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Bulldozers, Billboards, and Bugs….

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The 1960’s brought rapid change to our little town in Florida; the neighborhood of my childhood like so many others in the state – evolved before us.

OUR NEIGHBORHOOD

During the 50’s the ‘quiet’ moments that little neighborhoods such as ours had, became more and more inundated with the associated noise of the surrounding traffic.  Our distinct changes had to do with ‘tourists.’  It was a yearly influx of seasonal visitors which changed those cricket-laden nights of a childhood – into something much more mechanized.

62 Hanson st

The sounds surrounding that yearly wave of seasonal traffic grew and became downright annoying at times.  My family lived approximately 60 yards from an intersection of Highway-41 (just outside the window above), there were horns blowing impatiently along with the sudden ‘thump’ (s) of  ‘another’ accident at the nearby intersection.  These were the sounds that burglarized the peace within the walls of our home – but, it was a ‘seasonal’ change and this yearly ‘cycle’ continued to dissipate as the heat of another summer approached.

Tourist season‘ was a winter-season event that ‘locals’ were accustomed to, even poked fun at – and it happened every year.

As it happened, there were simply more people visiting Florida and more of those remaining.  The season of tourists (and noise) seemed to become a little longer; until one year in the late 1960’s the season of traffic came – and never went away.

The changes could not be ignored as seasons of the past (my window on the world) – everything associated with traveling through our city was changing; including our moods.

THE YELLOW TRUCK

One day a yellow truck appeared; surveyors.  The surveyors left bright markers with numbers in our neighbor’s yards.  The protruding stick’s were apparent along the deep ditches of the dated old highway of 41, and this was just the first wave of what was to come….

The need was undeniable as the small rutted hwy from the past was stressed.  Machinery was moving into place; as a kid of ten all’s I could do was notice, and watch…..

The large stately home of Ms Cunningham stood just outside at the corner of Hanson and Cleveland it was surrounded by hundred year-old oak trees. I noticed as those oak trees were felled.  The massive ‘old-Florida’ home was ‘jacked-up’ and hauled-off in whole (Flint/Doyle); this being one of many house-moving events that passed through the intersection outside.

Novotony's Court

The structures between my window and the highway

Novotony’s Court (orig Wallace’s) in the southwest corner of the intersection would lose the largest part of their Motel to the new 6-lane highway.  The old-Florida water fountain/fish pool in the front yard was lost.  The elderly German couple (the Novotony’s) were forced to move to the remaining rear section of the building.  Survivors of past wars, they now had to endure more change.

BULLDOZERS, ‘DRAG-LINES’

During the daylight hours trucks moved massive equipment and homes; there was the constant ‘clanking’ of the bulldozers – their steel tracks shaking the ground.  There too was the squealing of cable as the tall booms of the ‘drag-lines’ swung around, dropped, and then retrieved their buckets scooping tons of earth – before swinging to the side and dropping it into a massive pile.  Along with that came the dust, mud, and all the accompanying litter from the workers (fortunately, discarded soft-drink bottles were worth their deposit).

Somewhere in that was also optimism; the possibility of eliminating the mosquito infested ditches on either side of highway-41 could reduce the threat of disease. Hopes were that the newer highway would also reduce those frustrating lines of traffic.  Just maybe the noises of horns would subside and allow a smooth flow of traffic while easing the growth that was happening.

No one could deny the need that was taking place; we had seen and felt it all coming – now we felt the presence of change.

Our neighborhood gang

‘MARL’

One Saturday as the machinery sat idle, my friends and I went to explore a strange soft substance used as a ‘base’ layer in highway construction – it was thick, mucky, and very similar to soft clay.  We would throw a rock into it and the rock would just “splat” while remaining exactly as it was thrown; this was interesting stuff.

The extent of our knowledge was that it was called “Marl,” a clay base-like substance that was chopped and laid out much like a mulcher chews up dirt leaving it wide, flat and seemingly moist.  On occasion we saw vehicles ‘stuck’ in this quandary but that did not deter us one Saturday from wanting to venture out through it.  It looked possible and interesting and with a little high-stepping three boys began their Saturday trek within the new boundaries of the highway.

STUCK

This stuff swallowed us; we soon sank to our knees and were each absolutely STUCK in the vacuum of it – the substance seemed a mix between muck and flypaper – we struggled to pull our own feet out; struggled to help each other.  We were NOT getting loose and soon realized our predicament – we were in a place we shouldn’t have been.

The Sinclair Gas Station (Wallace) was nearby (19 cents a gallon) and the attendants knew each neighborhood kid, they had repaired our bicycle tubes and then chased us away from their business numerous times.  We were in plain view of the station and they were aware of our situation. They also knew that we were not in imminent danger so I think they left us to struggle and suffer for a period of time.  I would imagine that they also must have wanted the gravity of what had happened to sink into our minds. We were in a construction area of which we were not allowed.

When the station attendants were satisfied they rescued us by laying boards across the surface of the marl and pulled us free.  I think that’s the first time I remember the words “I told you so” repeated in a kind fashion – they were great.

Our group of neighborhood boys had been defeated by mother earth – now we had to explain the mess to our parents.

HIGHWAY SIGNAGE

It took several years for that little two-lane to become a six-lane avenue. Paralleling the road improvements came the by-products of which had not been anticipated – the large and very tall florescent signs; very tall.

Those towering signs now lit up even the darkest corner of our home at night – bringing the bugs and insects that were so attracted to the brightness (and the other bugs that preyed on them). “Bing-bing” the sound of the ‘bell’ announcing another customer at the gas station also seemed more pronounced after dark.

Soon we lost Ms Bonnick’s home behind us and a convenience store/laundromat sprang up in its place; less than ten feet from my tree house stood this imposing new structure.  As a child the convenient of candy nearby made that particular change a little less important.

SCARRED

Our town changed and the character we had known of our neighborhood (one of many) had been permanently defaced from it all.  The shade surrounding those hundred-year old oaks was replaced with asphalt and cement.  The darkest side of our home which even the moonlight couldn’t touch before – was now bright from the fluorescent light radiating from the nearby billboards. Neighbors were displaced, removed, and gone as their homes became commercial properties.

 

As those bulldozer blades pushed the familiar dirt of our surroundings aside, they were also cutting the heart of our past. Life wasn’t as simple as just walking or riding your bike across the street anymore.  The innocence of our neighborhood was simply shoved aside – and that’s just how it was..

Tom Haynie

FMHS 70

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