We are on our way to Apalachicola, a beach town perched on Apalachicola bay, an inlet of the Gulf of Mexico. Road trips can get a little boring at times if there is nothing fun to see on the way so it was a nice surprise to pass through this little town called Lakeland where many walls were murals.
We did some research into what other places of interest lay ahead of us and it turns out we are passing through Ray Charles’ hometown of Greenville, Florida.
Ray was the son of Bailey Robinson and Aretha Williams. Aretha was a teenage orphan who had been informally adopted by the Robinson family. She lived with Bailey, Baileys mother, and his wife Mary Jane Robinson. When Aretha scandalously fell pregnant by Bailey, she briefly left Greenville and went to stay with relatives in Albany, Georgia. Shortly after, she returned to Greenville with Ray in tow. Aretha and Mary Jane are said to have shared the upbringing of Ray after Bailey left his wife, and Greenville, to remarry.
Ray was born in 1930, right at the beginning of the Great Depression and subsequently grew up in poor conditions. At the age of three he began to play the piano, taught by Mr Wylie Pitman, the owner of the local Red Wing Cafe. Pitman would sometimes look after Ray and his younger brother George to help Aretha. George tragically drowned in his mother’s laundry tub at the age of four. Around the time of his brother’s death Ray began to lose his sight; the cause is thought to have been Glaucoma. By the age of seven Ray was totally blind but continued to do household chores for his mum and of course continued to play piano. After an initial protest, Ray accepted his place at the Florida School for the deaf and the blind at St Augustine where he studied from 1937-1945
In 1945 when Ray was just fourteen his mother unexpectedly died. Later in life he recalled his mother’s and brother’s death as “the two great tragedies”. Ray then moved to Jacksonville to stay with friends of his mother where he started to earn money by playing piano in bands. The rest, as they say, is history. I imagine losing your sight, your mother or your brother at such a young age could have damaged me forever but Ray dealt with all three and went on to become one of the best and most respected musicians in the world. I’m a fan anyway but have even more admiration now I know his story.
This is a reconstruction of the house he lived in on the street where he grew up. It is still a very poor neighbourhood and it’s easy to imagine a young Ray Charles playing around on his front porch or in the trees lining the street.
By the time we arrived in Apalachicola it was sunset so we had a little stroll on the waterfront before heading into Oyster City Brewery followed by some scrummy Oysters at The Tap Room opposite.
The next morning the sun was shining so we decided to do a nature walk on St George Island. It’s about time that we got out and about to burn off some of the 10 burgers we have indulged in over the last week!
Wild rosemary surrounded us on this trail, unfortunately you couldn’t’ really smell it. When we return home I’m keen to make homemade soap. First on my list is basil & rosemary.
The weather took a turn for the worse so we headed back toward the car making it there just before the rain came.