On Sunday, as beautiful and peaceful as it was, one of our neighbors, a young woman a part of the local and esteemed Johnson clan, farmers who own a decent piece of land in the neighborhood and do something with cows—I’m not sure exactly what—almost ran Kelly and me over on our horses.
We waited till church was in session before taking a walk with the horses. There wouldn’t be any traffic when everyone was in church. Not that we get a lot of traffic around here. We wouldn’t have bought this place if it was a busy street. But when we do get it, they go fast. It’s part of the culture around here. In Virginia everyone thinks they’re a NASCAR driver. So we waited till church was in session before we took our walk.
But I miscalculated and we were still on the road, heading back to the house by the time church let out. Most of the drivers slowed down and waved when they passed us except for a small dark car with two young people in it. They were coming fast. I stuck my arm out and patted the air to ask the young man to slow down but he looked right at me, looked right in my face, and stepped on the gas. In that split second I could read his eyes: “F you. You’re not telling me to slow down.” My horse jumped. I told Kelly we better hurry.
As we approached our house, the road curved so we crossed to the other side of the street so oncoming cars could see us long before they were upon us. We’d almost reached the yard when I saw the white SUV barreling down the road from way past Pearl’s house. Oh no. She was flying. We got over as far as we could go. We couldn’t get over any further because our neighbor’s mailbox and a ditch were in the way and there was no time to get back across the street or to turn around and run into the driveway we’d just passed. As she got closer, I started waving my arms, screaming, “Slow down! Slow down!” She was completely oblivious to it. Or she didn’t care. She drifted into our lane. I yelled for Kelly to get back, though there was nowhere for her to go, and I ducked, as if that would save me.
She zoomed by us. A swoosh of air blew up my pants leg. Both horses reared up and stumbled into the street. Their feet clattered on the pavement. If I would have stuck my foot out, her side mirror would have ripped it from its ankle like a baseball bat decapitating a mailbox, that’s how close she was. Then she was gone, in a split second, just like she was when she nearly ran us over the day we were picking up litter a few months ago. I recognized the car. I suspected she was the Chick-fil-A eater. Someone who has such a callous disregard for another human being would be the type to throw litter out her car window. She must be a transient, passing through the neighborhood. Or one of those renters around the block who have big bald spots on their lawn and a blanket with a picture of a buck nailed to one of their windows. That’s who it must be. A lowlife type. But I couldn’t have been more wrong.
After we put the horses away, we drove around the neighborhood looking for the white SUV. I wanted to know exactly where this idiot lived or was visiting. I expected to have to drive all the way around the block to the rental house or into the next county where there are some old trailers, but it turns out I didn’t have to go far. Right at the end of the block, directly across the street from the blue sign the county put up announcing that the Van Cleave family had adopted the road and would be cleaning up everybody’s crap, was the neat, brick Johnson house and right behind the manicured lawn, on the shiny blacktopped driveway, under the carport, spic-and-span like a respectable family lived there, was the white SUV that almost killed us. And lo and behold, right next to it was the little dark car belonging to the cocky punk who’d stepped on the gas.
I couldn’t believe it but in a way I should have known. It appears rude driving runs in that family. A few times a year, (I’ve never kept track of it so I’m not exactly sure how often, but it lasts a week or two), the Johnson boys, and perhaps their farm workers, (all I know is they are male and there are a number of them), zoom by here transporting silage or wheat or something for the cows in the back of great big dump trucks. One after the other, all day long, they barrel down the road, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, doing sixty, maybe even more, chaff blowing out the back, tires spitting up stones. If you have a lick of sense, as they say around here, you better stay off the roads when the Johnson boys are hauling.
At first I thought this was the culture. I’m not going to be accused of being one of those Yankees who moves down here and then complains about roosters crowing or pigs stinking. Nope. If this was the nature of this type of farming, if barrel-assing down the road like out-of-control runaway trains past other people’s property with no regard for anyone’s life or limb, if this was the norm in the country, if this was acceptable, which it must be since they smile and wave when they go by, then I’d just have to be extra vigilant about keeping the animals and our daughter away from the road during their wheat runs and retrieve my mail either before they start or after they finish. We’d come out of hiding when they were done.
But after Kelly and I almost got run over that day, I started venting to the neighbors about it and they jumped right on the bandwagon and complained about nearly getting run over themselves. They said they can’t stand it the way everyone in that family drives, the girl and the men, and how they wait till the coast is clear before going down the road on their tractor or moving hay. They said they’re afraid to take walks or go for a bike ride. They told about how they don’t let their children play on the front lawn when the trucks are hauling, how their cat was run over by the Johnsons, and how they are going to give them one more chance before they call the law. And I, the outsider, the Yankee who is trying to fit in here and get along with everyone, I should go down there and have a word with Robby, the head Johnson, even though they see them all in church and at the livestock market. I should go talk to Robby and here’s their number. Go do it. Go do it before one of us gets killed.
Oh sure, throw the Yankee to the wolves. I can just picture how that will go over. Like I’m going to get away with telling members of a clan who have been here forever how to drive their cars. I can already see the trash thrown onto my lawn and the bullet hole in my barn. Or maybe in my dog.
Kurt said, “That’s it. You just can’t walk down the road anymore.”
He’s right. But it’s not fair. I pay taxes just like they do. In fact, I probably pay more because their property is in Land Use. And I’m the one who maintains the road so I actually do more than my share. But it’s not worth the danger. Which is the ironic thing because everyone always complains about the traffic and the rude people up north. That’s supposed to be why I moved away. I lived in what was considered a rural town in New Jersey. It has a population as large as Roanoke’s and it was still considered the country—that’s how congested it is up there. It was difficult getting out of our street pulling the horse trailer because so much traffic would be passing and you couldn’t step on the gas and make a run for it because you had horses in the back. Sometimes I’d be sitting there for ten minutes before I could go. But you know what? When someone saw me walking down our road on my horse, they passed slowly and respectfully. They made a careful arc around me. They may not have smiled and waved. In fact, they wouldn’t even make eye contact. But they didn’t almost kill me either.