Loop Road was Wild and Free
by Brad Kelly
.... and a fine place to grow into a man.
In the 50s & 60s Loop Road was still wild and free. I'm a sixth generation Cracker and as a boy seriously proud of that. We lived in the Tampa area but my Grandfather took me with him fishing in the glades on a regular basis.
My Granddad had some kind of business going on with the Indians and some people on the Loop but was always pretty vague about it. The Indians still lived in little villages along US41 but liked to move the villages once in awhile just to torque off the government agents.
Most of the time he would go off fishing with two or three guides (I always wondered about that) and I would stay in the village and play with my friends.
I learned how to catch snakes, catch gators and about girls from those times. One time my father had gone along and my Grandfather was visiting some friends on the Loop. My father had insisted my younger brother come along too and guess who got to play babysitter.
I took my brother and a couple of cane poles and walked down the road to a place they call Cypress Stand now. In those days all you had to do was take a handful of corn meal, throw it in the water and drop a cast net over the boiling fish and you had a fish fry (highly illegal today).
We had stopped at a neighbors camp and his daughter had come with us but little brother kept it down to holding hands. At the Stand there was a little gator about five feet long (about as long as I was tall. I was only twelve.
Without a word I jumped off the bank and onto the gator. I always carried my shepherds sling and wrapped it around his snout. After a few minutes rest and a kiss from Janet we carried the gator back to the camp.
Everyone just stared at us in disbelief.
They were having some kind of shindig (a barbeque I think it was) and lots of folks had arrived while we were gone.
My father just stood there with his mouth hanging open (He wasn't much of an outdoors man.) My little brother was pretty proud of me and started going on about how I had jumped off the bank onto the gator and fought it onto land. I remember looking at my fathers face and wishing my brother would hush.
Finally my dad asked me what had possessed me to jump on top of that alligator. I looked at him straight in the eye and said "Dad, Jungle Jim (a movie character played by the late actor Johnny Weissmuller) does it all of the time." (Have I mentioned that my father didn't have a good sense of humor?).
Right there in front of all of those people he grabbed my arm and gave me one of my four memorable whippings and not one of those other folks tried to stop him. I knew some of the other kids and when they tried to turn away their parents made them turn back and watch.
That's alright though, every dark cloud has a silver lining. I got a number of other kisses from Janet and had seen my Grandfather turn and walk away. I found out later he had almost laughed himself sick and was pretty proud of me.
There are so many memories about the loop, the Gator Hook Bar. The best wild hog barbeque at Monroe Station and all of those smoked hams hanging from the rafters. Lets not forget the red eye gravy too. Anyway, thanks for letting me post. It brought back some fun times.
Oh yea, my Granddad, he along with a couple of folks on the Loop and a few Indians had a fine moonshine operation going on.