Walmart wanted to build a Supercenter on the property where a bar, car lot, and mobile home park barely existed in the collective conscience of the public. Local councilman Parker Toler called the trailer park, car lot, and bar a “blight area” and most people who drove by everyday never noticed the quarter century old trailer park community. This neighborhood was nearly invisible to the surrounding community.
In 2003, I became friends with Ron and Gidget and a few others in the trailer park. I wanted to know what they thought of being called a blight, wanted to know what would happen to this community when development for the new Supercenter began, wanted to know how any of them could afford the move and would Walmart help them in the enormous task and cost of moving dozens of trailer homes.
How would Walmart developers and the current owner of the land handle this move of a community of people? I’ll telegraph one of the main triumphs of the book–Walmart does some very, very good things, and I can’t wait for you to read the book to find out what they did.
Would anyone even notice the people in the trailer park? Would they have to pay their own way to move to another park? Most of the residents were low-income families who could never afford the several thousand dollars it would take to move their trailers, and some trailers would fall apart if they were moved.
At the time, the largest anti-corporation campaign in the history of mankind was just beginning to rise up against Walmart, which was now drawing fire from environmentalists, protectors of small businesses, labor unions, competitors, and many of its own customers or ex-associates.
There’s more . . . endangerd wildlife seemed to be more of a controversy than moving this community. Whittemore Branch of Old Mill Creek ran through the mobile home park, and Old Mill Creek has been a known habitat for the Nashville Crawfish, an endangered species. Before developing the land, Walmart developers would have to ensure they properly preserved the crawfish and re-established them in the creek and did not upset their habitat. This would become a bone of contention for the project that may have stalled it longer than the specter of moving fifty mobile homes and families.
Here’s one of the first parts of the book I’d like for you to read and let me know what you think. What I’m really after is what you care about in the short piece, what you want to know about Amber from here. This is a true story, but name is changed and this scene is stream of consciousness from a repeated episode in her life, going down to the creek to catch crawdads.
On a rock in Mill Creek stands a girl holding a crawdad that wiggles in her hand and tries to reach back and grab her, but she knows where to hold it, just behind the tiny black caviar eyes, her thumb on one side and forefinger down the other side of its hard shelled body.
The crawdads had been here for millennia before Howard Claude bought the land and parked fifty rental trailers, three of which Amber would bounce between as if she were a hot potato and aunt this or uncle that couldn’t stand to hold her.
She thought her aunt was her mother, the uncle who yelled at her in one of the trailers she slept in was her father. She didn’t know her mother had left her when she was three, didn’t know her father farmed her out to his parents and his brother and sister-in-law because he didn’t know what to do with two girls three and one.
The cool water soothed Amber, the rippling hypnotized her, the trickling sang to her and she’d stay at the creek until someone cared enough to call her name. Even if shouted and with a streak of annoyance in the voice, it felt good to hear her name yelled, and from a distance she could believe the unbelievable, that she’d find love and a warm meal steaming on the table of one of those boxes, like the free lunch she would get at school where she’d rake the food in her mouth before they’d tell her she’d have to go to recess. On the playground she’d take out her frustration and make friends and abandon them then make up again, all to see what they’d feel like if they were her, and to try out what love might feel like, to see what the other side of betrayal felt like and somehow understand why her mother left her.
She held the crawdad up to her face and wondered what it would feel like to get pinched on the nose, and it was tempting to find out but she didn’t feel brave enough to try. Caught and eaten, carried away by children, taunted, put back, the crawdad was a survivor, but this species, Nashville Crayfish, had been put on the endangered list for rare wildlife on the edge of extinction.
For Amber there were plenty and she knew how to find them, under rocks, swimming in pooled water, starting to burrow in mud before winter.
Amber was a lot like that crawdad, tough on the outside, eaten up and soft on the inside, and she had pincers. Those sissy girls at school would never catch a crawdad, and they’d never think about eating one, but Amber knew people have been eating these since the Indians lived here and plucked them out of the stream, and with the exception of those who thought of the crayfish as one of their non-edible totems, they’d eat the meat of the tail. She wanted to tear that crawdad apart and eat it.
She didn’t understand the snippets of adult conversation she heard about someone buying the trailer park, but ever since she could remember that was the ticking gossip bomb that got set by scraps of rumor.
Would the trailer park survive? The boxes she bounced in and out of were all Amber knew. Where would they go if the trailer park sold and they had to move? If they had to leave, she worried she’d never see Ron and Gidget again.
Amber didn’t know if Ron and Gidget were her relatives or just friends, but she liked them, and they called her “goddaughter,” and they bought her a dress. Secretly she wished they’d take her in their trailer and let her live there, and she didn’t understood why they couldn’t. They’d just sit out on the picnic table and talk most days and she’d eat crackers and cheese and drink milk there, and she’d always leave Gidget’s trailer feeling warm and full.