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West Orange Times & Observer Wednesday, May 25, 2022 1 month ago

Mr. Winter Garden: Carlos Watson shares neighborly waves

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Carlos Watson spends his days, from sunup to sundown, sitting outside his home on West Story Road in Winter Garden and waving to all the vehicles going by.
by: Amy Quesinberry Community Editor

If you drive past the corner of South Boyd Street and West Story Road in Winter Garden on any given day, one thing is for certain. You will see Carlos Watson sitting in his lounge chair at the side of his house, possibly with a Coors Light bottle — never a can — in the drink holder. If you honk, the 93-year-old will throw up his hand and wave at you.

Chances are, too, there’s a visitor sitting with him, shooting the breeze and listening to stories of old Winter Garden. Sometimes Daisy, the neighbor’s dog, comes over and jumps right up in Watson’s lap.

He might even get up to stretch his legs a time or two, taking a stroll through his backyard garden and checking on his collard greens and peas.

Watson has been giving folks a friendly wave for years, and he is the neighborhood ambassador, said Michelle Ford Gentry, who has lived across the street from him for 27 years.

 

TRANSPLANT FROM ALABAMA

Watson was the 18th and last child born to C.O. “Claude” Watson and Ari Reid in the woods of Southern Alabama. He never learned to read or write because he attended school only until about the third grade.

“It was out in the country, about five or six miles from home that you had to walk,” Watson said. “They finally got a bus. … hell, I drove an old school bus when I was 10 ½ years old. No license or nothing. … There weren’t about 25 (students) on the bus. The fellow that lived about three miles from us, he drove the school bus, but if he got sick, he’d want some of us to drive it.”

Watson said he wasn’t learning anything in school, so he quit before finishing third grade.

“I missed it, but I made it this far,” he said. “I thank the Lord for that.”

Carlos and Betty Watson lived in this small house after they were married. Their daughter was born while they lived here.

When he was about 10 years old, he began working on the more than 150 acres that was the family farm and planting or harvesting corn, peanuts, beans and cotton, as well as velvet beans for the cows. He remembers working the plow with one of his brothers because neither was big enough to manage it alone.

“We didn’t have much to eat or money to buy stuff,” he said. “We raised it.”

 

MAKING A LIVING

In 1947, when Watson was 18, he hopped a bus with a travel ticket and $2.50 in his pocket and headed to Florida — where a sister lived in Winter Garden and he knew he could make a decent wage. He stayed with his sister in a little house further west off Story Road, a place he called Burch’s Subdivision, and earned his wages picking fruit.

Water was hard to come by in that section of Winter Garden, and it could only be obtained by walking two blocks and toting the water back, Watson said. When he saw an older woman who lived nearby struggling with her water buckets, he vowed to carry her water for her. He also vowed to love the woman’s granddaughter, Betty, for the rest of his life.

“I asked her, ‘You want to get married?’” Watson said. “I asked her grandfather the next day.”

His response: “But I’ll tell you one thing — you’d better not mistreat her. And it didn’t happen.”

The couple walked to the courthouse in Orlando along a dirt Highway 50 (West Colonial Drive) to get their marriage license only to find out they couldn’t get married there. Someone told them to go to Fulton, Georgia. So they did.

A justice of the peace united the Watsons in marriage three months after the couple met. She was wearing a pair of dress slacks, and he was in his overalls and a white shirt. Both were 18 years old.

Carlos Watson tested every tractor that came through the doors of Pounds Motor Company in downtown Winter Garden, including this Case SS tractor pulling a mechanical fruit loader.

They lived on her grandmother’s screened-in porch for about a year, saving every penny to buy a place of their own. They bought the lot next door for $150 — $25 down and $15 a month.

The Watsons lived in this house on Foster Street for 20 years, even adding another bedroom and enlarging the kitchen when their family grew to include a daughter, Linda, and a son, Marvin. Eventually the couple saved enough money to move into the current home on Boyd Street.

Farming was an important job for decades in West Orange County. Watson worked for 30 cents an hour, farming the land where State Road 429 divides Winter Garden and Ocoee, as well as much of the land north of downtown Winter Garden.

“If you got a job, you’d better stay with it,” he said. “If you missed a day, they made you stay home another day.”

Carlos Watson tested every tractor that came through the doors of Pounds Motor Company in downtown Winter Garden, including this Case 530 tractor and Pounds Young Tree Unbanker.

At another job, he hoed orange trees.

“You had to get under there with that rake and dig up nut grass,” he said. “You had to get five-gallon buckets of nut grass. If you didn’t work fast enough, they didn’t need you.”

Still another job had him picking fruit and earning 15 cents for every two bushels he turned in.

A produce stand once was located on Winter Garden-Vineland Road south of Story Road, and the Watsons ran it for a time.

He also worked for citrus grove owner Charles Hawthorne for 50 cents an hour, 10 hours a day, seven days a week.

In a daily test of strength, Watson drove an ice truck for the downtown Winter Garden ice plant, delivering 100-pound blocks of ice to residents. That job lasted about two months.

“I wasn’t as big as I am now,” he said. “I probably weighed 110 pounds.”

Another driving job better suited for the small-framed man was driving trucks hauling tractors from Savannah, Georgia, to Pounds Motor Co. in Winter Garden. Pounds ordered about 50 tractors at a time, Watson said, and he was responsible for loading them on the dock and getting them down to Central Florida.

Taking the position at Pounds meant a pay raise for Watson, and he started earning 97 cents an hour. He remained loyal to Hoyle Pounds for nearly 47 years. At the time of Pounds’ death in 1981, Watson was making an hourly wage of $10.87.

 

A CREATURE OF HABIT

Watson maintains a daily routine — and this includes waking up anywhere from 1 to 3:30 a.m.

“I get up and make up my bed, take a shower, shave, and then I fix my breakfast — eggs and bacon,” he said. “I may drink a cup and a half of coffee every day. And then come out here, sometimes at 5 o’clock in the morning.”

Folks worry about his safety, but he brushes it off.

“If it’s my time to go, I’ll go,” he said. “If somebody comes by and knocks me in the head. … You’ve got to go some way.”

Watson keeps a silver Honda truck parked in his carport. He still drives when he needs to go somewhere like Walmart or Sonny’s Barbecue. He hopes to stay in his house as long as possible.

“If something happens to me where I can’t do nothing, I’m not going to no nursing home,” he said matter-of-factly. “I’ll either go to Georgia or live with Debra, the lady who does the lawn mowing.”

But Watson shows no signs of slowing down. He gets around with a walker — and sometimes only a walking cane. He tends to his yard and his garden for exercise.

“I’m pretty busy when I feel like it,” he said.

His neighbors look out for him, including Gentry and Shaun and Bonnie Jones across the street. And so does everyone else, one vehicle at a time, as they pass his house in anticipation of a smile and friendly wave.

Carlos and Betty Watson raised two children, Marvin and Linda, in their home on South Boyd Street.

 

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Amy Quesinberry is the community editor of the West Orange Times & Observer and the Windermere Observer. She was born and raised in Winter Garden, grew up reading the community newspaper and has been employed there as a writer, photographer and editor since 1990....

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