Sunday, August 21, 2011
When and if one is open to memories, they sometimes slide onto a stage like a stage prop during a quick change in a play. The blackout curtain drops and the props are hurried and placed on marks visible on the stage to the players, but usually not to the audience. The props, prompts for the players are there when the lights brighten, and they are fresh as the first day of rehearsal. I remember places and moments and I guess most people do that as well. One of those old pop out of the photograph album memories reasserted itself today and it kicked me into gear.
Cicero and Sally Vaughn were my grandparents, my mother's parents. They were part of the great Georgia migration to Florida in the 1930's, looking for work, for a way to support their family when there were no food stamps, no medical cards, no money for rent, or for unemployment. By the time I came along in the mid 1950's they had lived in among other places, Oxford, Florida, that has now been swallowed up by a monster retirement community called The Villages. Still my memory is in Punta Gorda, another home they occupied. Punta Gorda is community snugged up against the shores of Charlotte Harbor, and the Peace River, along the southwestern coast of Florida. Nearby Port Charlotte a massive retirement center was in its planning stages, consisting of miles of canals and platted florida scrub.
At that time my grandparents lived in a Cracker house, its roof silver corrugated tin, its siding, white, and its screen porch facing the road. That road was the Tamiami Trail, the vast and long road that stretched from Tampa to Miami, over 250 miles of sweltering asphalt crossing pinelands, swamp, and limestone through the
sticky southern heat of Florida. Here, we would come in the summer to visit, and I would romp with my cousins, all Florida crackers. We would cross the Tamiami trail to quench our heated bodies with a most conveniently placed business.
The ice plant stood in a long dark building fronting the trail. In the front, a long red clanging contraption turned out blocks of ice, running along a conveyor belt. Big men with strong backs loaded the ice into trucks waiting to haul the cool frozen relief to restaurants, hotels, hospitals and fishing boats all along the coast. Boys being boys knew an opportunity when they saw it. The ice would slide along out of the red metal machine along with chunks and chips of ice. In those days the trail was a slower, less frantic piece of road. We would cross the road easily with a look left and right and stand eye level with the dock and the ice. When the chips fell, we swooped in like buzzards on stink and snatched the lovely, wonderful, cool ice. Back across the road we went slurping, sipping, and swallowing, deliously cold liquid off the iceberg in our hands.
Sometimes we were shooed away, sometimes, we were ignored, but the ice cranked out hour on hour, the machinery bidding us to come and enjoy the detrius falling from the glaciers sliding along the belt. The memory of that ice reminded me of one night when all the boys sat on the porch one evening, its screen panels attached to a white framework of studs and boards. That porch was all that stood between us and the thumbnail sized skeeters that bored in on our sweaty boys bodies signaling a wonderful dinner of blood to their sensory organs. Behind us the sepia like light from within the house bounced off the wooden heart pine floors backlighting the windows and open door to the porch.
On the other side of the screen attracted by the glow inside the house, moths, and flying assortments of bugs and beetles, skeeters and other buzzing beasts banged against the wire. We were sated and satisfied, bathed in a light watching the world pass by while we the kings of the Tamiami trail drank our prized potions down to the last, slow, fizzle. Soon we would fall out exhausted from a day of play in the southern sun, drenced in our own thoughts, washed in another night of slumber there where the bay and river became one.