‘Those were the Times’

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Chiefland man publishes book on childhood in Gulf Hammock

By Mark Scohier, Staff writer

The Korean War may have drawn Jack Foley from the swampy, isolated lowlands of Gulf Hammock and thrust him into a world he had never known, but the conflict there, at times harrowing, serving in the U.S. Navy, never made him forget about his youth.

In fact, in recounting a story from his days on the U.S.S. Toledo where the ship was being pummeled by a typhoon, Foley says it was his memories of Gulf Hammock that had helped alleviate his fears.

Those memories also inspired a new book, "Those were the Times," about his childhood in the region.

"It was a wild, wild area. That region there along the Gulf of Mexico, from the mouth of the Withlacoochie to the Suwannee, it contained one of the wildest regions in Florida in terms of everything you can imagine."

Foley and his family came to Gulf Hammock when he was about 6, after his father landed a job grading wood at the timber and mill company located there that had come mostly from the giant cypress trees that were once so prevalent. The mill employed about 600 people, he said. Most earned 10 cents an hour for a 10-hour day. Money was scarce.

"It was not a world of things," he said. "Only four people had cars."

The lack of money often drove people to extremes to bring more for their families.

Foley, himself, said he and his friends often found themselves in scary predicaments in an attempt to make a quick buck.

"We had some close calls," he said. "One that involved about a 12-foot alligator."

Foley said he was about 12 at the time he heard that famed herpetologist Ross Allen was looking, and willing to pay, for a large alligator.

"We didn't catch the gator. The damn gator almost got us! It shouldn't have happened, but you can't imagine how much $87 (the amount Ross would have paid) was to us. It was a fortune for us."

When Foley returned to Gulf Hammock to visit after the war, the place had turned into a ghost town. He went on to earn a doctorate from the University of Florida and pursued a long career as an educator, having particular success with a program to help educate "reluctant learners."

About 20 years ago, Foley and his family moved to Chiefland. He thought about moving to Gulf Hammock, but there was little there to return to.

The book started out as a way for him to share his memories with family, he said.

"I had not intended to publish it, initially," he said, though a writer friend of his thought otherwise and took the few chapters Foley had written to a publisher, who thought it would make a good book. Foley, reluctantly, agreed. 

It took about a year to write and another year and half to iron out the kinks, he said.

"It's a process I would not like to go through again."

Foley says it's one of the publisher's best selling books. Copies can be purchased on Amazon.com, at various locations throughout Chiefland or from Foley directly by calling 352-493-1567.