Author Archives: Kerri Dieffenwierth

Crackerhouse

Crackerhouse

Crackerhouse

I’m walking past artist booths on Venice Island Florida, five blocks from my current house, cell phone to my ear, when I see the photograph. I stop, hard. My eyes stay with the picture, like maybe it’s going to disappear from its white pegboard wall. I end my call.

“What’s the story behind this photograph,” I say to the lanky fellow standing nearby. He looks like the kind of man who thrives on trekking across pastures with cameras.

“Oh yes, there’s a story,” he says. “How did you know?”

“I can feel it.”

He nods. “This old house was one of the first churches on Merritt Island. When they built a new church, it became the parsonage where the pastor lived. Later it got moved to an orange grove where it still sits today. After the 911 attacks, the lady who owns the property went out and painted the flag on it.”

I ended up purchasing a tiny print of the Crackerhouse. Turns out, it is located less than five miles from where I was born. I sense another click in the rotation of my life’s dial.

And I like that.

(Photograph by Jeff Thamert of Titusville, FL)

Belle Glade

 

Belle Glade, Florida

I’ve already passed LaBelle, then Clewiston. Final destination: West Palm Beach. The music is loud (U2’s Rattle and Hum) – way too loud, probably, since I know I should pay attention on two-lane roads in rural Florida. Especially at dusk.

Still, there are canals or sugar cane fields on both sides of State Road 80. What can happen? I turn the volume even higher, tempt fate.

I’ve lived almost 50 years, and in that time, it has been my experience with oncoming trains that:

1. You get a ton of loud warning.
2. This warning happens before you see the train.

BB King’s crooning about love coming to town and all of a sudden a skinny-wood-bar-thing comes down from sugarcane stalks in the upper right-hand side of my windshield and slams toward the asphalt in front of my hood. I brake hard and fishtail and quickly recognize a railroad track in front of me but don’t see anything but sugarcane and then BAM! – a yellow white locomotive (whistle blowing now) blasts past.

I am the only human on the road. Like I said, nothing but sugarcane. I open the driver’s side door, stand in the road, and scream “Holy ____!” as loud as I can. It takes me a few seconds to realize the open boxcars are carrying burnt stalks. I actually stare and think: What IS that? I grab my camera. This is the closest I’ve been to being killed by a train, and for some reason, I’m angry that I was almost taken by sugarcane. What would be a better choice? I don’t know.

My daughter served on a mission team a few summers ago and volunteered in a childcare center in Belle Glade for a week. She came home and silently pulled everything off her bulletin board and replaced it with crayon drawings from a four year-old named Esperanza. Julia recently told me, “Even when I go to college, never take her stuff down.”

She also attended a gospel-type church service in Belle Glade and has been begging me to take her to another gospel church, but I don’t know where to find one in our town. I promised, but I haven’t kept that promise. Why not?

Flesh Undone

Literary Mama

You realize you don’t have a baby book for your son. What if something happens to you and there’s no baby book? For 22 years, you’ve kept the photos, footprints, and plastic hospital bracelets in a box, somewhat organized. Still, there are no dates or milestones written on the back. You remember why, what survival feels like. And you remember that you didn’t want to remember .

Read the entire essay online at Literary Mama.

Rato Must Twirl

Provo Canyon Review

If Huckleberry Finn ever came back to earth as a cat, then I think I knew him. His name was Rato.

Rat. O.

You got it.

Orange, scrappy and dotted with freckled scabs around his mouth, Rato wasn’t born with any sense. But somehow this ginger cat found his way onto our land. Unwanted, pure and simple, and he never pretended he was.

Read the entire essay online at Provo Canyon Review. 

Souvenirs

One thing I hate: the dumping of dead souvenirs across tacky cash register counters. Big smiles! Wait til the cousins see this stuff! Not even coral is sacred. What should tourists take back to Michigan (or wherever)?

Not a mother’s baby’s head. Nor an infant floating in formaldehyde. Not 25 rare shells from Sanibel. This will just make someone take more rare shells from Sanibel to refill the bin. Not even a puffer fish with craft eyes glued onto its face. Throw the sand dollars and starfish back. Toss them as far as you can. Use your good arm.

Now get a cart and pile it high with orange blossom honey, marmalade, taffy, tangelos, tangerines, and red grapefruit. Sample the coconut mint patties and pecan log rolls. Yum. How about a prehistoric shark tooth puka bead necklace? Cheapo t-shirt? Coconut hair monkey? Coconut postcard? Retro postcard? Plastic flamingo or pelican statue? Kumquat or fig jam? A hundred photographs of gorgeous memories?

Anything but a bag filled with dried out seahorses. Please, not the seahorses.

Cows

If you travel from one side of Florida to the other, especially if you cross the center of the state, you will see cows. What kind of cows? Black and Red Angus, Brahman, Red Poll, Hereford or Simmental stock – or possibly hybrids of these. If you’re super-duper lucky, you might see some small, horned speckled cows. These are called Cracker cattle. Spanish conquistadors brought this breed to South Florida (there are Cracker horses, too, but I will save them for another blog). And when the Spaniards got sick or killed or turned back, the cows escaped. They went wild and thrived. Sometimes Indians raised them. These animals evolved into hard-ass little cows, the kind that repel heat and bugs, although they’re probably still brought down by rattlesnakes and lightning. There are organizations and ranchers out there right now who track and breed and attempt to preserve rare purebred Cracker cattle. Well done.

I like taking photos of Florida cows. I honk at them, too, but they don’t look up. I’ve been honking at cows since I could drive. Try it sometime. They don’t mind. In fact, the only thing that a cow will notice is a person out of his or her vehicle. Cows are used to tens of thousands of cars passing them – no big deal. But they aren’t used to humans in the middle of freakin’ nowhere standing by their fences. Oh yeah, this will get their stupid attention. But watch where you walk. A mound of fire ants can ruin your day.


Book recommendation: A Land Remembered by Patrick Smith. This novel describes 100 years of survival for a family of Florida pioneers (and some gnarly Florida pioneer ways of dying) who attempt to round up and move Cracker cattle across the state for export. This is one of my favorite books.

Road Kill Gator

Road Kill Gator

I have a history with Florida. Apollo rockets flashing fire across our backyard night sky, stands of cypress in the distance, scrub palmetto scratching lines across my legs, horses, always horses, and murky water.

Mine is not the touristy slice, although my dad did take my sister and I camping in Ft. Wilderness when Disney World opened. I was eight. I’ve been here my whole life. And I want to leave. God, I am desperate to leave. But I love Florida. And I despise it, too. Fear her, even. Because I don’t just see palm trees and beaches. I don’t stoop for shells anymore. My Florida is dark and dangerous.

I’ve seen a gator eat my dog, and I’ve been chased by predators of different types, the kinds of critters that don’t live in Ohio. I’ve tried to leave, but it doesn’t feel right, the smells, the soil, the trees, the food, even the color of the pavement – all wrong, all not “home.”

A car trip across the middle of the state will show you the real Florida. If you stare out your window – if you really search past the aluminum guardrail or barbed wire – you’ll notice what’s looking back at you.

An eighth of a mile from this road kill alligator, about 10 miles east of Arcadia, seven days ago, I caught a glimpse of a live gator in the tall yellow grass ditch near the east bound lane. Her head was up, jaws open, as she watched my car pass.

She looked right at me.

Swamp Angel Stomp

“Swamp Angel Stomp” was selected as a finalist in the 2013 VanderMey Nonfiction Prize sponsored by Ruminate Magazine.

A New Bitterroot

Still, The Journal

I.

My new stepfather liked to circle the classifieds, always checking if there was an accessory he could add to his new family to make us more hip, more exciting. He thought our lives dull until we met him, especially poor old Frank across the street who pumped our bike tires. Frank would sit on his driveway for hours waiting for a kid to roll up. He’d make us hold the cap to the stem.

        “Don’t lose that cap,” he’d smile, holding the black nub in front of a sweaty child face. Sometimes we’d let the air out of our tires on purpose, just to give Frank joy.

“A New Bitterroot” was selected as the 2013 Creative Nonfiction Contest Judge’s Selection for Still, the journal and can be read online.

Scrub Defined

Mason's Road

I.

I learned about the word “migrant” from a pinkish redneck in a plaid shirt.

“You know what we’re going find out here don’t you, little girlie,” he said partly to me and partly to the scrub palmetto he motioned to with a burly freckled arm. He had stumpy stained nicotine teeth and curly bristly hair, like a wild boar. He was there with his bushwhacker to clear our property. I was brought along for company, but I liked the country, so I didn’t mind. I was thirteen.

Full essay published by Mason’s Road

Copyright © 2018 Kerri Dieffenwierth