HABITAT: Just what IS a Florida Cracker anyway?

As a fourth-generation Indian River County resident, I’ve always considered being a Florida Cracker something to be proud of. But not everyone sees it that way, something I realized only recently.

Apparently, some folks consider the term denigrating and, even, insulting. There are a number of words in today’s English language whose original definitions have been twisted and warped and just – for whatever reason – changed. As a great respecter of words and their power – this phenomenon saddens me.

One of my friends, a native of St. Augustine and a proud Florida Cracker, is also bothered by this misunderstanding.

The term – as far as either one of us, and many other Florida natives, have even known – is, briefly, this: “way back when” the cowboys who herded  cattle along the dusty trails to market through the scrub pine and palmetto thick rangelands used long whips to keep the herd controlled, and the sound those whips made snapping through the air above the heads of the herd made a very sharp, very loud “Crack” – thus – Cracker.

Over the years, the name came to refer to any of those sturdy folk who came to carve a home for themselves in the Florida wilderness.

For maybe the best definition, check out “What Is A Florida Cracker?” by Patrick Smith, the author of what many consider to be the best historical novel ever written about our state, “A Land Remembered.” You can call me a Cracker any time. A place right here in our history-rich county with a fascinating history of its own is – Fellsmere.

Back a hundred or so years ago, it was maybe the busiest town around, with a railroad connection, movie theatre, even a ball team, I’ve heard, and a sugar industry.

While those days are gone, Fellsmere is still a vibrant and interesting place. If you’ve never been there, you’re missing out.

Driving around the main street area and then along the dusty outlying roads, past small farms, pastoral glimpses of grazing horses and cattle, you’ll get a feel for a side of Florida that has little to do with sandy beaches and swaying palms but, is every bit as beautiful. Several of our Habitat staff and volunteers have become very familiar with Fellsmere, ever since we broke ground for our north county neighborhood, Grace Meadows, in 2007.

The location is lovely, and we will be building there for a while yet. Because much of the population we serve in the Fellsmere area is Spanish-speaking, we are always on the lookout for volunteers who are fluent in the language.

One of our staff members has become quite involved with the Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission, a vibrant congregation that has been gracious in supporting our efforts to reach out to the people who might benefit from our program. I had the opportunity to interview and photograph one of Grace Meadows’ first Habitat residents, the Luna family, a mother, father and three children, for one of our homeowner features.

They were charming and gracious and, to say thank you, they presented me with a wonderful piece of landscape art in the form of a pineapple.

Sr. Luna explained to me that a pineapple is a symbol of good fortune and hospitality.  It shares a place of honor in my garden.

Have a good one.

Sam Baita, Public RelationsIndian River Habitat for Humanity 772.562.9860 X220sbaita@irchabitat.org

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