Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Salt of the Earth

Living out here in the country, we have become friends with a few of our neighbors. They are wonderful people, and I am reminded what the phrase “salt of the earth” really means.

Doug is our closest neighbor. You can walk to his house if you have ten minutes to spare to get there. Cross-country, he is much closer, but I prefer to walk on the dirt road, and then up his long driveway. In the summer, I can pick wild plums along the way. We met Doug seven years ago while we were building our house, when he came over to check us out. A wiry guy, he talks just like actor Sam Elliott, and after he’s been out in the woods hunting, he looks kind of like Sam, too. Doug is an electrician, and ended up doing all of the electrical work on our home for us. Funny as hell, Doug is! He can have us rolling with his stories of growing up in the Florida panhandle with parents who believed their son needed to grow up tough, and a kid who was fearless. A murderer of English grammar, Doug’s language is colorful to say the least. A decade younger than us, he calls us Miss Jennie and Mr. Phil, out of respect for us having ten years on him. He is kind and generous, and loves to come around to sit on our porch and chew the fat with Phil. Last week when he was here, I asked him if he had heard from another of our neighbors, an elderly farmer named Earnest (pronounced “Ernst”). I hadn’t seen Earnest driving his old pick-up truck up and down our dirt road for quite awhile and I was concerned about him. Doug answered that Earnest’s children had to finally have him put in an “old folks home.” “You know,” he offered with all seriousness, “Ernst has the old-timers disease.” Doug and I are talking about going into a neighborhood business together – raising chickens for eggs and meat. He has an ideal place for it, and since he travels a lot in his work, I’ll help him with feeding and egg collecting when he is away. We think we can raise enough to provide eggs for us and for another set of neighbors, Shannon and Neshlia.

Shannon and Neshlia live closer to Doug than to us. I pass the back of their property line on my way to Doug’s house. Shannon is a house painter, and Neshlia (pronounced “Nishla”) works as a cashier in the elementary school cafeteria. Both are as country as they can be, and they also provide us with colorful language and ways of saying things we would never imagine. Shannon is slow-talking and always has a smile on his face. Neshlia reminds me of those dolls with over-sized dark eyes, innocent and curious. Whenever they come over to visit us, riding their four-wheeler, they bring their own six-pack and stay until the beer is gone. Shannon loves my bread, and Neshlia is amazed that I know how to make it. They also like my jelly, and were surprised when they brought back the empty jar that I gave them another full one. In return, they bring us venison and entertain us with their stories. The other night while sitting at the kitchen table with Neshlia while the guys were downstairs drinking and talking about the state of affairs in our country, she told me that she and Shannon were leaving the next day to go hunting. Shannon and Doug lease a hunting camp with a group of their buddies, and they spend a lot of fall week-ends there. I asked Neshlia if she was a hunter, too. She answered, “Are you kidding! I just go down to drink and hang out with the other girls for Thanksgiving.” She proceeded to describe to me how the camp was set up, with a dirt floored cooking building and huts surrounding it where each couple had their own hut to sleep in, little more than a tent with solid sides. She told me that she and Shannon were lucky with their hut. “It’s really warm,” she told me. “We have a profane heater in ours that keeps us from getting too cold.” I’ve been thinking about them this cold week-end in their hut with the profane heater!

The salt of the earth! These friends provide us with a flavoring of country Georgia life that neither Phil nor I have experienced close-up before moving here. I got a taste when I lived in a parsonage in rural Virginia, but never got close enough to those people who always kept a safe distance from the parsonage family. We have bonded with Doug, Shannon, and Neshlia in a friendship that encompasses everything that says Neighbor. We respect each other’s privacy, but we are ready at a moment’s notice to help out, have a party, or work on a project together. Shannon and Doug have helped repair a leak in our roof, Doug has installed some additional lighting in our kitchen, and the three of them pow-wowed this summer over the best way to grow their gardens. Neshlia is a warm-hearted country girl whose welcoming kitchen table is always set with a bowl of snacks on it, and she is a tender nurturer of stray cats. It doesn’t matter that Phil and I are from “the city” and have college educations. They know us as Phil, the carpenter, and Jennie, the bread and jelly maker.

And isn’t that what neighbors are all about?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A Very Strange Dream

I have very vivid dreams, and most mornings I can remember what I dreamed about. I had one last night that was a doozy. I am still contemplating it to see if it had some kind of deep meaning.

In my dream, I was in a house with several other family members, including Phil, my sister, and my two sons, who were children in my dream. It was not the house that I live in now, or have ever lived in, but in the dream it was home, and I was familiar with the rooms in the house. As we were sitting in the living room together, a strange man appeared – I don’t know where he came from. We all knew him in the dream, but I don’t know in my waking state who he was. He told us that we needed to get all of our things together, that we would have to leave in a little while. I asked him what was happening and where we were going, but he didn’t answer my question. He repeated again that we needed to gather up things that we would need when we left, and we didn’t have much time.

I don’t know about the others in the room, but I took his instruction to heart, and began packing a duffle bag. I found a warm hooded sweatshirt, a pair of jeans, a pair of hiking boots and warm socks, two pairs of underwear, and a couple of long sleeved t-shirts, and put them into my bag. I then went to my bedside table and pulled out from the drawer my dog-eared New English Study Bible that had been my textbook in an Old Testament class in college years ago, still my Bible of choice. I then went to my desk and grabbed a journal book (the kind with only blank pages) and a ballpoint pen and mechanical pencil. All of these went into my duffle. From there I began searching for a sewing kit. While searching for this, I found a butterfly pin, and placed it with my other treasures. I looked and looked for needle and thread, but couldn’t find any. After going through all of my drawers fruitlessly, I remembered that I had a small sewing kit stashed in my closet underneath the lowest hanging clothes rack. I found it, and made sure that there were needles, thread, and a pair of scissors in it. Into the bag it went. Moving to the bathroom, I opened the cabinet under the sink to see if there was anything that I needed. I found a box of band-aids and a tube of antibiotic ointment, which also made it into the duffle.

I couldn’t think of anything else that I needed, so I went back to the living room to join the others. I told them how much trouble I had finding the sewing kit, when my younger son, Brian, asked me why I thought I needed it. I answered, “What would I do if a bra strap broke?”

Then I woke up.