We spent half our lives waiting for Daddy to finish conversations. Often with people he didn’t even know. Daddy didn’t believe in strangers, though. He called them “friends I just met.”
“So where exactly do you live?” the stranger asked.
“My place is about eighteen miles southwest of here,” Daddy said, “a half mile short of the Suwannee River. Do come out and see us sometime. My wife’s a real good cook.” Daddy followed this, his second invitation to this stranger, with directions.
“From Live Oak, take Highway 51 toward Mayo. Drive about nine miles and look for the Philadelphia Baptist Church sign. Turn left there, onto a dirt road. Go another nine miles until you come to a dead end, and you’ll see our house.”
Since Daddy used Live Oak as the starting point, no matter where we were when he gave directions, I assumed everybody in the world knew where Live Oak was, a town way bigger than other towns around us—O’Brien, Mayo, and Branford. In fact, Live Oak was so big it required a red light to regulate traffic at its main intersection, US129 and US90.
Daddy’s directions were fine until near the end. Then, they were pitiful. If he really wanted people to find us, he should tell them, “After driving awhile on that dirt road, look on your left for a white house with a green tile roof.” That house wasn’t ours—my grandparents and great-grandparents lived there—but it served as the perfect landmark. (Mama said her grandparents had lived in that same spot since the late 1800s.)
Daddy never bothered to mention my grandparents’ green-roofed house. He also didn’t tell people to veer into the woods onto a rutted road, just past that landmark. Plus, he never said one word about the fork they’d come to down that lane. If they went left, they’d end up at our stinky pig pen, next to the packhouse where we stored cured tobacco every summer. They should take the right fork, which led through a tunnel of oaks with low-hanging limbs dangling Spanish moss that would brush their windshields as they passed underneath.
When the moss cleared, they’d see our house, its clapboards a silvery gray, having never been slapped by a loaded paintbrush, its tin roof, a rusty brown. A porch stretched across the front, and its open hall shot through the house, front to back, separating the living side from the sleeping side. In years to come, I’d learn that some people called a split-down-the-middle, four-room house like ours a “cracker house” or a “dog-trot house,” but we never did. We just called it “home.”