Ever since man first had a cave to call his own, he’s been gathering and keeping things. This need to keep stuff is in our DNA. Some of us collect things. Others perhaps go too far, becoming pack rats or hoarders.
But this isn’t about that kind of keeping. No, this is about those special things we hang onto for years, for decades, and for generations. Sometimes we know why we do. Often, enlightenment comes as a surprise. Embedded into those very special things we keep is a story, a connection to what endures and a reminder of who we are. And therein lies the true treasure.
Three of Ocala’s most recognized residents were generous enough to take a look at the things they’ve kept and then share their stories with Ocala Style. Perhaps after you’ve read about them in the pages to come, you’ll think about the things you keep. We ask just one thing—please share your story with someone close.
The Perfect Set
Most little girls grow up having pretend tea parties with their dolls and stuffed animals. Marion County Commissioner Barbara Fitos grew up having the real thing.
“My mom, Rose, was Irish, so tea time was very important and just part of our day,” says Barbara, whose light red hair and exuberance give away her heritage. “Even as a little girl, I remember having tea every day at four o’clock. My mom, my sister Eileen, me, and usually family friends would have our own little tea party.”
And, of course, where there’s tea, there are teacups.
Barbara Fitos with her collection of Noritake teacups.
“Oh, yes, Mom would bring out her best china for our tea parties,” says Barbara, smiling at the memory of her small-town New Jersey childhood. “My father bought Mom this Mrs. Tea set one year and I don’t think she ever took it out of the box. That was way too commercial for her.”
When Barbara’s Aunt Alice died, her mother inherited a beautiful Noritake china set. The Ivory Crestwood pattern had service for 12, except for six missing teacups. The saucers were there, but no teacups.
“My Aunt Alice was very fastidious, so it was a mystery to everyone what happened to those six teacups,” says Barbara. “While my mother was delighted to have the china, it became her mission to find replacement teacups for the set. Wherever she went, she looked for that china pattern to replace those cups.”
Many years later while shopping, Barbara’s mother and her best friend, Dottie, were sure they had finally found the elusive china pattern at a mall department store. Elated, her mother placed a special order for the six teacups and told everyone that her quest was over.
“I remember the day the box arrived. We were all so excited,” Barbara remembers. “But when my father opened the box and brought out the first cup, everyone realized it was a different pattern. Not only that, it was a different cup altogether. The original ones were round with gold handles. These were tall cups with ivory handles.”
Moments of silence followed while everyone stood around the box, not sure what to say. It was Barbara’s mother who finally spoke.
“Mom said, ‘Oh, well, it’s a lovely pattern. Now I have six more beautiful teacups,’” recalls Barbara with a chuckle. “She proceeded to put them in her china cabinet. She had six saucers with no matching teacups and six teacups with no matching saucers. It was very funny and Mom’s mission continued.”
Flash forward to 1992. Barbara is now living in Ocala, raising her son Joseph and well into a banking career that would span 25 years. Her mother had still never replaced those six teacups.
“I was driving home one day and happened to be listening to John Sikorski’s radio show and I hear him talking about a website called replacement.com,” says Barbara. “He says they can replace almost anything, just check out the website or call 1-800-REPLACE. The minute I got home, I called.”
Told she had to go to the website and register the Noritake china pattern, which was now discontinued, Barbara did just that and hoped for the best. She didn’t tell anyone because she didn’t want to give her mother false hope.
“A year and a half later, I got a call and the company had two teacups,” says Barbara. “I couldn’t believe it. Of course, I bought them. When I went home for the holidays, I carried those very carefully wrapped teacups with me on the plane.”
Barbara pauses, emotions momentarily overwhelming her as she remembers her mother opening the gift.
“When she saw the teacups in that box, my mom started crying and said, ‘Where did you find them, my dear?’ It was such a special moment for all of us,” says Barbara. “I don’t think my mother thought she’d ever live to see those teacups.”
Two years later, Barbara’s mother was diagnosed with cancer. Not long after that, the teacup set was finally completed.
“Replacement.com came up with the last four teacups just about the same time as Mom’s diagnosis,” says Barbara, appreciating the irony. “I gave them to her a month or so before she died on December 22, 1997. I think it made her very happy that the teacup set was complete.”
When Barbara’s father, Lester, moved to Ocala and the family home was sold in 2004, she inherited her mother’s china, including the Noritake set and the six teacups with no saucers. It’s now her mission to find the saucers for those teacups.
And Barbara has continued the tradition of tea time with family and friends, including her young granddaughters Kaelynn Rose and Payton Grace.
“I long ago understood that tea time is not about the tea,” says Barbara, smiling. “It’s about taking the time to be with the ones you love. That’s what my mother gave to me and what I remember every time I use her teacups.”
Band With A Bond
Far from gaudy, the simple gold ring features a roaring lion with a small diamond in its mouth. Originally, it had two tiny rubies for eyes but one ruby was lost. And it’s no wonder, considering that Bruce estimates the ring could be well over a hundred years old. For Bruce, its value lies not in it being an antique, but instead in what it represents.
“Through a complicated set of family circumstances, my mother, Evelyn, was raised by friends of her family in New York City,” explains Bruce. “The couple who raised her was known by everyone as Uncle and Tonta. The lion ring originally belonged to Uncle, who was a huge mountain of a man and spoke with what I think was a thick German accent. I met him a couple of times when I was a little boy.”
Bruce Fishalow never takes off the lion ring that was passed down to him by his father.
When Evelyn met and married Ernest Fishalow following World War II, the lion ring was given as a wedding gift. The newlyweds moved to Miami, where Ernest made use of the G.I. Bill and went to the University of Miami. He graduated with a degree in engineering and the family moved to Ocala in 1960.
“But my father, Ernie, is not as big a man as Uncle was,” says Bruce. “The ring was so big that he wore it on his thumb for a long time. Years later, he finally got it cut and resized and wore it then as a pinky ring.”
Growing up, Bruce was well aware of the legacy of the gold lion ring and wondered if one day it would be passed on to him. And indeed it was when Bruce got married in 1975.
“My father’s hands are a little bigger than mine, so the ring fit my ring finger perfectly,” says Bruce, who is now divorced. “I never take it off. I guess it’s just become part of me after all these years.”
Bruce is the father of two daughters, Chelsea, 27, and Molly, 20, and is hoping to have a grandson to pass the ring on to one day.
“It’s very important to me that the ring stays in the family,” says Bruce. “Because with the ring comes the story of Uncle and how he was good-hearted enough to raise my mother. If not for him, maybe none of us would be here at all.”
A Message of Love
“That window seat was my favorite spot in the house,” says Julie, who recently celebrated her 25th anniversary with the Marion County Public Library System. “It was a great place to sit and read or just daydream. There was a great view of the orchid tree and my grandmother’s garden outside.”
Hanging on the alcove’s wall was a simple, framed print of a muted, mystical mountain setting with an unattributed quote: Today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday and all is well.
Julie Sieg holds a copy of the framed print that once hung in her grandmother’s home.
“I spent a lot of time looking at that print,” says Julie. “I always felt peaceful and calm when I looked at it. Even as a child, that quote made me think about life and how it can be filled with worry. And I didn’t realize until many years later how the quote became part of my life philosophy.”
It’s no surprise that the impressionable, contemplative child would realize as an adult how important words are to evolving minds—so much so, in fact, that Julie has made it her life’s work. She began her Marion County Public Library System career as the children’s librarian before becoming its director in 1993. Naturally, junior and young adult fiction remains a special interest.
“When my grandmother died, one of the few things of hers that I really wanted was that framed print,” says Julie. “I hung it in my office when the library was still downtown. Whenever I was having a particularly stressful day, I would close the door to my office and just sit there looking at the print. I would think of my grandmother and all those great afternoons I spent sitting in that window seat. Soon I would be calm.”
When the main library headquarters moved from its longtime downtown location to its current spot on Silver Springs Boulevard five years ago, Julie took the print home. It has since hung on the living room wall of the home she shares with husband Rodney, 11-year-old son Zachary, and three dogs.
“I didn’t want the print to get lost in the move,” says Julie. “But now I’m thinking about bringing it back to the library and hanging it in my office again. I think that’s really where it belongs.”
We asked our Facebook fans about their own most treasured possessions and why they have held onto them. Here are the stories they shared:
My ceramic teapot with pansies painted on it that my grandmother gave me 20 years ago. It had been her mother’s before her. Anytime I look at the teapot, it reminds me of the two of them and the heritage they have passed on.
My first pair of crocheted baby booties and my first Christmas hat. I have them in a shadow box with a picture of me as a baby. It reminds me that yes, once I was a baby, and 54 years later, I’m still here.
—Bonnie Harker Tripi
Silly, I know, but I have a T-shirt (hangs in my closet) that one of my older cousins got for me when I was about seven. It is from Fredonia College in New York. He brought [it] home during break his first year there back in the late ‘70s. It makes me smile!
My daddy’s softball shirt from the 1940s. It is made of wool and the letters are hanging on by rotten threads, but I know he wore it having fun.
I can’t seem to part with my “Goonies Never Say Die” shirt. I have worn it from the time I was in middle school and it doesn’t even fit anymore, but for some reason I keep it. I think it reminds me of some of my favorite times in middle school and throughout high school. I have gotten into some major calamities in that [T-shirt].
I will keep forever a stuffed Army dog from my dad who was killed in WWII. I have a photo of me with the dog that was to be sent to my dad but didn’t get there in time. I wasn’t quite two when he died, so I never really knew him. The dog is worn and is losing its stuffing, but I have it in a plastic bag in the hopes of keeping it together.