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“There’s so much happiness in that house,” she says.
The Camel Rider sandwich, now served by Arabic restaurants across the South, originated in 1965 or 1972, depending on your source, at The Sheik, an Arabic sandwich franchise that began at 18, “Tabbouleh, served on the side, is as traditional in Jacksonville as potato salad is elsewhere.” A faded note tucked into a window frame on the door says, “Mrs. I try to count its sides, three or four times, but somehow fail and fail again. This rambling accumulation of a house defied shape before it was built, stood at odds to the shapes of its streets, then introduced to the American South the Middle East. The land had been fitted to a pre-1900 plan for an expansion of Riverside, just southwest. I expect no sound but hope for some ghostly response, perhaps Gertrude or Mildred, who lived here in 1932, when the house was known as the Homelike Apartments. The directory tells me, in no uncertain terms, “Magnolia ends,” and then: “No return.” Amal so loved the stairs, the balcony, the porch. Though I long for specifics, all I think now is that everything has happened within the radius of my sight, remains.In 1906, the grand vernacular house was built, then resold immediately and again. Perhaps the Avon’s apartment manager, listed in city directories as Ula in 1953 and “Eula” in 1972, could give me her name’s correct spelling and tell me about her life. When she was small, she helped her parents, Hala and George, work the shop. They did so much business when the corporate headquarters opened around the corner. “My grandfather owned two buildings, side by side,” Amal says.In 1908, the new neighborhood called the Forest and Date Street Addition incorporated the house as part of Riverside. Much later, this part of Riverside was understood to be an extension of Brooklyn, immediately to the north, since the interstate juncture of 95 and 10, just to the south, offered a newly clear and bold line between Riverside and Brooklyn. Most of its two-story porches, front and back, have been enclosed. The 1940 census identifies her as “Eula,” her husband Papé as “head of household,” and their 30 year old son Fred still living at home, almost unheard of at the time for an able-bodied and mentally-sound adult son. In the empty lot toward the river, a similar woodframe vernacular house once stood: 723, which, in earlier years, only two or three residents called home.I’m dying to ask the operator to connect me to ELgin 4-5014. One night, lost among immeasurable other sad darkness, lost and gone, 1979, a tenant dropped a lit cigarette, ignited a fire that turned the grand old wooden home to kindling, filled the sky with what of all that history and life the fire reduced to black plumes racing into atmospheric currents that circumnavigated the earth. And in this port city, which has the country’s 10th largest Arab population, there are Camel Riders.” In Katherine Cohen’s brilliant 1986 master’s thesis, “Immigrant Jacksonville: A Profile of Immigrant Groups in Jacksonville, Florida, 1890-1920,” she points out that nearly 10 percent of Jacksonville’s “foreign-born white population” in 1920 was Syrian, while the “original Arabic community in Jacksonville” comprised Syrians, Lebanese, Iraqis, Jordanians, and Palestinians.