Janice Birdsong Rowe

I married at 17, just two weeks after graduation and became a Mother at 18 (a son, Stuart). In my own naive sort of way this was my destiny, I was meant to be a mother and perhaps I should have 12 children. Then when my baby was 4 months old, I went to work.

Soon, I was in the motherly way again, and my husband wanted to move to Tennessee. We settled in Fayetteville, TN. It was beautiful country, but much too cold and dreary in the fall and winter, for me. Then my second son (Steve) was born and I started thinking, maybe my destiny was being the mother of less than 6 children.

We bought a small farm, not for farming, just livestock (cows, chickens and hogs). One day, I mentioned to a neighbor lady, I was interested in learning how to milk the cows (I was already pasteurizing the milk and making butter). Her response was, “don’t do that, your husband will never be home in time for milking again.” I took her advice and to this day I know she was right. By now baby #3 was on the way and I was sure my destiny was to be the mother of three children and my life would be full.

Six weeks before the predicted birth date we were hit head on by a drunk driver, God was watching over us and no one suffered serious injury. All (my husband, Stuart, Steve, my sister Judy, 2mos from delivery, and the driver who hit us), except me, were treated and released. I had torn ligaments in the left knee. I walked around on a walker; my parents came and carried the boys and my sister to Sarasota. My daughter (Stephanie) was born three weeks early and I was 21. Eight months later we put the farm up for sale and moved back to Sarasota.

We bought a small home close to Southside School, and an investment house with 4 apartments on Orange Avenue. In 1969, after 9 ½ years of marriage, we divorced. The children and I moved into one of our apartments on Orange Ave.

Life gets complicated. He (my children’s father) moved in across the street and his parents already lived a block away. It was 1970 and time for a change…

My youngest sister wanted to move to Mobile (she was in love) so we packed up the children and all of the necessities that would fit in a 6x10 U-haul and “set sail”, so to speak, with $300.00, for a new life. Family in Mobile helped us find an apartment. Then we started to look for jobs. It was up every morning take the children to school and have a cup of tea at Lums, while we perused the help wanted ads. Finally, with the help of a sharp and aggressive jobs counselor, we found work.

I was being trained to be the bookkeeper. With the encouragement of my employer and a special program, at the University of South Alabama, I began taking junior and senior accounting classes while working full time. The program allowed students who had been out of High School for 10 years or more to accumulate 10 credits in a Major before going back to the basics. What a wonderful opportunity for someone like me. After accumulating my allotted number of accounting credits, I finally had a skill.

In 1973 the cost of living boomeranged. My children were growing-up, the grocery and gas bills tripled, and it became necessary to find a second job. Thank goodness I had bought a small home in 1971 so my housing costs were fixed. For 3 ½ years I worked two jobs. Days at an air conditioning company then moving to First National Bank as the general ledger bookkeeper, all while working nights at Mobile Greyhound Park.

For several years Don and I spent time boating and water skiing with the children. Then a couple of years before we married, Don bought a 20ft Bertram an open boat with a partial hard top. I made a mosquito cover for it, and after cruising and camping on it for a year or so we decided to take a trip around the big bend (of Florida) all the way to Sarasota and back. We had a canvas cover made to fit from the transom to the hard top this gave us some privacy and cover in bad weather. It was camping all the way as this boat had no facilities. It was great fun with lots of adventures, too many to recount in this story. Another year we trailered the same boat to Sarasota and left out to circle the tip of Florida. We had to rebuild the out drive twice, once in Ft Myers and once in the Keys. We were the mechanics, I read the manuals, Don did most of the work. I would look at the manual and if I saw something he was doing that seemed different, trying to be delicate, I would say “can I ask you a question” he hates that phrase to this day. We did make it to the middle of Lake Okeechobee. He tells people “that trip cost us a $1.00 per mile in parts alone”.

In 1977, after dating for 5 years, Don and I were married. I had found my soul-mate. Together we had 4 children, Don’s daughter Karen being the youngest. We lived across the street from Karen’s elementary school so 4 days a week she lived with us.

In the fall of 1977 an elderly lady, driving on the wrong side of the road, hit me head on. This accident killed the lady’s 99 year old mother (a few weeks before her 100th birthday) and left the lady in a coma for along time. My injuries were multiple. The Paramedics called Don and he called my friend who was an ER nurse. By the time I got to the hospital all of the Dr’s were ready, I had a plastic surgeon, orthopedic surgeon, general surgeon and my friend for a private nurse. They cut, pasted, stitched and wired everything back-together. My Friends…if you are ever in such an accident I hope you have a friend like mine. Immediate care can make a difference.

What do you think… Two head on car crashes, maybe my true destiny was to STOP cars that are driving on the wrong side of the road, sounds humanitarian don’t you think?

1979 brought on Hurricane Fredrick, what a mess, we had 2 rental houses, a condo (our home) and a rental duplex on the water. While I was helping safe up the law office where I worked, Don was getting his office ready and protecting our latest boat (a 40 ft wooden hull boat), my daughter sterilized the tubs and filled them, our son went to the ice house early in the morning to fill two coolers with ice and get dry ice for our freezer and Don brought the camp stove from our boat. We had 12 volt lights, a portable 12 volt TV and more food than we could ever eat, before it spoiled. We were prepared and fortunate; all we lost were trees and a few shingles. Because we lived close to a business district our power and water were out about a week. Many were without power and water for months. After Frederick, the power companies setup emergency co-ops, now we seldom go without power for more than 3 days. They come from everywhere in the US to help. It is an amazing thing to watch. Hundreds and hundreds of trucks roll in. They work 24 hours a day in 3 shifts.

In the early 1980’s we built our home on the river doing a lot of the work ourselves. We moved into the house before it was finished, which took another 2 years. That was a challenge.

We acquired an old but fiberglass 36ft Sportfisherman in 1988. She was named Miss Columbia III by her original owner (the owner of the Columbia Restaurant’s in Tampa and Sarasota). We have never changed her name. She was our Beach Cottage, for many years, until we acquired one on land. Don is currently (doing the work himself) refitting her with new engines, fuel tanks and love..

We have been through many hurricanes since Fredrick. In 2004 Ivan tore through our beautiful Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. A lot of our friends lost their homes and jobs. In 2005 we had Katrina and Rita. Katrina was the worst, after getting our new beach condo, home and boat ready (working 24 hours straight), we took our blow-up mattress and miscellaneous food items to the office. Our office is elevation 100+-, our home on Dog River is elevation 15, the flooding on Dog River was 11.8 feet and thankfully did not get in our house. But, we lost the roof on our office building and it was a blessing we were there. We were able to save the computers making it possible (with the help of generators) to be in near full operation the next morning. With in a few hours after the storm passed, while we were still sweeping the water out of our building, we started getting calls from a Mississippi ship builder to come make soundings (underwater surveys looking for debris), so they could bring supply ships and help to Mississippi, because there was no other way to get in. Again our personal losses were light. We did have a storage unit rented, it was full, the roof came off that building and we lost a lot of cherished family antiques and books.

For several summers once the hurricane shutters went up they did not come down. The people in this part of the Gulf Coast were suffering. Hurricane shock had set in and we were exhausted.

For 33 years Don and I have been kept busy running the family business, an engineering and surveying firm, developing real estate, raising our children and now loving our grandchildren. We have traveled some, to Hawaii twice, England with our son Stuart and even took the Chunnel from London to Paris. We spent Mardi Gras week in Belize for several years. We have cruised between Mobile and Sarasota on our own boats. Having enough time is always an issue. Most recently we took a two week Carnival cruise from San Diego through the Panama Canal to Mobile. The average age on the cruise ship was 68. Where did all those "old folks" come from!

We have 6 grandchildren, two boys and four girls, ages 6 months to 16 years. Because they are spread out (Texas, North Carolina and Alabama), our summer free time is spent dedicated to them. They come to the beach for swimming, saltwater fishing, backbay fishing, water skiing, an occasional trip to Pirates Cove and especially to be with us. They are, without a doubt, our precious gift.

I spend most of my time keeping the books for the several small businesses we have and overseeing the accounting of our engineering and surveying business. I walk 3 miles 3-5 days a week with my neighbor and have for 25 years. This year I have been taking a pottery class with my daughter and granddaughter, such fun, I might even learn to be a potter.

Don has a 35x45 metal building in our yard, we call it the " hot rod shop", it is filled with tools, pieces, parts and cars. It has a car lift and he has visions of restoring or building an old Ford hot rod. He still works full time. Because I have done a little Sheetrock finishing (very little and not very well), Don also has visions of making me the body finisher……we’ll see.

After writing this NOW I KNOW, what my real destiny was:
To be the wife of Don 1
The mother of 4 very special children 4
The grandmother of 6 wonderful grandchildren 6
11 - close to 12

We have been blessed!


 1. Our son Steve,  daughter in law Deanna, Grandson Morgan and Granddaughter Madison
 2. Our son in law Biff, daughter Stephanie, granddaughter Lydia, grandson Murphy, CJ(me) and Grandpa
 3. Our granddaughter Audrey, daughter Karen, our latest granddaughter Olivia and son in law Joe.
 4. Our oldest son Stuart, he is not married but, is a very proud uncle.  
 5. Jan and Don  taken on Panama Canal cruise May 2010.