Dasheen Dreams . . .


If you’ve never heard of dasheen, don’t feel like the Lone Ranger; I hadn’t either. My daughter, Colleen, is the historian of our family and is always finding, archiving and annotating old family photos. Here’s one she found from 1923, showing my grandfather, James P. Page, Sr., and his dad, James Graham Page, at a meeting of the Nassau County (Florida) Dasheen Growers Association in the little town of Callahan:


My grandfather and his father were very active in that organization, or at least they had leadership roles. My grandfather was a heck of a businessman, and owned a lot of businesses that did well. I can’t say how well he and his dad did with dasheen; it put some of his land holdings to productive use, I suppose.

According to what I’ve been able to find out on the Net, dasheen is another term for a type of taro root, and, in the early 1920s, the Florida Secretary of Agriculture was promoting the cultivation of this plant for areas of Florida with boggy land not suited for growing much else except snakes (this part of Florida has 31 types, including six or seven “hot” ones, as the herpetologists call venomous snakes), alligators and pine trees. Here’s a Google satellite photo pinpointing the town of Callahan in Nassau County; my brother, Jeff, and I were born on Amelia Island, where the town of Fernandina Beach is located:


The red arrow points to Callahan, Florida. The dark area to the left of Callahan is the Okefenokee Swamp. The Okefenokee is the largest blackwater swamp in the U.S.; a shallow, 438,000 acre, peat-filled wetland straddling the Georgia–Florida border. Okefenokee is an Indian word meaning “trembling earth.”

Since the area our family is from borders the Okefenokee Swamp that hugs the Georgia line, it’s ideal for such an effort. Here’s a photo of a dasheen plant, and also a photo of the edible root.


Looks like an elephant ear plant, doesn’t it?


Can these make good French fries? America waits for the answer!

This enterprise probably didn’t amount to much, but it’s kind of a nifty idea. Another Net resource mentions that at the height of the dasheen-growing effort, ten boxcar loads of the roots were shipped from Callahan, where we still have a family farm. I don’t think any dasheen is grown on our farm now, though I did see that someone else has a dasheen farm in the area nowadays. Good luck to them!


Thanks to my daughter, Colleen, for finding the letterhead below from the Dasheen Growers Association in a history of Nassau County. There’s also a little paragraph describing the operation. You can see from the annotations that the photo above, showing the intrepid dasheen growers in Callahan, was from this same book, which was published some years ago.


G.I. Combat! Vietnam, Electric Beanie and a Guy Named Joe

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Never having been a big fan of war comics, I almost didn’t download this comic book, G.I. Combat #16, from August of 1954. The cover art by Dick Dillan and Chuck Cuidera caught my eye, as they were the team who drew and inked my favorite Blackhawk comic books, which are on the periphery, I suppose, of war comics. The other almost-war comic I love is Don Winslow of the Navy, which was originally published by Fawcett.

This G.I. Combat issue features the first Vietnam-based war story I’ve seen: “Airfield in Hell.” Of course, at that time, Vietnam was known as French Indo-China. Here’s the splash page for that story:


Following the story is this zany ad for a 98¢ electric Brainstorm Beanie; I bet the freckled hipster shown wearing it would be even more smug if it were a solar- instead of battery-powered Brainstorm Beanie:


And, at the end of the issue is a poignant ad for the Charles Atlas bodybuilding course.


An unfortunate fellow, Joe, is humiliated in front of his girlfriend. In a moment of fury, he sends off for the Charles Atlas course and later becomes a buff and powerful force to be reckoned with. How much later is the question that doesn’t get answered in this ad, though the copy says it will happen “almost before you realize it.” That’s a very carefully worded sentence.

It can’t happen too quickly to suit Joe, I’m sure, but revenge is a dish best eaten cold. Since Joe, his girlfriend, and the white-haired lout who gets his comeuppance are all wearing the same outfits in this sequence, I’m guessing it occurred in one summer.

I have a skinny cousin who took that course and I didn’t expect it to do much for him. I saw him many years later and was stunned at what a brawny fellow he had turned into; he looked like Superman. But that was years, not months, and he also had served 20 years in the Marines.

Two years after this comic was published by Quality Comics, their stable of features was sold to DC Comics and Quality bit the dust. Blackhawk and G.I. Combat were two comics (a love comic was a third) that DC chose to continue publishing. The publisher of Quality, Busy Arnold, retired to Naples and I wish I had known that before he died; I would have looked him up!

RE: My 1960s Naples Mystery Novel

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Mrs. Waples From Naples

The Ill-Fated Mrs. Waples from Naples in his or her prime.

A friend from Naples Before It Was Hip let me know about this earlier today (thanks, Deborah!). It’s a recap of the “Mrs. Waples from Naples” murder. My brother, Jeff, had been on the ambulance crew that worked this incident, and told me– on the QT– that the crew was shocked that Mrs. Waples, a longtime Naples resident and eccentric character, was really a man.

That stuck in my mind, and when I wrote my mid-1960s Naples-based cozy mystery, I used that story as the main element in the plot. Here’s my book, available on Amazon.com, if you care to read it:


So here’s a recap of the true story of Mrs. Waples from Naples: