5. Dirt Road Stories: Dead Grandmas and Mangrove Lane/Old Ferry Road

All my grandmas died before I was born – my maternal and paternal and even my step.

I can only imagine what it’s like to have a grandma.

But I imagine that there would be a simple comfort to an empty room or open porch consumed by the steady creaking of my grandmother in her rocking chair (whether the creaking came from her bones or the chair would remain a cherished mystery) as she reads the TV Guide or crochets or does some other grandma stuff. It’s a nice thing to imagine.

I stop myself here because I’m supposed to focus on writing about the Dirt Road. Do you know why I chose this title? Because of Erskine Caldwell’s Tobacco Road…Just a bunch of poor white people doing the same things over and over again and blaming everyone else for their problems. I figured Dirt Road fit because that’s what we did…but I wanted to make it more plain that nothing grew out there on Mangrove Lane. (FUN FACT: The Mangrove is Florida’s official tree.)

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Across the street from our mobile home sat a big empty field.  I don’t think anything but grass and weeds ever grew there. I’d walk to the end of the Dirt Road to where the asphalt started at Old Ferry Road. If I went left I would find myself on CR209, but I always turned Right and found myself at this dead end where the boat ramp was. Black Creek ran through all the poor white neighborhoods along CR209. There was picnic table next to the concrete incline. I’d go there to read. As old men pulled their boats from the water they’d all tell me that pirates used to hide their boats in Black Creek.  I’ve never read that in a book or heard it mentioned in a museum, but I’ll probably always believe it.

I remember once I tried to run away. I was probably about nine. I’d filled my backpack with snacks and clothes. This was before cellphones. He’d gotten drunk again. Everything was so loud: the yelling, the throwing, the slamming, the hitting, the yelling back…I don’t know if the neighbors could hear it, or if they knew some other way (because they all knew).

Anyway, I made it to the end of Mangrove Lane, and I wanted to turn Left, but I didn’t. At the age of nine I thought that would be the only time I had that choice. I was doomed.  I stared at where the asphalt crumbled into the dirt, and I remember the feel of wind whipping the granules up my nose and my eyelashes catching the stray gray particles.

No one had noticed I’d left. You could see the end of Mangrove Lane from our furniture crowded porch. I stopped standing in the middle of the road and hid behind the tree. I didn’t bring a book because I thought I’d be too busy exploring, getting lost…So I sat behind the tree and ate my peanut butter out of the oversized plastic jar.

Cars and trucks drove passed. Some of them I recognized and some of them I didn’t. None of them stopped.

I think that’s the first time I remember being somewhere where no one knew where I was. It was quiet.

Years later, in this same spot, I would come home from my first real high school date, to find a crazy homeless man covered in blood. I was a Sophomore and he was a Senior – starting linebacker for our State Champs. As was customary in Clay County in 2005, we went to McDonald’s and back to his house on a farm just outside of town. He kept trying to tickle me. I hate being tickled (we’ll get to that later).

Anyway, when he drove me home, this man stood at the corner of Mangrove Lane and Old Ferry Road where the concrete disintegrated into the dirt, covered in blood, wearing ratty baseball cap incoherently screaming about something…I don’t remember what…But something, so my date stopped the truck. We saw the dried blood on his oversized gray shirt. My date asked him if he was okay. Then the scrawny fella clamped his fingers around the rolled down window of the truck. My date rolled up the window and waved him away.

That intersection at Mangrove and Old Ferry would be my first bump when I learned to drive a car.

That’s the juncture where the guy who owned the field caught my stepdad trying to wash it out for more space on the road…I can’t remember my stepdad’s argument as he stood there with a shovel as to why he would dig out this guy’s field, but he was making it.

That’s where the trucks dragging the road with the rig my stepdad made out of a pylon and some old chain link would turn around to continue their circles.

I’d like to imagine that this part of the story means something, but like that absent grandma, it’s nice to imagine.



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