, born July 25, 1931

During these early years their home did not have electricity or running water. Kerosene lamps were used for lighting. The 20’ well out in front of the house supplied them with water. The boys would draw water from the well with a bucket for Nellie to boil the laundry in and then also for the rinse tubs. The children’s baths were taken in a large wash tub in the kitchen. Cooking and boiling water for laundry and baths was done with a wood burning stove in the kitchen. The boys would sometimes help their Grandpa Kelly cut down pine trees and saw them into blocks for the wood burning stove. To keep their foods cool in the ice box, Wesley would drive to the ice plant in Punta Gorda to get a block of ice for the ice box.

By 1919, both Uncle Tom and Aunt Ellen Knight had died and the family did not wish to keep up the orange groves Wesley had tended since 1908. So at this time Wesley, and a friend Clyde Wade, built a garage down on Bayshore Drive--The Bay Shore Garage. It was a single building, but was divided into two. Wesley ran the grocery store and gas station on one side, and Clyde Wade ran the garage on the other. The sign on Wesley’s store read: “Bay Shore Market--Quick Lunch--Meats Of All Kinds.” Later Wesley built another building up the street and moved his grocery store there, near the Charlotte Harbor Post Office. He also did carpentry work on the side.

Nellie’s father, Kelly Falkner lived with Wesley and Nellie much of the time while the children were growing up. He shared the upstairs of the house with the children. In addition, Wesley’s mother Addie would occasionally visit for several months at a time.

At Christmas time, when the children were young, Wesley borrowed a Santa Claus outfit from the church. After going to bed one Christmas Eve, young Fred decided to quietly creep back down the stairs to see if Santa Claus was there--yet not really expecting him to be! Wesley was there dressed up in the outfit. Catching his first glimpse (and not really expecting a real Santa), it scared Fred so, that he tore off back up the stairs in fright and wonder! Wesley and Nellie would hang stockings on the fireplace mantel and would always make sure they were filled with candy for the children by Christmas morning.

In 1926, Wesley and Nellie took their family by car (a Chrysler-Plymouth that started with a crank in front of the radiator) to a Vickers family reunion in Chipley. This was the first time the children were able to meet most of their cousins in north Florida. This was also the last time Wesley was to see his brother Bunyan, as Bunyan died later that year.

Also in 1926, Wesley ran for the Charlotte County Commission. He won the democratic nomination, which was almost the same as being elected, but was then disqualified when he failed to report his $3 in campaign expenditures. Two years later he ran again and was elected. His district covered Charlotte Harbor, Murdock, and El Jobean. He was also re-elected to the commission in 1930, 1932, and 1934. During the depression years Wesley led the commission in hiring the disadvantaged to plant crops for food on county land so that citizens could be fed. During one of his election years, a friend of Wesley’s--Vasco Peeples--wrote the following poem, which apparently appeared in the local newspaper:

Vasco’s Prayer
Again we have an election day
And dear old Vasco has this to say,
To the people and voters of district four,
Send me old Vickers and I’ll ask no more,
Schmidt you know is self thinking man
If he gets on the board, he’ll louse up my plan,
As things stand now, I can handle old Wes,
But Schmidt might make a road building mess.

By 1936, election laws had changed. The length of a commissioner’s term became four years instead of two and commissioners all had to run county-wide instead of from a district. This change did not prove favorable for Wesley as he lost the 1936 election by five votes. During this time Wesley ran for, but narrowly lost the election for Sheriff of Charlotte County. He also drove a school bus for Charlotte County Schools through-out the 1930’s and 1940’s.

Wesley and Nellie experienced the loss of their son Wesley Call, Jr., on October 21, 1944. Wes Jr., a promising junior in high school, died at the age of 16 from complications caused by a football accident at school three days earlier.

In 1944, Governor Spessard Holland appointed Wesley to the County Commission to replace H. C. Smith who had died in office. Wesley continued to serve in this capacity until his retirement in 1956 at the age of 68. At this time he represented all the area north and west of Peace River. He still continued to drive school buses for the county until 1967.

A year never went by that Wesley and Nellie didn’t farm a nice sized garden in their yard. Nellie was a homemaker, making clothes for her family and preserving food from the trees and garden Wesley tended. Rarely a day went by that rice was not served in some fashion in their home. Nellie always had a special appreciation for the beauty of flowers. Wesley later recalled that every time she went somewhere, she always brought flowers home.

Remaining true to his commitment to the Lord back in February of 1910, Wesley was a mainstay at the Trinity United Methodist Church in Charlotte Harbor, serving in various administrative and ministerial capacities over a fifty year period. He also rebuilt the church on three occasions: 1910, 1926, and 1944. Wesley’s favorite hymn was “Amazing Grace”:

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me,
I once was lost but now am found,
was blind, but now I see.

His favorite Bible passage was found in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 6:25-34,

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

In speaking about his 70 year commitment to the Lord and material possessions, Wesley once commented, “From that day till this I ain’t never wanted a thing I couldn’t have in the temporal things of life. My big trouble is I never wanted the things alot of people want!” Would that we all choose to have his same commitment to Christ and outlook on life. Wesley served his Lord well in providing a good model, or example, for his children and his children’s children to follow.

Wesley lost his love-in-life, Nellie, August 18, 1965, after 55 years of marriage. Nellie was 71 years of age. Wesley remained single until his death, February 22, 1979, just two months shy of his 91st birthday. Traditional family gatherings for Wesley’s birthday developed into family reunions for Wesley and Nellie’s children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren which still continue each April.

For more on Wesley and Nellie, see Remembering Grandpa, by grandson George Wesley Handlon

See also The Correspondence of Wesley and Nellie

See also The Transcripts

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Kelly G. Vickers, 50 Trembly Bald Drive, Toccoa, GA 30577

Phone (706) 886-0012       Email kvickers@tfc.edu