Fifty years ago, weekend traffic congestion on Route 3 in Lively presented a difficult problem. The situation was caused by the crowds flocking to Witt’s Restaurant and Motel for the wonderful meals and conviviality that drew patrons from far and wide.
The proprietors of the establishment were Witt and Mary Ausley, a pair who truly knew food and how to prepare it.
Mary was a great chef, who could roll out sumptuous meals in a seemingly effortless manner, leaving her customers anxiously anticipating their next visit. The dining room was small, and crowded, but no one seemed to object to the wait for a table, nor to the time required to get served. The waiting room was the parking lot. Mary could throw meals together with alacrity and determination. The several motel rooms were lined up to the right of the dining room.
Many of the customers called Mary, “Mrs. Witt,” and they frequently asked for her recipes, which she readily shared orally, inasmuch as the recipes were all in her head. She had an innate understanding of how to cook, thus the customer had to write down what she said as she spoke.
As the years passed, the Ausleys decided to retire, and Witt’s passed into the lore of local history. Today, driving along Route 3, the building stands by the side of the road, a hollow shadow of its former presence in the community, but to those of us who had the good fortune to have dined there, it continues to evoke memories of its former life.
After Witt died, Mary married Clarence Welch, and they lived happily in Kilmarnock, until Clarence died in 2009. Mary devoted much of her retirement to serving the community through the monthly winter fruit sales at Kilmarnock Seventh-Day Adventist Church. She not only was one of the purveyors of the Florida citrus, as she also usually had something good to eat that she had prepared to sell as part of the fruit sale for the benefit of the church.
When purchasing a quart of her delicious soup one month, I asked somewhat amusingly if the soup was vegetarian. I knew what to expect from her as an answer. She leaned back in her chair and said, “You know me better than to ask that.” Diet and food were important to Mary, both from a religious and a health perspective. She had a real grasp on nutrition, specifically, what was good, as well as what was not, for human beings to consume. She saw her task as bringing her culinary concoctions to the table.
She also had a flair for plants that she manifested at the fruit sales as well. She would root different species, particularly Christmas cacti, tending them until they looked as if they were displays in a florist shop, and then offer them for whatever the buyer wanted to give. She had definite opinions about food and plants, and she expressed them frequently in conversation. In no understanding of the term could Mary be considered a wallflower, which made her all the more interesting to know.
Mary lived according to what she preached. In that respect, she was a great proponent of proper care for one’s health. She studied how to live and stay healthy. When she told me she was 90, initially I was incredulous, then I remembered how many decades had passed since the good old days at Witt’s.
Last week, Mary died at the age of 97. She was a gifted individual in a wide variety of life’s pursuits. Her legacy was her life.
Mary Carney Ausley-Welch, August 1, 1923 – December 2, 2020. R.I.P.