Minutes of Separation|
and the Great Banana Uprising of Dunedin, Florida
God’s Little Acre of Bananas
Rufus St. Claire
The author of
“earthy” novels that dealt with poverty and race relations gave him worldwide
acclaim but (for a time) a cold shoulder in his native South. This story is adapted
from his autobiography: With All My Might.
Caldwell was a Georgian who
could be described as a compulsive traveler. His popularity reached such far-flung
places as Russia, Turkey and Japan and his works have been translated into over
35 languages. His hometown of Moreland, Georgia has opened a museum on the town
square in his restored and relocated boyhood home.
time was the 1970s and Erskine “Skinny” Caldwell was searching for a place to
live. His chronic bronchitis had been misdiagnosed as emphysema by a California
doctor who had recommended a semi-tropical climate.*
leaving wet and damp coastal California, Erskine, with his fourth wife Virginia,
moved to Dunedin, Florida, a coastal community just north of St. Petersburg on
the west side of the peninsula.
The city was what they were looking for,
but finding a house wasn’t easy. In Mr. Caldwell’s words: “all of the houses were
too large, too small or in undesirable locations.”
One day Virginia saw
a contractor pouring a concrete slab for a new house on a one-acre lot. She asked
the man if he’d be willing to build to her specifications and he agreed on the
they settled into their dream home, it became apparent that landscaping was needed.
After planting a hedge of viburnam which had to be trimmed almost daily, Mr. Caldwell
spied a grove of banana plants that was being cleared to make way for a new shopping
He quickly dug a “tubful” of of the endangered roots and transplanted
them into his backyard during a downpour. Within a week the sprouts were growing
faster than Audrey II on Miracle-gro.
Banana Plant that may (or may not) have been rescued by Erskine Caldwell in Dunedin
Photo, June 2012
As he described
it: “…soon there were thriving stalks racing upward to reach their intended height
of about fifteen feet.” New sprouts rose up with the speed of time-lapse photography.
Caldwell described the stalks as “thick as a gallon jug and heavy as a slab of
to interest his neighbors in an adopt-a-root campaign, but being his neighbors,
they had seen the drama unfolding and decided they “didn’t want to become involved.”
He implored old friends to take a few tub loads of roots. Even his book loyal
distributor declined to help. Caldwell was shocked and saddened when his old friend
“refused without even an apology” to foster some banana plants.
Because of a book tour in Europe, Caldwell asked his “friendly nurseryman” to
make the bananas go away while he was gone. He returned to find his acre of land
with twice as banana plants many as there were before he left.
are not above saying “I told you so…” and Caldwell’s man did exactly that. After
saying he should’ve been consulted before the plants were even adopted, he gave
the author two choices: “bring in some heavy earth-moving equipment and end up
with a hole big enough to bury all of the elephants in the circus” or wait until
someone wants to build a parking lot on your property and “choke the cussed bananas
to extinction.” Today no one in Dunedin seems to remember Erskine Caldwell. Even
the city librarians (who have heard of him) are only mildly surprised that he
once lived here.
Local bananas have settled down and no longer pose the
threat described in Mr. Caldwell’s autobiography.
Caldwell died in 1987 from lung cancer and complications of emphysema (it seems
the California doctor’s diagnosis wasn’t incorrect after all). He had left Florida
and spent his last years in Arizona. He was buried in Oregon.
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