Some years ago when I was living in a certain Central Florida town, I happened to meet an old-timer (as he liked to call himself)…I’ll call him Horace…a fourth-generation Floridian, with a fascinating story that I’d like to share. Horace was well into his seventies when I sat down to interview him. This was at a time when I had just become aware of Florida’s place in the cattle industry. Cows were the last thing that most New Yorkers would think of in connection with the Sunshine State, so I was surprised to learn that Florida was the second largest calf-producing state in the country, Texas being the first.
Horace grew up on a vast 20,000-acre spread—what they called a township. Through one way and another, his widowed mother had put together much of the land and continued to raise cows on it, as had been her family’s practice. They even had a lake named after her, which in the interest of privacy I will not divulge. Like many wealthy Florida ranchers, they were not showy people. Horace himself lived in a double wide, surrounded by bull grass, wild turkeys, and tractor parts.
Horace’s mother was a tight-fisted, uncomplicated woman who, from all accounts, seemed to get whatever she set her mind to, a reputation borne out when the multi-billion dollar Grace company came knocking and paid her $15,000,000 (yes, that’s million) for a land deal concerning mineral rights. She was pretty satisfied with that until Uncle Sam showed up and claimed half of it. That’s when, at a fever pitch, she swore to make that money back in less than ten years. And she surely would have, except that it took her only seven.
Horace’s grandmother (his mother’s mother) was a slightly different case. One Sunday afternoon, long after she had passed on, Horace and his family were having one of their after-dinner sit-abouts, when Horace’s young granddaughter went to browse the bookshelves. As she fingered through the age-old volumes, a brown-crackled paper fell to the floor. They unfolded the paper, and soon realized that what they had come upon was quite astonishing.
It seems that in the year 1900, Horace’s grandmother…I’ll call her Eunice…a retiring woman with a quietly bold spirit, had done what in her day was unthinkable for a woman. She had purchased stock. She had been daring enough, and some would have said foolhardy enough, to pay about $200 for something that back then was likely considered a highly risky endeavor. She had purchased two thousand shares of stock in the Coca Cola Company.
Needless to say, this was an amazing discovery and the family’s accounting firm was called upon for counsel. They had the stock appraised and recommended that the family sell. But the family did not see any reason to do so. At the time of my interview with Horace, a safe deposit box somewhere in a Central Florida bank had become the repository for a certificate of two thousand original shares of Coca Cola stock valued at $46,000,000.
Then, finally, there was Hazel Lake. Hazel had been approached by a developer, Charles Hamper, (neither of their names are real) who offered to buy one thousand acres of her Kissimmee ranch land for $100 an acre–$100,000, pretty good money for the mid 1960s. Charles left Hazel’s ranch with the contract she’d had drawn up, and returned the very next day with the money and the signed contract.
The date happened to be February 3, 1967, the day that the Orlando Sentinel’s front page bore the announcement that Walt Disney had bought a lot of land in the area to build on. Hazel had the newspaper on the table when Charles arrived, and when he handed her the contract to sign for the purchase of her land, she looked up at him with a sly grin and said simply, “I’d better wait.”