THE WAY WE WERE

The Way We Were: Dorothy Harding

The Way We Were: Dorothy Harding

When Dorothy
Harding, her husband Jen (short for Jennings), and nine-year-old daughter Bette
(now Bette Loyd) first moved to Jacksonville in 1957, they were lucky enough to
settle in the Lakewood area, in part because Harding’s mother-in-law and
stepfather had a house on Rollins Avenue. And they have never left.

Harding
and Loyd now live next door to each other on twin riverfront lots at the end of
Baylor Lane. The two gracious Southern ladies recently had fun reminiscing
about their many decades in the neighborhood.

After
three short months at the Lakewood Apartments, the family lived first on Mercer
Circle, which backed up to Christopher Creek, and then on San Carlos Road.

“The
kids on Mercer Circle told me there were alligators in the creek, but Momma and
Daddy told me there certainly were not,” remembers Loyd. “One day, I heard a
bloodcurdling scream, and there was Momma standing there with a big old gator
in the yard.”

The
children would play in the woods on the other side of the creek. The woods are
now the San Jose Forest neighborhood. Loyd attended Grace Chapel Parish School
(now San Jose Episcopal Day School), and her grandparents were members at the
church. Back in those days, if women didn’t have a hat on for church, they
would pin a Kleenex on their head before going to the service.

The
Harding family spent many Sunday afternoons driving down to Mandarin. San Jose
Boulevard at that time was a two-lane road lined with big oak trees and Spanish
moss. A family friend in Switzerland (“way out in the country”) had a house
that looked like a Swiss chalet, which is still there today, and Loyd loved to
pet their goats and pick oranges from the many orange trees on the property.

Lakewood
Shopping Center was a place the family frequented. Loyd would go to Lakewood
Pharmacy every Saturday with friends to have a banana split, and for a time,
Harding worked at the Lakewood Children’s Shoppe. They also liked Clark’s
Market for meat (the current site of Mojo BBQ), dress shops French Novelty and
the Vogue (where Winn-Dixie is), the record shop – where Loyd would buy 45 rpm
singles of Top 40 hits – and Dipper Dan’s for ice cream.

In
1960, Harding’s husband acquired the Atlantic Firebrick Company, which is still
in operation. Harding worked the night shift as a switchboard operator at the
naval station when her daughter was little, and then stayed busy with volunteer
pursuits – she was at Memorial Hospital to volunteer the day it opened – and
with a longtime bridge group.

“We
called it ‘Margarita Bridge’ because we started with coffee in the morning,
played bridge, and then about 11:00 would have margaritas and lunch,” she
laughed. “It was a lot of fun, and we played together for about 20 years.”

In
1972, Harding got wind of a riverfront home for sale on Baylor Lane. She didn’t
ever imagine the couple could afford it, but she mentioned it to her husband
anyway.

“Jen
took one look around the property, heard the price, and said, ‘We’ll take it!’
without ever setting foot in the house. We paid $130,000 for it,” she
remembered.

They
subsequently acquired an additional two-acre lot next door, which Jen set up as
a putting green (laying concrete and maintaining perfect grass turf on top). He
spent many afternoons honing his golf game and using the river for driving
practice.

Loyd
now lives in the family’s original house, and Harding built on the adjacent
property about nine years ago. The two eat dinner together a couple of nights
each week, usually joined by Loyd’s two sons, and they talk on the phone every
day.

“It
feels good being next door to each other,” said Harding. “I’m so thankful
because this is all the family I have.”