When a Liberty County native thinks of the Gum Branch community in the rural area of the county, he or she probably thinks of one of four families: the Groovers, the Longs, the Smileys or the Zorns.
The Gum Branch Church was organized in the mid-1800s on land donated by Mr. Long. This week, I am featuring a family who lives in the area and is well-known throughout the county: Miles and Carlene Groover. They live about a quarter of a mile from where Miles was born and reared.
Miles Groover was born March 1, 1931. He attended schools in Liberty County but never graduated.
As a grown man, he visited his uncle John T. and aunt Louise Groover in Tampa, Florida, and worked at the docks unloading beef and pork products.
One day, a very pretty, young girl walked by, and one of his coworkers made a bet with Miles that he could not get a date with her. Miles was not one to be dared.
The young girl’s name was Carlene Washington, and she worked in Lykes Brothers Meat Packing Plant with her mother.
Carlene was born Jan. 12, 1936, in Tampa, and was 18 years old. She had become sick and had to miss many days from school while she was in 10th grade.
Eventually the doctors decided she had a bad appendix, and it was about to burst by the time the doctors made their decision.
Carlene failed 10th grade because of how many days she missed. She refused to repeat the grade, so she quit. Later, she earned her GED diploma.
Carlene worked in the canning section of the plant, where she helped can beef stew, Vienna sausages, oil sausages, dog food, etc.
Miles worked in the shipping department for the same company. He sent word through another boy to tell Carlene that he wanted a date with her and that she should call him.
Carlene told the boy to tell Miles that she did not call boys and that if he wanted a date with her, he would have to come upstairs where she worked and ask her. He did, and she told him that he would have to ask her daddy.
Carlene told her father that Miles would be coming to their home that evening. Her daddy did not say anything, but pretended to read the newspaper for a long time.
As soon as Miles drove up, Carlene’s father was out the door and met him at the car. Miles asked him if he could date his daughter.
Miles looked at the man’s hands, and he had never seen such large hands. Mr. Washington had been a boxer at one time and then became a landscaper. He wore a size 16 wedding ring!
He told Miles that he could date Carlene, but if Miles mistreated her, he would come looking for him. Miles remembered those large hands and the promise he made regarding Mr. Washington’s daughter.
For their first date, they went to the state fair in Tampa with Miles’ brother Tracy and his wife, Maurine, as their chaperones. Carlene liked them very much.
During their second date, Miles and Carlene visited Cypress Gardens with Tracy, Maurine, uncle John T. and aunt Louise Groover.
Aunt Louise carried a picnic basket filled with everything needed to make cold-cut sandwiches. She told Carlene that she might as well make the sandwich for Miles, as she probably would be making many of them for him before long.
Carlene was very shy at the time. Miles was so in love already with the pretty girl that he probably did not even know what kind of sandwich he was eating.
In just a few weeks, Miles asked Carlene, “When are we getting married?” He never did ask her if she would marry him. In just six weeks after taking the bet, they were married April 2, 1954. That was 60 years ago.
At the time, Miles talked about living in Tampa until he retired, which was many years off. Two weeks after the wedding, the newly married couple visited Gum Branch so Carlene could meet his family. She was well pleased with all of them.
Well, in the fall of that same year, Miles’ father began begging him to come back to Gum Branch to help him with the farming, as he was getting feeble in his old age.
In December 1954, Miles and Carlene made their way back to Gum Branch, where they have remained since.
Miles and Carlene have three children. Randall Miles Groover, 56, and his wife, Elaine, live in McDonough, Georgia. He spent 16 years in the armed services and became disabled while in there. He was honorably discharged.
Delores, 55, is married to Gregg Wilson, and they live with her parents. She works at the Liberty County Courthouse, and they attend church at Fleming Baptist, where Gregg is the music director. Delores also plays the keyboard.
Fred, 45, is married to Kay and works at Memorial Health University Medical Center in Savannah as a security guard.
Miles and Carlene have six grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. The house is full when they are all home for the holidays.
Carlene’s hobbies include fishing, arranging flowers and cooking. She especially loves to arrange flowers.
She likes to cook almost anything, but not fried chicken. Kentucky Fried Chicken can do it for her.
She used to bake a lot but does not want to tempt Miles, who has diabetes.
Carlene is famous for her potato salad. She also is good at making chicken and dumplings and chicken and rice.
She even cooked meals for the prisoners when they were housed in the Old Liberty County Jail on Main Street. I’ll bet they had some good vittles!
Although Carlene loves to fish, she does not eat fish. She does like other seafood, including shrimp, scallops, oysters and crab legs.
Miles and Carlene’s favorite seafood restaurant is Captain Joe’s in Jesup. The Golden Hibachi in Hinesville is a Chinese restaurant that they go to quite often as well. Miles loves all the many ways they fix shrimp.
Carlene likes to read. She said she enjoys reading “Liberty Lore” in the Coastal Courier. (Thanks!) Lately, she has been reading many books about George Washington because she found that she is a very distant relative of his.
She traced her family ancestry back to being kin to Lawrence Washington (1718-1752), who was George’s older half-brother and the first to live at the Mount Vernon Estate. He also was responsible for establishing the town of Alexandria, Virginia. There is only one known photo in existence of Lawrence.
Miles has a little garden that he tends daily. He just can’t get the farming out of his blood. He enjoys planting and watching the vegetables grow.
Miles retired from his job in law enforcement in 1993 and then was a bailiff at the Liberty County Courthouse for 17 years. Carlene said she didn’t retire from anything — she just got tired.
In October 1955, when Miles began working with the Hinesville Police Department, there were four officers on the force. The telephone was on a post beside the street in town. The police worked from their car.
Miles kept a scrapbook of his law-enforcement days and recently asked if I wanted to look at it and write a column about some of the unique things that happened in those years.
I was delighted with the offer and hope to have a column in a couple of weeks from the information I find in his scrapbook. Thanks, Miles, for preserving the history of Liberty County.