Advertisement

Our coronavirus coverage is free for the first 24 hours. Find the latest information at tampabay.com/coronavirus. Please consider subscribing or donating.

  1. Archive

He can go home again, and does

Bill McArthur's life changed abruptly in 1959.

Left behind were the years of his youth and young manhood on the beach at Pass-a-Grille. Ahead was a new marriage and a $10,000 house in a changing neighborhood in St. Petersburg.

He fit into his new environment with no uneasiness, although he and his wife, Davida, were one of the rare white families in the area.

"We made friends, especially Davida, who makes friends wherever she goes," he said.

But McArthur never was able to feel completely at home. "One of my new friends told me, "You live in this neighborhood, but it's not your neighborhood.'

"I respect the people who live here. I hear them going to work at 6 in the morning, coming back at 6 at night."

A woman walks by, nods cooly. "That's the new high school teacher _ hard-working woman. There's Joe Jackson, across the street. We kid around about who grows the best collard greens, him or me.

"But you know, I still like to go back to the old place, even though I'd had enough of it when I left."

From his father and grandfather, he inherited McArthur's Garage on Pass-a-Grille Way, and ran it until he was 40.

"I burned out. Worked 14 hours a day, didn't make much money, lived over the garage," he said. "Even as a kid I lived over the garage."

So he got a job in Tampa, installing glass doors, and bought the house as part of a settlement with a customer at the garage. He sold the garage. A condo went up in its place.

He never stopped going back home. In his huge, half-rusted 1969 station wagon, he drives often to Pass-a-Grille, taking the alleys, like a native, rather than the crowded main streets.

"That's Bobby Dew's house . . . John and Mary Lucas live over there . . . Renny Knox . . . Polly Fagen . . . Colonel Walz . . .

"I grew up with all these people. Some of them are gone now. Some of them are 75 years old," McArthur said. "I'm 75 years old."

He snorts, unbelievingly, then catches sight of a local celebrity, Hoppy, the one-legged town sea gull. The bird sits morosely on a lawn in the shade of a palm tree trunk. "A friend of mine says he has known Hoppy for 15 years," he said.

We pass Merry Pier. "The two biggest heroes in town were the two best fishermen, Captain Kenneth Merry, the son of the man who owned the pier, and Shep Haven. And Shep's brother Jesse, another hero. He was the town bootlegger."

Later, back in the St. Petersburg house, McArthur leads a tour. It is a tiny house, crowded with furniture, dark and sad. A sick cat lives in one room. "He's old but he deserves to live out his life," McArthur said.

We pass through a cluttered living room. The house doesn't need work _ McArthur can make repairs _ it needs money. He lives on Social Security and a very small veteran's pension.

"Anything I have left over I use to take Davida out twice a week," he said. Three years ago, a stroke put his wife in a nursing home. She cannot walk or talk, but her mind is clear.

"I've fixed this room up for her," he says, opening a door. The room is slightly cleaner and less cluttered than the rest of the house. On the walls are pictures of sailing ships _ Mrs. McArthur grew up in Maine _ including the clipper ship Flying Cloud, which was captained by her great-great uncle. The room has a hospital bed, ready for the 68-year-old patient.

On their two days a week together, they go on drives in the old station wagon. Fort De Soto Park is their favorite place.

"We live for the time she'll come home," McArthur says. "We don't let ourselves think it might never happen."

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Advertisement
Advertisement