A chance encounter with one of the locals during our first morning on Shuddering Squirrel Acres wiped out some preconceptions about hardcore southerners. I, Yankee, was rescued from an embarrassing fix by a Son of the Confederacy.
We had closed on our property late the day before, unlocked our new home, and blew up an air mattress to sleep out the rest of the night. Up early the next day, a rainy November morning, I couldn’t wait to explore our woodlands and take stock of what all we now owned. So I pulled on my boots and headed south into the tree line.
Never mind that I didn’t know even approximately where our property lines are or even the general direction I headed. Or that it was cold and raining steadily. Or that I, an old Eagle Scout, didn’t think to drop a compass in my pocket. I’d wanted to own some land since I was a kid, and here it was, ready to explore. A problem arose almost immediately, but I had no way of knowing. I’d taken only six or eight steps before I was on a neighbor’s property. Truly ignorant, I walked surely and confidently, and was soon in deep.
I was hopelessly lost. No sun to steer by, no landmarks, just many magnificent trees.
A pause here for a word about our adopted milieu.
It’s a place where a person, when particularly exercised, may say in lowered voice, “H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks.” Courtesy – and even gentility – greet us nearly everywhere we go. As our new banker reminded when we remarked on it, “You’re in the South now, honey.”
Roughnecks and shop ladies, passing strangers and new friends, black and white, transplants like us and true sons of the Old South. Manners matter here.
|Gen. Robert E. Lee|
Certainly we’ve encountered some rudeness, which several times came in the form of blind anti-Yankee words or deeds. Never mind that the South surged north when old Henry Ford cranked up the assembly line and started offering a then-generous $5 a day for workers. Obviously many southerners believe it’s just dandy to take northern jobs, and in a lifetime in Detroit, I never heard anybody complain about it. But there was that war, of course, and there continues to be a level of resentment about the outcome and its effects nearly 150 years after Robert E. Lee signed the Confederacy’s surrender.
Back to the woods. After about an hour, and my arrival at a badly unstrung, rusty barbed wire fence, I knew I didn’t know the way home. Stooped, I climbed through the barbed wire onto a two-track road on the other side, picked a direction and kept on walking. The tall western boots I was wearing had been on my feet only a dozen times before. They start to feel a little silly in the city. They weren’t worn in yet, and I felt raw spots on the inside of each ankle, and blooming on one pinky toe. Dogs ran out of the fallow fields to greet me every 10 minutes or so. About half showed their teeth, making ugly noises in their throats and chests. Making no direct eye contact, and huffing some soothing words, I kept on truckin’. (Yes, I’m a child of the ’60s.)
After another hour, I came to a small residential street of about a dozen working-people’s homes. The rain hadn’t doused some tasty breakfast smells. I chose a door and knocked. An oldish woman with a few missing teeth and a comfy housedress answered, saying, “Can I help you?” I introduced myself, offering a hand, said I was a brand-new neighbor, but had lost track of where I lived. Giving her the name of the lane, I inconveniently forgot to say “North.”
She gave me her name, leaned out of the door and pointed left at a road sign about a half block further. “That’s it there.” And there it was. I thanked her sincerely, apologized for intruding on her morning, and walked on.
Nothing looked familiar.
Where I come from, when walking on an unknown street or road, a vehicle approaching from the rear is cause for caution. When it slows to pace your steps, the atavistic fight-or-flight response is triggered. Your breath quickens unless you pay it good mind, while your senses kick into overdrive. You must be alert, but show no fear – your step purposeful, head up, eyes looking ahead. You must not look like a victim.
So when an ol' boy in well-used pickup rumbled up behind then beside me, it threw a little knot in my colon. I glanced over and he rolled down the window.
Did it really show? “Word gets around fast,” I said, still walking.
“That was my house you was at. My wife told me what you wanted, and I thought, ‘That boy might not know where he’s going.’ So I come out.”
I stopped. He stopped. I told him I just bought property and said where, this time remembering to say the address included “North.” And I had "North" written all over me.
“That’s what I thought,” he said. “You’re on the wrong end. Climb in.”
I did, and counted more than a dozen shotgun shells on the console, saw the NRA sticker on the window, and took special note of the big metal rectangle hanging from his keychain, embossed with “CSA.”
I tried some small talk and we agreed, after several other subjects fell flat, that gangsta rap didn’t appeal to either one of us. He “sorta” liked bluegrass. He told me that some ol’ boy who once owned our property, and all around it for several miles, split it up into parcels and sold them off. He'd already bisected our lane into north and south halves because he didn’t like the traffic it was getting. He simply filled in a big patch in the middle, making it a slower road going no place in each direction. We live at one of the dead ends.
As this gun-toting admirer of the Confederacy pulled up the steep drive to our home, I told him I was grateful and asked if he’d like a cup of hot coffee, especially on such a raw morning.
“Thanks,” he said in return, “but I was fixin’ my breakfast when you knocked. I do it ever' morning. Need to get back and finish.” Off he went.
Chastened, I tucked away a few of my Yankee preconceptions and went in to dry off, get some of that coffee, and tell the story to my wife, who wasn’t at all surprised that I had wandered in the rain for most of a morning.