Sey Young: Family tale tells one man's debacle

Family tale tells man’s debacle

Four young men. A plan. One goal. After several months of erecting telephone poles in the sweltering heat of St. Petersburg, Fla., it was decided that the group would spend their next Friday night in the wide-open arms of Ybor City, just on the other side of Tampa Bay. There, one could eat deviled crab at the magnificent El Pasaje, drink the finest rum fresh off the black ships that unloaded their illegal cargo at night, and then go upstairs where the jeweled birds awaited them. A sign that hung above the stairs read simply: "Strangers cordially welcome." Cash definitely was. Finally, a stop at the Yellow House bar down the street to play bolita, where a hundred small numbered balls were placed in a bag, mixed thoroughly, and bets placed on the winning number. Just one problem: None of the four young men owned a car. That's where Frank comes into our story.

Go back to 1931. Frank Rhoads is 30 years old and after many years of working for the telephone company, he is finally promoted to supervise his own crew of four men. Married to the daughter of one of St. Petersburg's pioneer families, Mabel Nash, he is the father of two young daughters. The recent promotion was a welcomed blessing. They now earned enough money for a car. But Frank, having been a laborer himself, was anxious that his new crew of four men like him. It is with that mindset that when his men came to him with the plea that he drive them that evening to Ybor City, he readily agreed. With Prohibition still in force, perhaps the opportunity to drink some rum was also an attraction. What to tell Mabel though?

Being a man of some experience, Frank decided on the direct approach. "Honey, the boys want me to take them to a disorderly house in Ybor City tonight. I told them I would do it, but I want you to know I promise not to go in. I will just wait in the car until they're done, then drive them back." If Frank thought the semi-honest approach would work with his wife, he was apparently already intoxicated with the thought of a boys' night out. "Frank Rhoads!" She thundered. "You are not driving those boys to a cathouse in Tampa. You are staying right here tonight."

Frank, having run into this unexpected mandate, switched tactics and went for his hole card: "Well, I'm going no matter what you say. I already promised those boys, and I'm a man of my word." And with that, he turned to walk out the door.

Unfortunately for Frank, he had failed to notice that Mabel was in the act of sweeping the kitchen when he walked in. Now if you think Babe Ruth had a powerful swing, let me tell you that in that moment he would have met his match. WHACK! The broom caught Frank right in the small of his back, causing him to pitch forward violently into the wall.

"What happened next, Granny?" I asked as I watched her pick weeds out in her garden. "Well," she said, wiping some sweat from her aged brow and with a slight twinkle in her eye. "Your grandfather didn't go to Tampa." As the old saying goes: A new broom can sweep the floor, but an old broom knows where the dirt is.

NAN Our Town on 03/05/2020

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