Book SynopsisThe four Cole boys suffer abuse at the hands of an alcoholic father, while largely being left to their own devices by a heartbroken and overworked mother. Their adventures on their island home have become a welcome escape, and one of the only things in life the boys can truly rely on. Jessie, the youngest and a dreamer, becomes enamored with US plans for manned space flight and its race to the moon, stirring his own dreams of one day becoming an astronaut. In a strange twist of fate, it is the space program and the momentum it gains that abruptly brings their beloved island life to an end. The family is forced to move to the city and start anew. Life in town creates new challenges, financial pressures, news of the Vietnam War and the impending threat of the military draft for Max the eldest of the Cole brothers.
“Welcome to another episode of Rising Stars. Today I’m talking with Eleanor Cole, who moved to Indian River City with her husband and four boys in 1964 after the government forced them to leave Merritt Island.
“Thanks for taking the time to meet with me, Mrs. Cole.”
“Call me Eleanor, although I’m not sure why you want to interview me.”
“You are an interesting lady, Mrs. Cole, don’t sell yourself short.”
“I’m just a woman trying to take care of my family.”
“You’ve done so through some truly difficult times, though. Why don’t we start with how you and your husband met?”
“I was seventeen, working at the Sit A Spell Café in Carswell, West Virginia. Gene would come in just about every night after his shift in the coal mine. He always ordered the same thing, fried chicken, mashed potatoes and carrots. He didn’t talk much but he did leave me a nice tip. One evening a table of miners got rowdy, started giving me a hard time and Gene stepped in, telling them to show some respect. The next day there was an explosion in the mine.
“I barely knew Gene but I was worried sick. He didn’t come in to the restaurant for almost a week and I was sure he was dead. When he did finally come back, he was wearing a suit and there wasn’t a speck of dirt under his fingernails. I hadn’t realized how handsome he was under all the coal dust and almost didn’t recognize him. He came right up to me, took my hand and asked if I would have dinner with him. We were married a year later.”
“How did the mine explosion effect Eugene?”
“He took it hard. He should have been in the mine, but had been sent out for a new tool or something, I don’t remember it exactly. He was a nervous wreck after the mine reopened and he went back to work. I thought I could take care of him or I wouldn’t have married him.”
“Was it hard for you to leave your family when you moved to Florida?”
Chuckling. “It was terrifying. Gene ran off and joined the Navy without even telling me. Next thing I know we are packing up and moving. We moved the week I turned 19 and I had never been outside of Carswell. I had no idea how I would manage without my mother and sisters. I didn’t know if Gene would be sent off to Europe once we got to Florida. Our first week on the base, I met a couple of other young wives who were in the same position, far from home for the first time. We became the best of friends. They really saved me that first year.”
“I’ve heard about the friendships that grow between military families being like a second family.”
“That’s true. Jan Maisey was probably my best friend, still is. She has two boys the same age as my middle two.”
“I know this may be a difficult subject, but can you tell me how your husband started drinking?”
“If I’m honest, I think it started after the explosion. He was having nightmares and so he started having a couple of beers before going to bed. It think the turning point, though was when we got to Florida, we heard stories about German U-boats patrolling the coast and merchant ships that were being targeted. In May of 1942 the freighter La Paz was torpedoed and ran aground within sight of the Cocoa Beach Pier. The locals were called upon to help unload the cargo-china, fertilizer and 900 cases of Johnny Walker scotch.” Eleanor pauses and shakes her head with a sad smile.
“I don’t know how many of those cases of scotch made it back to the shipping company. Gene spent most of the night helping unload that boat and got so drunk that two of the high school boys who lived nearby had to practically carry him home. He insisted we move off base a month later; found us a house out in the orange groves further north on Merritt Island. That’s when he started making his own moonshine.
“After Max was born, Gene seemed to come home drunk more often, sleeping off the alcohol through all of the middle of the night feedings. I was too afraid to talk to him about it and I was too ashamed to tell my family. I wish I had talked to someone in those early years. Maybe I could have protected Max and Jessie better.”
“They seem to have turned out pretty well.”
“They’ve been through some tough times, but they seem to be thriving now. I am so proud of what they are each accomplishing.”
“As well you should be. I’m looking forward to following Jessie’s career and hope you’ll put in a good word for me when he starts being interviewed by the national press.”
“I’ll make sure he takes your call first.”
“Thanks for taking the time to meet with me. I’ve enjoyed getting to know a bit more about your family. I look forward to breaking the story of your family’s success in the future. I like seeing our local boys succeed.”
Set Back April 25, 1961
Jessie stood at the edge of the playground with two other boys, anxious for the next space launch. Recess would be over any minute. There would be no time for a hold in the countdown. Two weeks earlier the Russians had announced the successful launch of Yuri Gagarin into space. Once again the Americans had been left behind but today’s launch would hopefully be the last before America put their own man into space. Jessie held his breath as the rocket appeared above the trees. Then it happened. The plume of white smoke erupted into a fiery ball, debris flying in all directions. Jessie didn’t wait for the teacher’s frantic call to take shelter in the school. He shook his head and turned his back on the carnage. At the door, the teacher gently laid a hand on his shoulder and gave him a sympathetic look. Any other day and Jessie might have resented it, but he knew, today, it had nothing to do with his father and the reputation he’d developed for himself the past couple of years. When school was out, Jessie dragged his feet along the familiar path home. He kept walking when he came upon his brothers, his head down, watching the sand shift beneath his worn-out sneakers. “I heard the explosion.” Max draped an arm over Jessie’s shoulders. “Sorry.” Jessie nodded. “Maybe we should go out to the beach, see if we can find any pieces,” Ricky suggested. The thought turned Jessie’s stomach, but then he stopped. “That’s not a bad idea. I’d like to have something to remember we at least tried to get to space.” “Don’t talk like that,” Sam said. “We’ll get there, it’s just going to take time.” Jessie knew Sam was trying to be encouraging, and so attempted a smile of thanks before shifting course across the large field of scrub grass. The boys spread out when they reached the beach. The tide was low but turning. Jessie took the section closest to the water, knowing the rising tide would cover it in another hour. The salty tang of sea spray filled his nostrils and he inhaled, while his eyes and ears locked away every detail of the sand and surf. He saw a flash of light ten feet ahead and quickened his pace, keeping his eyes on the spot. The ocean foamed up, then slowly retreated. Jessie squatted down to find a silver and black triangle, partially buried in the sand. Another wave rushed toward him, splashing over his feet and soaking the bottom of his shorts. He held onto the metal afraid the undertow would pull it out to sea. When the water receded, Jessie pulled the debris free of the remaining sand. It was five inches tall and three wide. Turning it over in his hands he noted scorch marks and part of what he thought might be the letter U or A from the USA painted on the side of the rocket. “Guys,” he waved to his brothers. Max arrived first. “What’d you find?” Jessie handed him the piece of metal. “Cool.” Ricky joined them and reached for the newfound treasure. “Good job, Jess.” Sam clapped his brother on the back. “I didn’t think we’d find anything that big.” Jessie reached for the metal and traced the rough edges. “You don’t think they will give up do you?” Sam shook his head. "Since the Russians have gotten into space already, I don’t see how we can give up now." "I hope they don’t.” Jessie tore his gaze away from his find and looked at his brothers. “I want to be an astronaut." Max laughed. "You can't be an astronaut." "Why not?" "Cause you gotta have money to be an astronaut. You don't think Shepard and Grissom and all those other guys are dirt poor do you?" "Maybe they’re not dirt poor, but they aren’t filthy rich. They were chosen because they were in the military and had good records." "So you gonna enlist when you turn eighteen? We'll probably still be in that dag gum Vietnam and you'll go and get yourself killed the first day in the jungle." "Nuh-huh. I know how to take care of myself. I hide from you in the woods all the time." Jessie balled his hands into fists and planted his feet. Sam stepped between them. "Cool it, Max. If Jessie wants to be an astronaut, then maybe he can be. Lots of things are changing." Max snorted. "Yeah, and I could be President." "If that happens, then I'm moving to Mexico," Ricky quipped. Jessie laughed and unclenched his fists. Yet again Sam had brokered peace without anyone coming to blows. Maybe Sam was the one who would become President. Sam stepped back. “Let’s head home.” “Did you hear Mom and Pop got another letter from the government yesterday?" Max asked as they walked along the hard packed sand. "About what?" Jessie asked, turning up the beach, shuffling through the soft sand to a well-worn path across the dunes. Thick saw palmettos, sea grapes, and sea oats grew on either side of the path, slowly thinning as the boys moved farther from the beach. "About buying our land. They want to expand the missile complex more. They've been buying up all the land around here." Max swatted at a dragonfly buzzing around his head. "But they already have so much land, what do they need more for?" Jessie ducked under the wispy needles of an Australian Pine tree, his brothers close behind. "How'm I supposed to know? I didn't see the letter, I just heard them arguing about it after we went to bed. Mom wants to take their offer, but Pop doesn't want to move." "I don't want to move either," Ricky agreed. "I like being close to the beach and huntin' in the woods." "I don't think we have much choice. Sounded like the government letter said we take the offer or they'll just take the land away from us." "They can't do that," Jessie cried. "We've lived here forever." "Not forever, you moron," Max sneered. "Mom and Pop only moved here during the war, when Pop got assigned to the Banana River Naval Air Station." "Still, that's practically forever." Jessie let his fingers run through the thin pine needles as they emerged from the copse of trees into a clearing. "There are families that have lived here since the 1800s and they’re being bought out too. I don't think the government is going to consider our twenty years here more important," Sam replied. Jessie rolled his eyes. Leave it to Sam to know the history of the island. "But they can't just take our land," Jessie insisted. "Yes, they can, it's called eminent domain. If they can prove to the court that private property is needed for public use and fair compensation has been offered, the court will likely rule in favor of the government." "But this isn't public use," Ricky interjected. "Yes and no." Sam leaned forward, obviously warming to the subject. "A public park isn't being created, but the research being conducted and the satellites being launched are for the public good. Plus, the government will probably be able to make a pretty good case for public safety. Think about how close this piece of the rocket landed to our house. The government can use this incident and the others before as evidence of danger to the people still living on this end of the island." "All right, professor, we get it, but it still doesn't mean I want to move," Ricky interrupted. Up ahead, Jessie could see the orange grove that bordered their land, and glanced back over his shoulder. He couldn’t see the beach through the trees, but it had taken less than five minutes to stroll home. Sam was right. This one had been a little too close for comfort.
About The Author
Rebekah is a Christian with a heart for new beginnings. She is a Florida native and a graduate of Jacksonville University, Jacksonville, Fl. A love of history, research and journaling led naturally to a passion for writing. She enjoys travel and has traveled extensively across the United States and Canada as well as Europe and the Caribbean. Her reading taste run from the classics to light fiction. When she is not working or writing, she enjoys cooking, baking and sharing recipes on her blog.
Her current works include, Summer Storms and Winter's End, books one and two in The Seasons of Faith series, and Julianne the first book in The Coastal Chronicle series. She is currently working on Jessie a coming of age novel set in coastal Florida during the early days of the United States manned space flight program. Jessie is the second book in the Coastal Chronicles Series.
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