The Way We Were: Malcolm and Kathryn Fortson

The Way We Were: Malcolm and Kathryn Fortson

By Victoria Register-Freeman

Malcolm Fortson took the Biblical command “Love thy neighbor,” literally. Growing up next door to Kathryn Register, he would often see her playing records on the family porch. Her sister, Beverly — known to everyone as Wookie — would occasionally repeat the well-known Biblical phrase.

As Kathryn recalls, “He was a year older than I was, but we went to the same schools — West Riverside, John Gorrie, and Robert E. Lee. Then he went away to the Naval Academy and returned home for visits. On one of the visits he asked me if I would consider becoming a Navy wife. I said yes. Then he was sent overseas and we wrote back and forth. He asked my folks for permission to marry via letter.

Before I was married, like many women, I volunteered in the war effort. Several of my friends and I were in the Red Cross Motor Corps. We went to the Naval Hospital and drove a city bus with some of the patients to Ponte Vedra. There was a cabana there and the Red Cross fixed lunch. I usually drove the bus down and someone else drove it back.

On Christmas day in 1944, I was called next door to find my present under the Fortson family tree. While Malcolm’s siblings looked on, I opened a small box to find a miniature Naval Academy ring which was the engagement ring of choice at that time. Malcolm’s own father had sworn him into the Navy on his 17th birthday. Malcolm’s mother took me down to the courthouse to get the marriage license.

The war made the making of wedding plans complicated. We printed the initial wedding invitations without dates because we didn’t know exactly when Malcolm would be home. He was in the Pacific on a destroyer. He received a Bronze Star because the ship he was on tried to assist a friendly destroyer in distress and was hit by a Kamikaze fighter plane.  The citation read, ‘When one of the attacking planes crashed into his ship he maintained rigid control of his battery despite numerous casualties and coolly directed the control of damage.’ He came home right before the war ended. We were married by Reverend Cleveland on August 17, 1945 in Riverside Presbyterian Church.”

Malcolm smiles when he remembers the wedding day, “There were lots of bridesmaids. Kathryn’s mother, Mrs. Register (nee Anna Vail), cut the greenery from her yard. Her father, Mr. Alvin Register, provided his friends as the groomsmen because most of the young men were at war.”

Malcolm’s  memories of growing up in Riverside and Ortega are equally vivid.

“When I lived in Riverside during elementary school, I remember rowing out into the river with my brother and Wilson Baldwin. We would stick an oar in the mud, strip down and swim without clothes because we thought folks couldn’t see us. My sister told the housekeeper what we were doing and she told our fathers. That stopped that type of swimming.

Our Boy Scout troop met at the Riverside Christian Church and we had a drum and bugle corps. I remember marching around the block making lots of noise. When we weren’t marching or boating, we played Kick the Can like everyone else.

Like lots of kids we also did lots of trolley jerking and putting pennies on the trolley rails to flatten them. Some times we put small nails on the rails and the weight of the trolley turned them into great small swords.

After my family moved to Ortega, we were on the river a lot more. I think my father started the St.Johns Sailing Association which had 12 boats. There were lots of youngster in my neighborhood who boated. When we weren’t on the river, we rode the trolley or the five cent bus downtown to the movies.”

Kathryn remembers another trolley ride.

“Once I won a Screen-O prize at the Florida Theater. The prize was a live chicken and that was fun bringing it home on the bus. I put the bird in our family’s coop.

After the wedding we were off on the great naval adventure which included being stationed in San Francisco, D.C., Corpus Christi, Norfolk, Key West, Japan and points beyond. We had three children, Malcolm, Alvin, Richard, and now they have children of their own. It is good to have returned to the familiar neighborhood. It is good to know that near my house is the road that once led from a dock onto Ortega Island where the pirate Daniel McGirtts is supposed to have hidden his treasure under a tree.”

It is obvious too that the Fortsons have found their own treasure — family, friends, a fine marriage, volunteer opportunities — on Ortega Island. Once again, loving one’s neighbor is advice that seems to be both timeless and true.

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)