Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Fuck You Daycare

Folks who’ve only ever been to Disney World think they know exactly what Florida is. They know it's the land of palm trees, and detectives in speedboats; a place whose quirky residents are prone to attacking soda dispensers while wigged out on bath salts. They are also certain that, whatever Florida is, it definitely "isn't really the South," and they are fond of telling me this as soon as they find out I grew up there. To these people, I simply reply,

“Fuck You Daycare.”

First, some context.

This is my grandfather, Merrill Glisson. He’s from that other Florida, the Florida of palmetto-choked slash pines and mean, sandy soil. He called it “the land that holds the world together,” not because it’s so essential, but because it’s the space in between the places people come to visit, the land nobody wants.

The people who live there are similar. His neighbors, descendants of the “turpentine negroes” who worked next to my grandfather as a boy, live in yellowing single-wides dotted alongside the package store on the main road. The white folks were occasionally land rich but always cash poor, and came from stock that got run out of Ulster in the 1690s for being too drunken and ornery even for the Irish. They were hard people, subsistence farmers, and when Merrill was 5 he watched with his brothers as his 41-year-old father dropped dead in the peanut field they were working.

Seventy years later, my grandfather was digging post holes in a different field when he found another body, this time of his grandfather. He was buried beside his best friend Isaac, a fellow Civil-War veteran. In the newspaper article about what happened next, my grandfather says that the only thing he knew about his grandfather’s Confederate past was that he “rode the same horse during the entire war.”

My grandfather was too busy scratching out a living to have ever learned the words to Dixie, but the relatives of Isaac (the best friend) were more heritage-minded. So when the 12 of us remaining Glissons showed up at the cemetery for the re-interment, this is what greeted us:
My grandfather thought it was foolishness, these people from the city who weren’t even related to us coming all the way down here to play dress-up in the heat. He had his mind on other things.

He’d promised to come to Gainesville to take me thrift-store shopping for furniture for the apartment I’d just moved into. He looked worried as we stood in the parking lot, talking about hypothetical tables and couches.

“Aw hell, Rob,” he said when he showed up with his pickup. “I don’t know a single thing about furniture. But I know there’s a bull over in Polk County that won’t be for sale for long.”

So at the end of the day, my grandfather went home with this:


and I went home and sat on the floor.

Where my grandfather came from, you cuss fluently while actually engaged in activity, but that is the extent you’re allowed to complain. You don’t complain when your father dies young and leaves you with a houseful of siblings, you just cuss and keep on working. You don’t complain when impractically dressed city-folk crash your grandfather’s funeral and drown out “Amazing Grace” with their weeping and their rifle volleys, you just cuss and keep on burying him. You don’t complain when you have to spend a day shopping with your granddaughter for things that don’t interest you in the least, you just cuss and buy livestock instead. A person who moaned over his lot in life “had him a case of the blackass,” according to my grandfather, and needed to quit griping and get on back to work.

So you can imagine how sympathetic my grandfather was when the new people came to town and pretty much immediately started grousing. They were in their 30s, a husband and wife, and when my grandfather drove his truck a mile up the dirt track and across the hard road to meet them, they explained that they were from Jacksonville, the big city up north, and planned to live off their land in the rural peace and quiet. They used words like “pastoral,” and “artisanal,” my grandfather reported later, shaking his head at the folly of choosing to farm when other options were clearly available.

When they told him that they’d come down to “get away from all the noise and people,” he didn’t point out that, thanks to their arrival, there were now two more noise-making people in the community that he’d have to avoid. He merely wished them well, told them he was available to help if they got in a bind, and got back in his pickup.

A few days later, they showed up at his house. They did need help, it turned out; help with the abomination right next door. The sneaky realtor, they said, had shown them their lot on a Saturday, when the Baptist church that was next door was shuttered and quiet. But today was Tuesday, they lamented, and did you know that there is a daycare at the Baptist church? One that runs all day long, and has little kids as its primary patrons? Noisy little kids who run around outside doing noisy little kid things like climbing, and falling, and crying?

My grandfather did know this. Gadara Baptist Church was where 5 generations of his family were buried, including his recently interred grandfather. It was right across the hard road from his property and it, together with the package store on the main highway, were the only two non-residential buildings for miles. The question is, how did they not know this?

“It was the realtor,” said the husband, turning red. “She knew we were looking for a real country place, somewhere far away from other people. But she tricked us. I’m telling you, we are going to get out of this contract. We are going to sue her for false representation. Or we’re going to sue the daycare.”

“Sue the daycare?” asked my grandfather, alarmed. Where he came from, one did not sue or even threaten to sue the daycare. “For what?”

“For creating a public nuisance,” declared the man, who had been an accountant back in Jacksonville.

“But we figured we’d check with you first, since you’ve lived here so long. Is there anything we can do about the daycare? Before we’re forced to take legal action?”

No, said my grandfather, those were their new neighbors. And they were a sight better than some of the ones they could have had. Like Buster, the man who lived in a trailer a mile from here and spent his days tending his still, dressed only in boxer shorts. Or Bo, the man whose menagerie of shrieking peacocks kept him company in his yard while he worked on his stock car every morning before it got too hot.        

The new neighbors were not mollified. Days went by, and my grandfather began to hear reports from the postmaster in the nearest town about a lady wearing stockings coming in to send certified letters, and to ask about a notary public. They were stirring things up, they were, bad-mouthing the place that many of the local people sent their kids to every day. It was bad form, my grandfather and the postmaster agreed. “But they’re new,” shrugged my grandfather. “They’re not from here. Give them a few weeks and they’ll settle in.”

Two days later my grandfather was coming back from the landfill, and if I know him, he was probably listening to Jim Reeves on the cassette deck and whistling. But when he crested the small hill on the hard road right before the turn-off to his place, the tune died in his mouth. He pulled onto the shoulder and idled, not prepared for how bad things had just gotten.

There was a sign, he told me later, a big sign. As big as six refrigerators stacked up next to each other, two across and three down. Impossible to miss. It was made of plywood and stood on two sturdy posts at the edge of the new people’s property, right on the fence line. The message on the sign was carefully drawn in big black spray-painted letters, and faced the fenced-in play area of the childcare facility next door. “Fuck You Daycare,” he told me it said.

Unable to find redress for their mistake, rebuffed by Coldwell Banker Realty and the postmaster and my grandfather, the city people had taken the only course of action available in this situation, and had decided to tell the church next door exactly what kind of people they were dealing with.

“Fuck You Daycare,” said the sign as the parents dropped off their children each morning. “Fuck You Daycare,” it said as the kids were let out for their afternoon exercise. The tiny Baptists cowered in the shadow of the huge sign, at once grateful for the shade it provided and unnerved by the angry slant of the letters none of them could read. As is typical for me, I was appalled not by the content of the message, but by its punctuation. The new people had left out an important comma, I reflected, and it made it seem like “Fuck You Daycare” was the name of the establishment instead of an invective against it. I imagined the rare stranger that drove down this road on the way to the lakes in Keystone Heights. They’d see the sign, and then the church with the kids playing in the yard, and would be left to assume that Gadara Baptist Church had lost its collective mind.

The other community members – Skeet and Gert, Opal and Coot, Bo and Buster – were riled up enough to comment on the situation, something unusual in the live-and-let live atmosphere of the wide spot in the road called McCrae. There was talk of banding together and taking the sign down themselves, or driving into Keystone to demand a visit from the sheriff. As the patriarch of the community, my grandfather was elected to Do Something, and so he did. He paid the neighbors a visit one night after supper. He never told me exactly what he said, but it didn’t matter. Whatever it was, the sign came down the next day. And three weeks later, the lot was for sale again. As far as I know, it still is.

So for all the folks who’ve told me that Florida is not really the South, I simply say to you, “Meet my grandfather.” And if you get lost on your way to Disney World, try asking one of the locals where “Fuck You Daycare Road” is. Because some of us old-timers around here still call it that.