Life Etched into Memories: The East Side of the River

“Family life is full of major and minor crises — the ups and downs of health, success and failure in career, marriage and divorce — and all kinds of characters. It is tied to places and events and histories. With all of these felt details, life etches itself into memory and personality. It’s difficult to imagine anything more nourishing.”
-Thomas Moore

Lois Bolin, PhD, Old Naples Historian

After 11 years of trying to understand my family (translated: myself), the awareness came into focus while I was reading a generational marketing. Imagine. I had spent all those years and a boatload of money searching for something that was in a marketing book all along.

So that’s why they do that
Generational marketing, a term coined by The Yankelovich MONITOR, was the new buzz in the last millennium. It became one of my favorite consulting programs, so much so that I went to Atlanta in 1997 to interview the author of “Rocking the Ages: The Yankelovich Report on Generational Marketing,” for a 13 week TV series called “The Changing Tides of Business.” Dr. Walker J. Smith reconfirmed my fireside chat with myself.

Each generation has its own cultural values that drives them to do what we do. We all go through life stages, rites of passage, so to speak, and come out at some point knowing that no matter what your family was like, to feel and be connected is still one of the deepest yearnings we have as humans. Naples pioneering matriarch, Jessie Naomi Allen Browning (formerly Chesser), did not need a marketing book to tell her that.

Gone but not forgotten
Having lived her life to the fullest, Ms. Jessie went to her heavenly home on June 25, 2020, but before her departure; she made sure this connection to family would be passed on for generations to come by writing a compendium of stories called “The East Side of the River: A True Story.” Through an introduction via  Jackie  Sloan, whose daddy was the first real estate broker in Naples, Ms. Jessie proudly (and lovingly) gave her lineage.

“I came from the Walker-Kirkland family,” she stated. As she was verbally laying out her genealogy, I thought of my family and how, no matter where I went when I was home, someone was bound to be my cousin. And so, it was with Ms. Jessie, whose family came here in the late 1890s and produced six generations to carry forth the stories contained in her book.

Her book is about growing up on the east side of the Gordon River. It’s a tribute to Ms. Chesser’s heritage and to a group of hard-working fishermen and farmers who helped shape the early culture and magic of this place we call home. “I spent the last year taking care of my mama and began taking notes on the stories she’d tell me — stories I’d heard hundreds of times before, but this time I thought, I don’t want my children not knowing these stories.”

She dedicates her book to her mama, Grace Allen, “the kindest woman I ever knew.” From the tender look on the face of Ms. Jessie’s daughter, Donna Bare, she must feel the same about her mama. As I watched these two generations talking about a past
generation, I realized Ms. Jessie’s book was more significant than she knew.

Although there’s no Pulitzer Prize in her future, my hope was that her book would prompt a new tradition among those who read ‘those felt detail where life has etched itself into memories and personalities’. It’s difficult to imagine anything more magical and nourishing.

RIP Ms. Jessie. You will be long remembered and sorely missed.

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