Roth: Paint store as home colored childhood

Open-air showers and long bus rides were the norm

July 13, 2008 

My earliest memories of the Keynoter building? It was my home. I lived there for about two years.

My parents, Bob and MaeLita Handley, lived in Miami. They enjoyed coming down to the Keys to fish. In about 1952-53, my dad decided to move to Marathon rather than drive down every weekend. He was a house painter, so with the help of his boss in Miami, he and my mom opened a paint store.

It was Pope Paint Co., and was located in the building that was to become the Keynoter. There were three businesses in that building: Pope Paint Co. in the middle, Turner Appliances on the west side and a dentist’s office on the east side. There was a parking area in the back.

The building then was much smaller, and living space was limited. There was a small (very small) apartment in the back of the paint store, which was partitioned from the front part of the store. My parents had a sofa bed in the back, and my sister Barbara Ann and I slept behind the paint counter in the front part of the store.

We had a rollaway bed and a rollup mattress (sort of like a chaise lounge cushion). My sister and I took turns as to who would get the more comfortable of the two selections we had. During the week, I would get the rollaway because I had to get up earlier for school. I know, but it made sense then.

There was no high school in Marathon, so I rode the bus to Key West. I got on the bus at 6 a.m. and got home after 5 p.m. There were probably a half dozen kids from Marathon riding the bus. We would stop all the way down the Keys, picking up kids for school. By the time we got to Key West, we had a busful.

Our bus driver was Mrs. Grace Barr. She was a widow and loved to sing as she drove, and would tell us stories about her husband when he was a sea captain.

Going across the old Seven Mile Bridge was quite an adventure, especially passing trucks going in the opposite direction. They had these large rearview mirrors that stuck out the side. The bus would be unusually quiet. I think everyone was in silent prayer.

My sister went to Sue M. Moore School, so she just had to walk across the highway. A high school was finally built in Marathon. The first graduating class was in 1958. There were 14 kids in that first class. Too late for me. I graduated from Key West High School in 1957.

Back to the paint store.

Sometimes on Saturdays we would sleep late and customers would come knocking on the front glass door. Barbara Ann and I would wake up and peek over the counter to see what was going on, then creep to the back of the store and wake our parents so they could open the store. When my mom worked late into the night on her accounting books, she would have to step across us to get to her desk.

The bathroom was very small and only had a sink and toilet. To shower, my dad built a rough concrete block stall outside in the back of the store. All it had was a shower head with a garden hose attached, a soap dish and a shower curtain. Those showers were real quick and mostly in the daylight hours — we had no hot water.

The Turners (Paul and Ann) in the store next to ours also lived in an apartment in the back and also built a shower out back. Shower time was also conversation time. The tops of the shower stalls were open to the elements, sort of like the office cubicles today. You could talk to your next-door neighbor over the top.

Looking back it sounds so primitive, but that was life then, and we were happy.

On Saturday, my sister and I would get our $1 weekly allowance and run across the highway to Cavanah’s and blow it all on records, the old 45s. Our parents thought it was very foolish and irresponsible.

In 1956 or 1957, my dad bought the business and became a painting contractor. The name of the store was changed to Handley Paint Co. and relocated to a new building. The building now houses a medical office and the Salvation Army. My parents eventually built the existing Handley Paint Co. at 6681 Overseas Highway.

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