A refreshing breeze blew through the barn. A drop cloth was nailed to the rafters. The steam rising from the boiling cauldron full of sugar cane juice, had to be protected. They didn't want it to cool too quickly. There were Krispy Cream donuts on the table. It's a shame I wasn't hungry. The man seated next to me was a virtuoso with a fly swatter. He killed every fly that landed anywhere near him. I feared that if a fly landed on my sketch, he would react, and with a flick of the wrist, leave a bloody mess on the sketch. I occasionally waved a fly away from my face. Glass cups and boxes were repositioned on the table to widen the killing field.
I was offered some boiled peanuts which I never tried before. They were wet, salty and delicious. The next time I see a boiled peanut stand on the side of the road, I am stopping. Orange County Sheriff Justin Barley drove up in his patrol car. He introduced himself to everyone in the room and then there was a lively conversation about petty crimes in the area. More sheriffs arrived. I think they came for the food.
Patrick Greene's mom started putting out a lunchtime spread. There was a mound of crispy fried fish, the tails still intact. There were cornbread nuggets also fried, and a beef stew that was thick with Lima beans, thick cuts of meat, and an oily sheen. I waited till all the helpers had served themselves and then I tried a little of everything. I kept sketching as I ate. A hound dog curled up on a rusty bed spring behind me. Chickens were clucking in a coup. Distracted, I mistook their clucks for the sounds of children in a playground.
Several of the men started checking out the sketch. The fellow with the grizzly black beard asked, "How long you been in Florida?" I knew where this line of questioning was leading. I said, "Over twenty years", perhaps stretching the truth a bit. "Well," he said, "Not a bad sketch considering you're a Yankee." The man across from me commiserated. "I've been here 49 years and they still consider me a Yankee!" We laughed.
When I had to leave to get to class, I shook the hand of Patrick's step dad. I hadn't been introduced yet, but I suspected that this stoic man was in charge. His face glistened as he stood beside the cauldron, the steam wafting in front of his face. Patrick explained that the steam from the cane syrup actually leaves a sweet crust over everything it touches. A rural Midas Touch.