I was sitting on the lanai this morning reading The News-Press when I noticed the obituary of Rose Pavese Pacelli. She was 88 and a lifelong Fort Myers resident.
The obit noted that she was the original owner of Rose and Eddie’s and the Surf Club on Fort Myers Beach. The loving obit detailed Rose’s life, family and faith, things that sustained her through nearly nine decades.
I want to touch on something else here on the blog – her connection to one of the literary heavyweights of the 20th century, James Jones, the author of “From Here to Eternity.”
That’s what brought me to her home in 2006 to talk with Rose and her two daughters, Toni Pacelli-Hinkley and Marion Pacelli. I wanted to learn about the days long ago when Jones stayed on Fort Myers Beach so I could write a feature for the paper.
Jones and his friends in a circle of aspiring and hungry young writers regularly ate spaghetti and meatballs at Nettie’s Place, a beach restaurant Rose owned with her husband Edward, who died in 1988.
When Jones first came to the beach in 1949 he wasn’t yet famous. His epic novel wouldn’t be published until 1951 and the Oscar-winning movie of the same name was released in 1953.
“He was a cocky son of a gun,” Rose told me in 2006.
Jones was part of a moveable writing colony run by an older woman named Lowney Handy. Handy was more than a mentor to Jones. They were lovers.
In 2006, when Rose, who was then 81, had clear memories of Jones coming to Nettie’s for spaghetti and meatballs.
“He was a very slight built fellow,” Rose said. “He was not a big husky fellow. He was very slight. I might say he was kind of full of it.”
Nevertheless, Rose liked the young man, who was only a couple days short of turning 28 when he first visited the island, driving over the old, hand-cranked swing bridge that then connected Estero Island to the mainland.
“He was very warm and friendly,” Rose said. “He was not a troublemaker. All the fellows used to come in and eat there. I can’t remember any of their names other than Mrs. Handy. She really kept a tight hand on them.”
Rose had vivid memories of Mrs. Handy, who was 40 when she first met Jones when he was only 23.
“She wasn’t a handsome one,” Rose said. “Very striking. When she spoke it was like she had command of the English language. She didn’t speak nonsense. She was a dark-haired woman. She had an olive complexion. Very down-to-earth and very matter of fact.”
Handy brought her writers from Marshall, Ill. to the beach every winter for several years. Jones was the star of the writing colony but his first novel remains the best known of his career.
The Modern Library lists “From Here to Eternity” at No. 62 on its list of the top 100 English language novels of the 20th century.
Handy was, apparently, a good influence on the hard-living Jones, reining in, Rose told me, the writer’s penchant for strong drink. Handy kept her writers on a strict schedule that allowed time for writing, playing on the beach and eating at Nettie’s.
But Jones wouldn’t always have Handy, er, handy to discipline him.
“He’s another one who lived fast and died young,” Rose told me on that day seven years ago.
Rose was 25 when Jones first came to Fort Myers Beach. The author died at the age of 55 in 1977 because of congestive heart disease.
Rose, RIP. And thanks again for taking the time to share your memories of James Jones.