Monday, May 21, 2007

Itchy Things

Poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac—I don’t know which one it is; it’s one of the poisons crawling up the sides of my tobacco shed, choking the life out of every other weed in its path. Either I’m not allergic to it or else it’s dormant in the winter, and if that’s the case—dormancy, like a sleeping bear, seeming for all appearances during hibernation sweet and benign and teddy-like, but that’s only to fool you—I better get to whatever I have to while the getting’s good.

The last thing I need is another one of those country things that make you itch and drive you crazy. Like chiggers. I learned about chiggers before we even moved in, while we were house-hunting and traipsing across overgrown pastures and strolling through wooded trails trying to see where the property line was and where we could put our horses.

All of a sudden we had spots that itched so bad, we wanted to scratch them till they bled. Being a girl, I was concerned about scars. (I’m 47 but I’m still a girl.) I called my mother from the motel because mothers know about medical things and other important stuff like hanging curtain rods and stopping crying babies. (I’m 47 but I still call my mother.) She didn’t know about the poisons though, coming from the city. But she warned of hearing about a boy who got an infection from scratching the crap out of a miskeeta bite and it got in all his blood and turned him green and then they had to cut his arm off. Kurt wanted to take our chances and scratch anyway.

“That’s all we need,” I said. “We have no insurance.”

“Well, what if we just scratch one of them?” he compromised. He lifted up his shirt and picked one. He started to scratch.

“Ah! That feels so good! You should try it.”

“You’re gonna get an infection!”

“Try it. Do it,” he dared.

Kurt thinks I’m a goody goody. I watched jealously. He closed his eyes and sighed. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. I chose one on my thigh and dug in. I felt guilty, like a naughty schoolgirl. But I couldn’t help myself. It felt so good.

My mother put my father on the phone. He insisted it was bed-bugs since we traveled across country to get here and stayed in a variety of motels, some fancy with elevators and cards to open the door to your room, some touristy family places with small turquoise pools and pancake houses next door. And some were just like those ones you see in horror movies set in the desert with blinking neon lights, crushed velvet lampshades and lumpy mattresses. It was the mattresses that were in question once we started itching.

When we were done scratching, we got online and found out what it was, which, like the remedy—over-the-counter creams and sprays—wasn’t very soothing at all. For those of you who don’t know, who may not be from around these parts like me, chiggers are microscopic bugs that burrow under your skin and move around causing intense itching. I don’t know which is worse, chiggers or bed-bugs. An actual bug under your skin? What’s so peaceful and serene about this country living anyway if you have to worry about bugs crawling under your actual skin?

Okay, I had bigger bugs in Oklahoma. Like tarantulas and scorpions that preferred such hiding places as the empty leg of a pair of pants hanging over a chair or a tossed off boot. However, none of these creatures actually attacked my body if they had the choice.

In New Jersey, it was mosquitoes. We call them miskeetas and since we lived by the bay surrounded by crow-weeds and swamps, the town would go up in airplanes every now and then and spray. Of course when I lived in Jersey City when I was a kid, cockroaches were a problem. But once you bettered yourself and moved out of the apartments and went down the shore, you never had to worry about roaches again. Only miskeetas.

Here, we have the chiggers, the lady bugs, which are a whole other horror story in itself, and bees. Now bees normally don’t scare me. They don’t bother me at all. In fact, I got stung once because I wouldn’t stop cleaning the window when I was up on a ladder and came across a bee hive. I stubbornly sprayed the Windex around it. I guess I annoyed them because I suddenly felt a needle in my neck and that shocked me. What? I got stung? After all these years I finally got stung? I couldn’t believe it.

I fell off the ladder and landed in the rhododendron bush below. But I went right back up there after I brushed myself off and I got that window done. Of course we’re talking about a Jersey bee. They’re not as ferocious as the Virginia bee which comes in a wide variety and which will kill you as soon as look at you and which is the reason you can now buy bug spray in cans that will spray foam at the offender while you are standing a safe football field distance away.

But I can’t see it working on what Kurt calls “the rare king bee.” He’s too big. He’s enormous. He’s about as big as a man’s big toe and will drop on your head when you least expect it causing you to fall over backwards in your chair and run out of the room screaming. Oh, we’ve have every kind of bee here on my farm. We have wasps, hornets, wood bees, yellow jackets, bumble bees, you name it. But it’s the rare king bee who
strikes terror in my heart because I just don’t know how to kill him. You can’t swat him. You can’t step on him. At least with the tarantulas out west, we could pick them up with the pooper scooper and run out to the pasture where we’d deposit them in the tall grass far enough away from the house it would take them a while to get back again. But you can’t remove a king bee. What do you put him in?

One time I got one in the little trash can from the bathroom. I dazed him with the spray and then trapped him with the can, but then what? He buzzed around in there, knocking on the sides, shaking it in a threatening manner and I left the room and locked the door behind me just in case. Kurt had to do some tricky maneuvering with a cookie sheet to get him out of there. I retrieved my trash can from the yard the next day when I thought the coast was clear. He was nowhere in sight but I ran back to the house anyway. You don’t mess with bugs that can knock you over.

And now the poisons. It’s thick with hairy roots that twist and turn and it covers one whole side of the shed in a big knot like witch’s hair. I can weed-whack the tangle of it that is low enough, but how do I get it off the top of the tobacco shed? I can’t light it on fire because I’ll burn the shed down. I can’t use grass killer because my horses nibble over there.

I didn’t realize how much I didn’t know until I moved here. I might be street-smart—I know how to hold my pocketbook in a crowd, I know how to ride a subway and hop a fire hydrant, I can parallel park, play handball against a brick wall, skirt around panhandlers and speak up. But the country is not quite as simple as it seems and there are things that make me feel stupid. A city bumpkin, if you will. And so I’ll probably have to ask my neighbors Pearl and Eldon who were born here and who know about things like bugs and weeds. They’re experts in this country living stuff. They raise cattle. They have real farm machinery we don’t know what it’s for, plus there’s not a single weed on their tobacco shed. And I don’t see them scratching till kingdom come.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

You Can Take the Girl Out of the City...

I just got back from the north where I reverted right back to my rude and aggressive ways. I had to. It’s either eat or be eaten up there. I got cut off, bumped into, short-changed and given the evil eye all on the first day. It wasn’t pretty. But that is one of the reasons we hightailed it out of there. Lots of people are leaving. They’re leaving in droves. There are actually bumper stickers that say, “Will the last one who leaves N.J. please turn out the lights?”

I had to go up 95 instead of my favorite way up 81 because I was meeting my daughter in Delaware at her apartment and then shooting over the bridge the next morning to her college graduation in Glassboro, New Jersey at Rowan University. When I got closer to D.C., people got mean and the grills on the beamers and cars with government issued plates looked like grimaces. I tried to mind my own business. I got out of their way quickly when they tailgated me in the fast lane even though I was going 5 miles over the speed limit, which everyone knows is the real suggested speed. I locked the car doors when I stopped to go pee.

I gave that up down here. Locking things. I picked up better habits like making eye contact and saying hi to people you pass. It took me a while to get used to that, making eye contact. When I was up north, in my daughter’s high-rise apartment building, it now seemed strange to me to pass someone in the hall and look straight ahead without acknowledging a person’s existence. I started a friendly chit-chat with a strange man in her elevator.

“Do you know him?” Jamie asked me.

“No, I thought you did.”

“I never saw him before in my life.”

“That’s probably because you look away. He’s your neighbor!”

She rolled her eyes. She was graduating college but I still get the rolling eyes.

I cried when Jamie graduated. With the exception of my favorite cousin Jeannie, who graduated from Parson’s School of Art, Jamie is the only one in our family who has gone to college. It was powerful, just like you see in the movies. The music—daaa, da, da, da, da, da…..daaa, da, da, da, da…. There were round pillars two stories high holding up a cement apron on the front of the building that said, “Rowan University.” And scholars. Everyone looked scholarly. There were professors in gowns and renaissance-style caps with feathers sticking out of them. These were the guys who sat behind stained glass windows and figured out formulas or who wrote great poems up in the bell tower. I couldn’t believe someone in our family was a part of this.

After the ceremony, we got something to eat. It was there that Jamie’s boyfriend, part of the scholarly crowd of great thinkers, tried to break a record by eating the biggest hamburger in the place. It was called the Colossal Burger and was known far and wide as being uneatable by anyone except the biggest pigs around. But if you could do it, you would get your picture taken and put up on the board where other pictures of other pigs were thumb-tacked on for everyone to see. Like Lou’s roommate, a school teacher, who beat the record six times straight and had taken to bragging to his students and anyone else who would listen.

Lou, being not only scholarly but determined, didn’t wipe his mouth while he was eating so that the telltale evidence would remain as proof that he had really done it. In fact, I believe he purposely allowed some of the condiments on his Colossal Burger to drip onto his chin just to get a laugh. Jamie indulged him by placing a slice of onion strategically on his cheek and then when the last piece of gristle was gone, he informed the waitress that he had finished and demanded to get his picture taken.

“Uh, you have something on your face,” she said apologetically.

“Huh? What? Oh, don’t worry about that. Just take the picture.”

When we left and were driving down the highway back to Jamie’s apartment, I needed to make a left turn. In Delaware you can turn left off a highway just like in Virginia. In New Jersey, you have to make a right and take a jug handle to go left, which is a whole other story. But in Delaware, there were no jug handles. However, the openings weren’t as big as they are in Virginia. My ass-end was sticking out into the highway even though I inched up as far as I could go. Part of the problem is I have a truck and trucks are in the minority up north. I nervously waited for the traffic to pass so I could go, praying I wouldn’t get rear-ended by all the cars rumbling up behind me. Suddenly a car stopped and wailed on his horn. It shook me up even more. But I couldn’t move. He could see that! Where did he want me to go? Did he want me to pull out in front of that Mack truck? Finally, I was able to get out and I stepped on it to get out of his way. He passed me and we continued on with our conversation about Lou’s tummy ache and what we got out of the speeches at the graduation ceremony.

Then, lo and behold, the guy who made me jump out of my skin by rudely honking at me, was now in front of me trying to make another left off the highway. This time his ass-end was out in the road.

“What should I do? What should I do?” I asked everyone in the car.

“Beep at him!” They all said. “Lean on it!” And so I did.


I thought I saw him jump as I flew by. His little Honda shook in its tracks. That’ll teach him. I thought, “Wow, I am becoming mean and nasty again.” But it felt good. We may have infiltrated the University, but we’re still the same old Kelly family. Jamie leaned over and picked a piece of lettuce from Lou’s hair. Then we resumed our conversation about how nice that speech was that the judge gave and what we learned from listening to such refined and high class people like the senator.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Yankees and White Lies

This story was previously published in The Franklin News-Post

My friends up north who had been here before or who think they know everything, warned me that the folks in Virginia don’t like Yankees. It’s the south, after all. Maybe not the deep south, but the south nonetheless and they take pride in their history and know the actual names of battles that were fought in the Civil War and the dates significant things happened, perhaps changing history. Maybe not the history in a patriotic southern Virginian’s mind, for many argue that they actually won the war or think they are still fighting the war.

Me, I had no idea who won the war and couldn’t care less, never mind the winners and losers of specific battles played out over lush green Virginia farmland near tobacco shacks and cornfields. They reenact these battles today, especially during holidays or special occasions, but on regular days too because many people belong to reenactment clubs and they like to dress up in war uniforms and charge over the hills on plow horses and Tennessee Walking Horses and they need something to do when the hay is still growing or the cabinet shop is slow.

So, being forewarned, when asked where we come from, we say Oklahoma. It’s not a lie, since that is where we just moved from, but it’s not really the truth either. I was born and raised in New Jersey where I lived in an apartment building with four dead bolts on the door and played in a lot behind a purple dye factory where everything was stained purple. The building was purple, the dirt was purple, even the guard dog who dragged around a heavy chain that rattled like a charm bracelet and snapped at you if you got too close—even he was purple.

But I don’t tell them that. I tell them about Oklahoma where we had cattle on 110 acres. I used to say cows, giving the whole thing away. But I learned that real farmers say cattle. We had cattle, Bermuda grass as far as the eye could see and we had rodeos twice a week. But we only lived there for one year, not long enough to learn how to throw a rope without hitting ourselves in the face with it and certainly not long enough to lose the New Jersey accent. Think of Joe Pesci in My Cousin Vinny. When I called to inquire about Kelly joining the local youth 4-H group, I inadvertently said, “yoot” group. The 4-H leader sounded suspicious. She asked, “Where did you say you were from again?”

I said, “Well…” A real southerner begins every answer with “well,” and then hesitates as he mulls over exactly what he wants to say. Words, like flat dry land, are precious around here. On the other hand, neighbors enjoy nothing more than sharing news and swapping tidbits. In some places they call this gossip. Precious words and gossip are one of those odd juxtapositions, like when someone buys an old farmhouse to live the simple life and then they proceed to spend the next ten years in a frantic, manic rush to scrape the peeling paint, reseed the yard and start projects that require experts who spend three hours giving estimates and then never show up for the job. They drive themselves to exhaustion and complain there’s never enough time. But precious words and gossip get on famously here and both are jam-packed full of colorful details like, “The calf was stuck inside its mama till her eyes were rollin’ around like a cartoon critter.”

“Well,” I told the 4-H lady. “We just moved here from Oklahoma but originally I am from New Jersey.” I cringed, waiting for her to unroll the Confederate flag and accidentally on purpose slap me with it as she shook it out. But she didn’t say nothing about my place of origin; just asked me how I liked the weather down here. One thing I have to say about the southerners is that they’re polite. If they hate me, they don’t let me know.

Monday, May 7, 2007

We Know Stuff

Kurt is not entirely happy with what I write. At least when it concerns him. He wishes I wouldn’t let on that we don’t know what we’re doing here. I’ve offered him anonymity. I told him I’d be willing to change his name but celebrity is more important to him than his pride. I suggested the name Jerry. Jerry is my friend’s Prozac cat. Jerry is so bad he attacks dogs, sharpens his claws on steel and prefers the company of wild foxes than the other cats in the household. For their protection, he has to be tranquilized. That’s why Micaela refers to him as the Prozac cat when she’s telling me about the latest commotion he’s caused.

Jerry is also the name of a middle class guy who wears Bermuda shorts, takes Viagra and mows his lawn in socks and sandals. I thought it would be a good name for Kurt. If he wakes up on the wrong side of the bed, he can tell himself I modeled him after Jerry the Prozac cat. And if his sense of humor ever comes back, he could go into the Bermuda shorts-wearing Jerry character and give me some more writing material.

But that is neither here nor there since he thinks he has a better chance of being famous than being laughed at if I use his real name on my blog. I mean, who knows what rich and famous person might read about him and give us some money? You never know.
He said, "Just don’t make us look like dumbasses. We know shit."

Here is what we know:

We know what weed-whacker to buy. We’ve gone through a half dozen of them. I am the weed-whacking queen. I became adept at it when we moved to our last property, a farm on a mountain. I didn’t know when we bought that place that the hills would be a problem. I knew nothing about hills. I came from the Jersey shore and Oklahoma where everything was flat. All I knew is that the hills were pretty and it didn’t enter my head about how I was going to mow them. Now when I hear about that movie, "The Hills Have Eyes," I think of that place.

Turned out the hills required non-stop weed-whacking. I used three tanks of gas in that weed-whacker every single week just to keep that place tamed. The only thing that slowed me down was when the string broke and then I’d have to wait for Kurt to put it back in because I could not do it myself. Oh I tried. But refilling the string in weed-whackers requires super human dexterity and a basic knowledge of machinery. In other words, a child could do it. Not my area. So I just chose another piece of equipment and waited for him. The riding lawn mower, the push mower, the hedge trimmer—I had my pick. And then there was the weeding. The grass in Virginia grows like it’s on steroids. But if it’s a weed-whacker you want, string refilling problems aside, the blue ribbon choice goes to the orange and white Stihl.

We know how to burn wood for heat. Also the fault of that other house. The locals called it "the big ole farmhouse settin’ on the road." It was big and it was old. It had a pair of propane furnaces, one in the attic and one in the cellar, that ran non-stop in the winter time. They blew warm air out through all the cracks in the bead board walls to the yard outside. Oh, that original bead board was charming alright. And those windows! One-hundred-year old glass complete with waves and bubbles—it looked just like Country Living magazine! But when our first heating bill came and it was more than our mortgage and the truck payment put together, we decided to take advantage of the woodstove in the house and the outside wood furnace in the driveway.

Something was going to kill us. If it was not the hills or the bills, it was the wood-getting. It took two pick-up truck beds full of wood per week to heat that old farmhouse. It was not like what I had dreamed about, living in the country, chopping wood, stoking the fire, a cast iron pot of stew bubbling on the stove. No, there was nothing romantic about it at all. Since the property was so hilly, Kurt would back the pick-up truck as far as it would go up the hill until the hitch was poking into the earth. Then he’d climb to the top of it and cut a tree down. Then he would scoot back down and chop it into pieces, trying not to slide down the hill the rest of the way or slip onto his chainsaw.

Kelly and I would climb up and push the pieces down the hill and hope they rolled close to the truck. Sometimes they got hung up on stumps and we’d have to scoot down the hill, free them and push again. Then we’d throw it all into the truck. Chunks of wood are heavy. Sometimes it took two of us to haul a piece. Sometimes we dented the truck. This is why folks have farm trucks. Then we’d go home where Kurt would chop it. Then we’d stack it. Then we’d spend every waking minute keeping the fire going. And that house was still cold. Now when I hear about that movie, "The Amityville Horror," I think of that place.

We know that you can find just about anything in Wal-Mart and it’s usually junk but you buy it anyway because it’s not worth the time to go to Roanoke when you could be out riding your horses or chopping wood.

We know that you can sometimes find something good at the Dumpsters. There are Dumpsters all around here where people bring their trash instead of garbage trucks coming to your curb on Tuesdays and Fridays to get your cans like how it was done in Jersey. And sometimes someone will leave something in front of the Dumpsters instead of throwing it inside because even though she can’t use it, you might be able to. I got a nice barrel for my front porch that way. I painted it green to match the cushions on my wicker chairs, turned it upside down and wa-la, a table. I left some reindeer lawn ornaments for someone else. Brandy, who lives down by the Minute Market once got a whole set of encyclopedias and the young couple in the log cabin with the rottweiler dogs got an antique sideboard with the mirror in perfect condition.

Granted, there are signs up all over the place that you’re not supposed to take someone else’s trash or else you can be arrested and thrown in jail with the other law breakers. I don’t know why they care if people garbage-pick. I mean, there are whole books out now about Dumpster-diving and how you can furnish a whole house on it or at least a room or two. Garbage-picking has finally gotten the respect that it deserves. But the county says you’re not allowed to do it. It’s one of those dumb rules they have. They want you to recycle your glass and newspapers but they won’t let you recycle an old walnut dresser that Effie doesn’t want anymore.

So you have to be sneaky about it. Like the brothers Dewey and Fred who live down the road in the doublewide and who grow geraniums and ferns in a greenhouse they built themselves from a kit. They go at night. They take the farm truck so there’s no traceable tag and if they find something good, one looks out while the other throws it in, and then they hightail it home and examine it more carefully there. Sometimes they have to take it right back to the Dumpster because it turned out to be a piece of junk, a chair missing its rungs or a table missing a leg. But they didn’t have the time to look it over good. Sometimes they hit pay dirt and then they brag about it to the rest of us and all excited, high on a good find, they return to the scene of the crime the next night to see if there’s anything else good. This is the crime in my neighborhood.

We know about how to make money around here. Though we’ve never done it ourselves. At least never to benefit ourselves. You just have a fundraiser. Whatever is wrong, you have a fundraiser for it. Folks love to raise funds around here for good causes. They thrive on it. Spaghetti dinners, pancake suppers, antique car shows, bluegrass music festivals, donut sales on the corner of the highway, car washes in the parking lot of the Wal-Mart, seed sales, cookie sales, bulb sales and don’t let me get started on the fundraisers they come home with from school—Scholastic books, candles and candy and plastic junk you have to pressure your loved ones to buy or else your little girl will be the only one in the class who won’t win a UFO glow-in-the-dark spinning gadget that never works right. It’s all for a good cause.

I’m not against the spaghetti dinners and the bluegrass festivals because a person can walk in there of their own free will. And I’m not one to pass up either a good meal or some good music. It’s the fundraisers that require people to knock on my door and rope me into something I will never use, like the strawberry plants that are still sitting in my vegetable drawer rotting away because I don’t have the time, alright, I don’t have the no-how, to plant them. Or, even worse, the ones my daughter is forced to participate in, like the candy sales. I’m new around here. Not many people owe me favors. I don’t want my neighbors to cringe every time they see us walking up their walkway with a catalog in hand for things that cost triple what they cost in Wal-Mart. I don’t care if it’s a good cause. I’d rather just donate the money or pay for my daughter’s school trip to Monticello myself.

If someone is sick or the PTO needs something, I’d rather just give the money directly. But folks around here obviously make a ton of money for all the time and effort they put into these fundraisers because they keep doing it. And I don’t hear anyone else complaining. Maybe they just need a good excuse to get together for some pie buying and fiddle playing. Maybe I should tell them about the sad circumstances here regarding my lack of a hay shed and that ugly paneling in my living room. A nice bake sale might just do the trick.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

The Do-Nothing Technique

There’s a snake in the woodpile. I think he’s there because I haven’t used the wood in a while. It got warm so I opened all the windows and stopped using the woodstove. Then it got cold again. Too stubborn to turn on the electric heat one more time when I thought we were all done, I started up the woodstove.

I had already made four or five trips to the woodpile when I stumbled upon him. I pulled my hand back and screamed. I’m not scared of snakes but it was such a surprise. I’m sure he’s poisonous. I’m sure he’s one of those copperheads. He’s a rusty color like a copper pipe. He didn’t run. Just looked at me. I threw the tarp back on top of him and went about my business. Later, when Kelly came home from school, I told her about him. She wanted to see. I warned her he’d probably be gone. It was a long time since we made eye contact. I told her to stand back and hold the dog. I got a stick and carefully lifted the tarp just in case. He was still there alright. He looked at me and his tongue darted in and out.

Kurt said we have to kill him. We can’t have a copperhead running around here. They’re bad. That makes me feel bad. He’s not bothering anybody. I’m the one who’s encroaching on the wildlife. They were here first. And he can’t help it if he’s poisonous.

Luckily, I didn’t nag Kurt to get rid of him so he didn’t go out there. That’s a new technique I learned. The do-nothing technique. How it works is this: Say he wants to go do something that I don’t want to do. Like rent a boat. In order to avoid being accused of only wanting to do the things that I want to do, like go antiquing or ride the horses, I just say okay. That makes him happy. And then I don’t get on the phone and find boat rental places and schedule dates and find coolers and Thermoses. And he never does it. Because I am the party planner. Though it’s not a formal title. Therefore, it never gets done and I don’t get blamed for it.

Or how he wants to change all the paneling in the living room because it’s not real wood. I don’t like it either but it’s not bad. It wouldn’t be my first choice of improvements to make around here. I think there’s more important things like that black stick-on floor in the kitchen that’s supposed to look like marble in some Italian’s McMansion in Staten Island.

Or the naked light bulb hanging by a cord over the stairs. So I just nod my head and say, “Yeah, we gotta get rid of that stuff.” But then I don’t look through the decorating magazines to get new ideas and I don’t shop around for new paneling and I don’t plan a weekend to do it and so he doesn’t do it. But I did pick out the new tiles for the kitchen and I have high hopes that it’ll be down soon. Nice Depression green and cream supermarket tiles, just the kind that would be in a Depression-era little farmhouse.

When I went out there today to take a picture of the snake, he was gone. I thought I saw his tail disappear under one of the bottom logs but I can’t be sure. I know Kurt sure as hell ain’t going to move all those logs to look for him. So he got away.

I feel irresponsible because I am glad. What if one of us moves the lawn cart some day and there he is and he pops out and bites us? I make myself a note to contact one of those tree-hugging people, those hippie sheep-raising, pottery-making raccoon rehabilitators who move to Floyd and who pride themselves on respecting wildlife and sharing the earth. The locals think they’re crazy. The locals would have just taken a hoe and chopped that snake in half or got one of the guns and blown it up with half the firewood and the garage behind it. The locals are probably right about what needs to be done. I can see it now biting me in the ass.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Country Competitions

Ut oh, the neighbor is out there mowing again. Now we’re going to have to get out there and mow. I got on the phone to Kurt. He couldn’t believe it.

“The grass doesn’t need to be mowed already,” he said. “We just did it three days ago!”

“I’m looking at him right now Kurt. I’m watching him with my very own eyes. He’s on his riding lawn mower. He’s going around the side now.”

Kurt was not happy about it. But it was his own fault. He had given Eldon a heads-up a couple of weeks ago when he made a joke about neighbors being in competition for the nicest lawn.

“Now they know we’re in competition with them!” I cried.

But Kurt wasn’t running scared. He was the champ in our old neighborhood and was known for his flawless manicured lines all around the flower beds and bushes. He was an artist of sorts and favored a catty-corner technique whereas Eldon, who was giving him a run for his money, made neat horizontal lines.

“And Pearl is out there with him. She’s doing something with the mulch. I’m going to have to get out there and weed. She even has a hat on,” I said.

These are real professionals we’re up against. They have equipment we can only dream about--you name it, they have it. They even have one of those riding lawn mowers with a seat that’s like a recliner. Eldon relaxes back there and let’s the machine do all the work and there is Pearl, with special pads on her knees and hand tools that are ergonomically designed.

Kurt made it home in good time but can’t get the riding lawn mower started. I am already weed-whacking. I have my plastic protective glasses on and yellow plugs in my ears. I make a motion towards the sky. It looks like it’s going to rain. I don’t wait for Kurt to reply and keep going. I have to hurry. The neighbors are already in the back. I can’t hear him over the roar of the weed-whacker but I can tell by his stomping and his mouth moving that he is cursing the lawn mower again.

Eldon and Pearl are sitting on their front porch now watching us. They're as cool as cucumbers. These Virginia people really know what they’re doing regarding growing things. Sure, Kurt and I kicked ass in New Jersey but that was suburbia. Maybe down here we’ve bitten off a little more than we can chew. Who knew what we were up against? At any rate, I see Kurt nod his head in the neighbors’ direction and they wave. I stand up from the hostas and stretch. Then I bend my head from one shoulder to the other and yawn. One thing I know is, we’re not going to let them see us sweat.