Sitting around an open fire, breathing in the salty air, the Gulf of Mexico inching closer with the incoming tide, Grady was like a sponge harvested from the deep. Along with his father and older brothers, he had gone to one of the islands off of Crystal River to fish (the family business) and perhaps to make moonshine as well. It was the early 1900's and with no television, a person would be entertained by the stories passed down by the elders. As always, Grady sat attentively, legs folded Indian fashion, wonderment etched across his face, illuminated by the full moon. Tonight it would be a "ghostly account of the spirit world."
Grady was born September 17, 1909 in Crystal River, Florida. His parents Jake and Alice (Martin) Black had married there in 1899 and were now raising their family in this quaint area of Citrus County. Grady loved the Gulf and respected the life lessons learned on the Florida West Coast. He grew up strong and tanned, ready to take on the world and that’s exactly what he did when WW II came along. He joined the army serving overseas and was part of the Invasion of Japan. He was also in the Korean Conflict. When the war was over Grady returned to Crystal River, grabbed a net and returned to fishing.
He married Theresa “Reatha” Jones on March 31, 1931 and after loosing an infant son, went on to raise five girls. He was an electrical contractor for many years and established an electrical shop next to his home on 6th Avenue, as well as a thrift store and salvage yard. Driving north on US 19 through Crystal River at the edge of town you couldn’t help but see a sign posted side of the road…“Worms For Sale.” Yep! Grady was resourceful! He worked and retired from the Ralston Purina Company at Florida Power Corp.
Grady could tell a good story. After all...it was his legacy. He would be called upon to pass down the family folklore to the next generation. I remember one in particular about the time several of the family members were rowing to the island. It was dark! There was only the light from the moon to guide them. Some “ghost like spirit” appeared…coming up out of the water. As it tried to climb into the boat with them, one of the men poked with an oar, which penetrated it's body...protruding from the other side. Quickly, the men continued on to the island. Sometime later the men were trying to dig a hole, but with each thrust of the shovel they would become progressively ill until they were forced to stop. Later treasure was rumored to be found at that very same spot. The "spirit" was suspected of being a guardian watching over the buried treasure. Pirates of the sea were known to hide treasure and kill one of their comrades thinking that would provide a safe guard over the treasure until their return.
Crystal River has tremendous downpours and electrical storms. During hurricane season Grady would send his family off to a safe place while he himself would stay behind hoisting furniture onto cement blocks. His house would inevitably flood! He lived just around the corner from his brother Willie and that area saw plenty of flooding over the years. After his death, his widow said “no more.” She had the house torn down, replacing it with a new home…high off the ground.
“Pappa Black,” as he was known in the community, wouldn’t think of leaving his beloved hometown. He died on September 28, 1988 and is buried at Crystal River Memorial Cemetery near the airport…just outside of town. His wife rests beside him.
Grady Black is the brother of my grandmother. We spent quality time together through the years, including one whole week when I was about ten years old. When it was announced that Elvis would be making a movie in Citrus County, and knowing I was a fan, Uncle Grady invited me to his home once again. For some reason, which I cannot seem to remember, the trip fell through and I missed seeing Elvis in person. Uncle Grady always had a smile on his face, and a twinkle in his eyes. I enjoyed our visits very much.
Author: Linda Flowers