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Thursday, June 11, 2015

I Live Here, Y'All

    I am a transplant to the South. Some might even say an invasive species, as my late father-in-law used to imply. Somehow his son brought home this girl born in Montana to parents from New York City. I was irrevocably a Yankee, until he discovered I could cook up a respectable pot of grits. “Aright, you can stay,” he said. A southern woman must cook, and he made occasional requests. Shortcake to serve with peaches and whipped cream. And coconut custard pie. I hacked a fresh coconut for that one, and it rated an approving nod of the head. One day, I offered him some corn bread, and he said, “There were times when that corn bread would have been mighty welcome, but now… I just don’t want it.” That was one of my first clues that his childhood was something straight out of The Yearling. Remember the scene where a tangle of brothers tumbles out of their ramshackle house, fighting for fun? That.
    My Orlando childhood, starting at age 4, was pretty suburban. Lower-middle class. All the houses had three bedrooms, one bathroom and a screened porch. Carport, no garage. Chain link fences. No air-conditioning either. We got window units when I was about 13. Until then, the coolest we got was sitting around a hassock fan. Or going to the cheap summer movies downtown. T. G. Lee dairy gave movie-goers coupons for a free cone at their dairy bar. I always got raspberry sherbet.
   Everyone walked to school. The school had no air conditioning either. The teacher, or the biggest boys, would use a long pole to open awning windows up at the ceiling. Combined with open windows at the lowest level, this was supposed to provide air circulation. Ha. Most of the teachers brought in big fans from home, and one taught us to run cold water over our wrists. To cool the blood, she said.
    I never thought I had a Southern accent until I went to college in Boston. When I opened my mouth, people asked, “What part of the South are you from?” The first time, I asked, “How do you know I’m from the South?” The questioner, obviously thinking me dim, said, “Well, your accent.”    
    Am I from the South? Of the South? I’m still in the South, anyway, and most likely will spend the rest of my life here. Native-born husband, who thinks temperatures under 70 are life-threatening, is not likely to move to Montana with me. Or even my sort-of-spiritual home, Santa Fe, New Mexico. So I’ll gaze out the window at my newly-planted mango tree, and maybe go pick a few Meyer lemons for lemonade. It does have a few benefits, this South place. 

Monday, June 1, 2015

Grandma Rampant

          How very unsettling to feel ready to bash in the head of a living creature. I felt that way this afternoon. Home from shopping, I looked out to the fenced back yard and saw two dogs lounging in the grass. Not our dogs. Dogs belonging to the rear neighbors.
          Years ago, they installed a pool. The fence, theirs, was in poor repair then, and we asked whether they’d be replacing it. The owner put on a pitiful face and said, “I just can’t afford it.” He asked whether we would go halves on it. We said no, the fence was his, and his legal responsibility. We think he’s been waiting us out ever since.
          They couldn’t afford the fence, but they could afford some silly fake rock formations with fountains in them. And beer. And a radio that plays very loud and very bad “woman stole my truck so I drink a lot” country music. And dogs. An assortment of small dogs. I think I’ve seen three different ones, a couple of Chihuahuas and something like a Shih-tzu. “What, you’re upset about such little doggies?” Yes, because the neighbors’ version of training is to scream threats at the dogs, and the dogs have absorbed that level of responsibility.
          They bark hysterically and growl at us whenever we enter our own yard. When the crumbling slats of the fence shift, they come through to poop in our yard and to bark and snarl at us on our own property. They’re little, but they have teeth, and we have grandchildren. The youngest is not quite two. The next is five. Their family dog is big, well-trained and gentle. They may not understand a threat from a small dog. Even a little dog can do damage to a child.
          This time, when I saw the two dogs, I stomped into the foyer, where I keep a collapsible metal baton with the baby stroller, in case of strays that might menace us on walks. I’ve never had to use it. I yanked it out of its case and charged out to the yard, yelling “Get out!”  The little blighters actually stood their ground briefly before backing out through the fence. I heard one of the adults in their yard feebly calling a dog’s name. She’d apparently been out there and had done nothing when they went through the fence. I found a loose slat where the varmints went through and tried to wedge it into the opening—not easy when all the wood is in shreds. I returned to the house breathing fire and calmed down a bit before calling animal control. “It sounds silly to complain about Chihuahuas,” I told the young woman on the phone, “but they are aggressive.” She said she understood and would enter the report.

          Now I wait to see what will happen. Will the bad neighbors be cursing us? Throwing garbage over—or through—the fence? Shooting out our windows? Or maybe they’ll suck it up and act responsible. I’ll hope for that. Even mild-mannered grandmas can be pushed too far.