Inspiring Okeechobee: Spend five minutes with Carolyn Douglas

OKEECHOBEE — A common denominator in the Inspiring Okeechobee series is that the featured person is usually shocked when contacted and says something along the lines of, “Me? I’m not inspiring.” Or “I don’t do anything special. I just do what anyone would do.” This week’s inspiring story is about Carolyn Douglas, and she is no exception to the rule. She said all those same things. She does not consider herself inspiring in any way, but anyone else you speak to about her would beg to differ.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News
Anyone who spends five minutes with Carolyn Douglas knows why she is inspiring, said Mary Bullington.

We had our interview before 6 a.m. because Ms. Douglas still works full time at her family-owned restaurant, and it is hard to catch her when she isn’t busy. Even at that early hour, several people came in, and every one of them gave her a big hug. As they did, I would ask, “Is that your son?” and she would say something along the lines of, “Well, not officially.” It turns out, no one goes into Crossroads Restaurant without leaving feeling like family.

Ms. Douglas was born outside of Macon, Ga., but her family moved to Okeechobee when she was 9 years old. She married her husband, David, who is a native of Okeechobee. They were married when she was 16, she said. Her plan was to go to nursing school, but his plan was for them to get married and for her to nurse their babies, and that was the plan they chose, and she isn’t sorry she gave in. If you have ever heard of Douglas Pond, it is their family who own it. She said her husband just enjoys watching the young people have a good time, and that’s why they let people come out there. It’s right in their front yard. Her husband has a calendar to schedule people who want to book a time to come out, and it is booked months in advance. They don’t charge for it but do have a donation jar and sometimes people put in a donation, and it helps with upkeep and lights. Some people clean up after themselves and some don’t. Their biggest problem is teenagers coming when they aren’t supposed to be there and doing things they don’t have any business doing, she said.

The first restaurant they owned was Barlow’s. They lived out on the lake, and Barlow’s, which is on the lake, was for sale, so they bought it. While they were renovating it, Crossroads went up for sale. They stopped in for lunch one day after checking on property they had purchased out that way, and the owner told them if she had known they wanted a restaurant she would have sold them hers. Well, before they left, they owned two restaurants, she said.

Their daughter came in to run Crossroads in March 1991, and they finished renovating Barlow’s. They put in a dance floor. They had live music on the weekends but no alcohol because they had 12 grandchildren who were spending a lot of time there and were at the ages that she did not want them getting into mischief, she said. On Sunday evenings they had karaoke. That’s where they discovered they could all sing!

In the meantime, their daughter was running Crossroads, and she went to her dad, and told him she felt she wasn’t spending enough time with her children. She felt she wasn’t raising them because she was always at the restaurant. They understood, and decided they needed to sell one of the restaurants. At first, they were going to sell Crossroads, but the customers at Crossroads asked them what they needed to do to get them to stay open. They thought about it and realized that Barlow’s was more seasonal, and Crossroads was not so much, and though they loved them both, they decided to close Barlow’s.

Mr. and Mrs. Douglas are there seven days a week. Officially, her day off is Monday, but really that just means she doesn’t come in and open. Two or three days a week she comes in a little after 4 a.m. to open with the rest of the crew. She and her husband are a team. They do it together, she said. While she is making grits and gravy, he is prepping bacon.

One of the first things they do is to pray over the food and the customers who will be served that day. Her faith is important to her. “It’s not just a religion to me,” she said. “It’s a relationship.” She doesn’t get to go to church very often because the restaurant is open, and she said she would feel bad taking off to go when she knows some of the employees would love to go and can’t.

The restaurant is officially open from 5:30 until 2:30, but they do have people who stick their heads in earlier and ask if it’s too early to come in, and they usually let them. They are there early, so if they can, they try to accommodate people.

They have a construction company as well, and the boys stop by the restaurant for breakfast and to be dispersed to the different jobs.

Her friend Batzion Berman, whose name means daughter of Zion, said that even though they come from totally different backgrounds, they found a lot in common. Ms. Berman is a religious Jew, and Ms. Douglas is a Christian. She believes it is because their values are the same, and that makes them able to have a pleasant conversation no matter how different they are. “These days, that does not happen so much,” she said. “We are both mothers and grandmothers. We both love our children and our husbands,” said Ms. Douglas. “And I think we both value our religion which makes it nice, because that is how you can relate to one another. I haven’t seen Carolyn in close to six or seven weeks now, but I can come in, and it is just like I came in yesterday,” said Ms. Berman. “She is a forever friend,” said Ms. Douglas. “In today’s world, you don’t find too many nice, decent, good people like that. I don’t say they aren’t there, but you have to find them,” said Ms. Berman.

Mary Bullington, the Douglas’ granddaughter-in-law said, “She always has a smile on her face and a hug for her customers. She loves everyone and has the biggest heart of anyone I know. Just spend five minutes with her, and you will see for yourself how special she is.”

Who inspires you? If you would like to nominate someone to be featured in this column, email cwomble@newszap.com.

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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