It was her signs that got me. Too many scattered by the road, colorful but hard to read in a passing car. "Make a U-y!" I shouted as Francesca drove us east from Tampa, "We need to check this out".
What I had seen was a raggedy produce stand featuring just two lonely watermelons.
Next to them was an old woman, Ruby C.Williams, and her "signs". Most, it turned out, were actually paintings, ones she has been offering for sale next to Highway 60 for many, many years.
The woman in her late 80's looked over her glasses and smiled as we pulled into her yard. Her thankful, wide, grin, like the Cheshire Cat's, seemed to say, "Finally.... a customer."
I couldn't help thinking of Cicely Tyson aged character in "The Diary of Miss Jane Pittman".
As we approached Miss Williams slowly stood up to ask, "I 'spose you're here to see some art?" As we considered the question she walked over to unlocked a chicken coop. Most of her creations were inside, an amazing collection of primitive paintings that she's been cranking out for years. Most were covered with dusty sheets. She removed a few to reveal her visions on plywood.
Ms. Williams told us she had taken a few to New York recently. "I guess people weren't ready for my stuff", she lamented adding, "I think I sold one". They aren't cheap, the only one with a price tag was $200. She let us know her prices were negotiable.
"I got started back when TV was black and white", she explained, "I gave people color when they didn't have any".
After the gallery tour we returned to her roadside bench. She told us how God had been good to her (she preaches part-time) and how much she enjoyed watching cars pass by.
After a while she glanced at some paintings and asked. "So which one would you like to take home?"
I pointed to one of her watermelons.
I handed her five bucks as I hefted it onto a shoulder. I shouldn't have been doing two things at once. The melon slipped and smashed in the grass.
As our dog began eating the little red chunks Ruby offered us her last watermelon. We thanked her profusely but declined. We had already gotten our money's worth.
Note: To see more of her work visit her colorful website. Google "Ruby C. Willams, Folk Artist" .