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Saturday, June 23, 2012


It was her signs that got me.  Too many scattered by the road, colorful but hard to read in a passing car.  "Make a U-y!" I shouted as Francesca drove us east from Tampa, "We need to check this out". 

What I had seen was a raggedy produce stand featuring just two lonely watermelons.  

Next to them was an old woman, Ruby C.Williams, and her "signs".   Most, it turned out, were actually paintings, ones she has been offering for sale next to Highway 60 for many, many years.
The woman in her late 80's looked over her glasses and smiled as we pulled into her yard.  Her thankful, wide, grin,  like the Cheshire Cat's, seemed to say, "Finally.... a customer." 
 I couldn't help thinking of Cicely Tyson aged character in "The Diary of  Miss Jane Pittman".  
As we approached Miss Williams slowly stood up to ask, "I 'spose you're here to see some art?"   As we considered the question she walked over to unlocked a chicken coop.  Most of her creations were inside, an amazing collection of primitive paintings that she's been cranking out for years.  Most were covered with dusty sheets.  She removed a few to reveal her visions on plywood.

Ms. Williams told us she had taken a few to New York recently.  "I guess people weren't ready for my stuff", she lamented adding, "I think I sold one".    They aren't cheap, the only one with a price tag was $200.   She let us know her prices were negotiable.

"I got started back when TV was black and white", she explained, "I gave people color when they didn't have any".  

After the gallery  tour we returned to her roadside bench.  She told us how God had been good to her (she preaches part-time) and how much she enjoyed watching cars pass by.
After a while she glanced at some paintings and asked. "So which one would you like to take home?"

I pointed to one of her watermelons.
I handed her five bucks as I hefted it onto a shoulder. I shouldn't have been doing two things at once.  The melon slipped and smashed in the grass. 

 As our dog began eating the little red chunks Ruby offered us her last watermelon.  We thanked her profusely but  declined.  We had already gotten our money's worth. 

Note:  To see more of her work visit her colorful website. Google "Ruby C. Willams, Folk Artist" .

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


Last week I began to notice strange messages written our back yard dining table.  They were carved in the algae that grows in the summer rain.   I tried to make sense of them but they were in a language unfamiliar to me.  I imagined green graffiti artists beaming down from The Mother Ship.
I soon discovered discovered Puerto Rican Tree Snails writing late at night.   Dozens were slowing feasting on the grey scum.  
Would you like some of your own?  We have more than enough.  
We didn't have any until we visited our North Grove friends, Thorn and Theresa, three years ago.  I was admiring their spiraled snails when they offered me a few.   Now they are all over our yard taking care of the algae problem we never had. 
Hiding in the day, they cruise at night, and have huge parties on the driveway when rains.  Running over (or stepping on them) them makes a curious sound.  It is similar  the one you enjoyed as a child stepping on small Christmas tree bulbs.
    Again, would you like some?  Step on over to our house.  We are more than willing to share.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


If you know Miami, you know Iko-Iko, South Florida's premier blues band (they actually play  "urban swamp music"). 
Graham Wood Drout has led the group for thirty years with his strong voice and bluesy guitar.
Graham is large and lives large in his Pinecrest duplex.   Most nights he's making music in local clubs or going on the occasional concert tour.
We got to tour Graham's house recently and we were amazed.  There is so much more to this songster the man we've seen on stage.  
The artist has lived in what he calls "my man cave" for twenty-five years.  He told us, "When I bought it I was so happy with it being a block from the Suniland Theater.  A week after I moved in it shut down".  
Maybe that's why he created his own theater.  The TV plays a non-stop music channel and its spacious walls are covered with the works of many well-known primitive artists.   Almost half of them were created by Mr. Drout himself,  an FIU fine arts grad.
    At the entrance is a magazine rack.  He told us, "I have always loved these things .I thought I'd nice to have a rack of my own".   

His latest creations are, 1) a new song, "I Just Shot My Wife", which is based on an Orlando doctor's 911 phone message.   Graham was kind enough to play a bit for us, and,
2) a table-top painting of black birds surrounded by 900 beer bottle caps.    He explained, "I play in a lot of bars and the tapsters save them for me".   
    I think he should add a third item to this list, turning his home into a tourists attraction.   He could put a small bar next to the news stand, play a little music and watch the money roll in.  I know I'd enjoy adding a few bottle caps to his collection.

Friday, June 8, 2012


      Looks can be deceptive.  Those delicious looking apples in the produce section were probably picked eight months ago.  Sometimes they're okay but other times you want your money back.
Wanting to know why old fruit is put on the market, I began my search for Apple Truth.
      There was a time when you could only buy apples seasonally, when they're harvested in the fall.  When they became available throughout the year I figured they were being imported from  places like Argentina.  
      They're not.  All of the apples I've seen in local stores are grown in the United States.  I went online to see what is being done to preserve them and learned they are put in cold storage.  Although the nutrients in apples -like any fruits or vegetables-  begin to degrade when they're picked,  cool temperatures keep them pretty... sometimes mushy or tasteless, but pretty.  Wax is added to make them shine.
     I met an apple farmer in Washington, D.C. last month.  He admitted selling old apples but added, "the cooler can make them sweeter".  The one he sold me (above) was pretty good.
He said that they can grow and sell more by making them available year-round.  "We put them in 33 degree rooms then suck out the oxygen", He explained.
      I asked him, that being said, why so many old apples are only enjoyed by fruit-eating dogs (we have such a dog).    He shrugged, smiled, and said with apple in hand, "Well, I like mine".