Jack Hines

A Walt Disney VP once said, “We’re all just cavemen with briefcases, hungry for a wise person to tell us stories.” Jack Hines, age 81, serves up stories that satisfy the hunger for connection with the Historic District’s past, its people and its places.

Born in Riverside Hospital, Hines smiles devilishly when he remembers the Halloween trick or treat experiences of his youth.

“We weren’t too concerned about the treats. It was the tricks that we put our energy into. One of our favorite tricks involved washtubs of sand that we heaved onto porches. Another trick involved the production of a giant scarecrow that we created out of old clothes. We positioned it on the yard of folks who were mean to kids who tried to cross their property.

“The Depression hit everyone hard. My father John P. Hines ran the J.G. Christopher Company downtown. He called all of his employees into a meeting one day and told them, ‘As of today everyone, including me, makes $50 per week. If that doesn’t suit you, there’s the door.’ Later, my family moved in with the Williams, my mother Nancy’s parents, who lived on Powell Place, but came originally from Fernandina.

“Mrs. Williams baked incredible cakes and sold them to help pay med school expenses for Ash Williams, my mom’s baby brother and the person who taught me how to whistle. At one point Grandma went to N.Y. to take a cake decorating class and when Cookie, her servant, was asked about the experience she said, ‘Mrs. Williams ended up TEACHING that class.’ We weren’t surprised.

“A third grade memory that stands out is when I accompanied my mother on a field trip with my sister’s fifth grade class to the Yerkes Laboratory in Orange Park. Out front the chimp show was very civilized. Chimps in dresses were acting as if they were human babies. I got bored and went around back to the adult chimp area. There, a big old male spit water into my face. I rose to the challenge, filled my mouth up with water from the fountain and spit a stream in his face. He went bananas. The white coats boiled out to subdue him and I got in lots of trouble.

“Our family’s Fernandina connection grew stronger over the years. My mother’s sisters lived up there and they were great users of the Ouija board and tellers of great ghost stories. Dad wanted to build a beach cottage on the ocean, but couldn’t find a realtor. The County Appraiser told him to put a white rag on a stick and the appraiser would locate the owner. The beach was wild then. There was no Amelia Island Plantation, no real road. When the tide was low, we could go to the end of the island past puddles containing big fish and look across Nassau Sound to see the bears sometimes roaming Big Talbot.

“On the south end of the island was Franklin Town which was a town populated by blacks who had stayed there after the Civil War. My dad would buy stone crabs from a man named Hayes. When dad asked Hayes how to find the crabs, he said, ‘When the tide goes out, wade out and feel with your feet. Be careful or they will feed on you.’

“Hayes made me a boy-sized cast net and taught me how to throw it to get shrimp. I brought it back in town and shrimped off the Shands’ dock at the end of Montgomery Place. I got an entire bucket and ran to tell Mr. Shands to come and see it. My sister Cotton walked by the bucket while I was gone and dumped it. I had caught too many small catfish to suit her. Mr. Shands never thought I was worth a thing after that.

“We kids were almost always on the river. Our boats were wood because it was the time before fiberglass and since it was wartime everything else was rationed. I had a pair of oarlocks and they were my pride and joy. We couldn’t venture too far out into the river near NAS because the Marine Patrol would run us back. The big PBY float planes and the smaller Kingfisher floatplanes were always landing around us. We were fairly safe on the water because most of us had been given swimming lessons by Crystal Scarbough, a terrific teacher whose daughter Esther Williams became a movie star.

“Our big desire was to get a sleeve target, which was a practice target for the Navy pilots. Most of the targets were towed back to the base to see who got the hits. Johnny Dent and Bill Goodman actually got a target and it was huge. Then the FBI came to Johnny’s house to reclaim it.

“After a credit miscount prevented me from a 1949 Bolles graduation, I spent a year at Lee where I met some of my lifelong friends—Billy Ketchum, Donnie Boling, Charlie Coleman and others. Later, at the University of Florida I met Betsy Broome and managed to charm her mother because I could play ‘Who do you know?’ fairly well. Betsy and I married in 1956. There was a sojourn in the Navy during Korea. We have two children, a daughter Helen and a son Jonathan.

“Life has been good. I have been in sales, which is where my talents have always been. Somehow, I have always enjoyed knocking over obstacles. I’ve watched so many of them melt away.”

By Victoria Register Freeman

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