It was a quaint little neighborhood in a quaint little town. It wasn’t featured in magazines or newspapers nor was it sought after as an area where you would make a statement of “finally having arrived.” It was quiet and peaceful and despite being only one street away from the center of town, seemed to be strangely secluded.
There were well kept houses with finely groomed lawns and it wasn’t just the neighbors who never failed to throw up a hand when walking or driving by. The garbage collectors would drive by and wave and then break out into a good old gospel tune. It was exactly the kind of place that I had been looking for.
The day I moved in the workers were scurrying about, putting the last of the boxes and pieces of furniture where I pointed and I was ready for a breather. Suddenly a car pulled up and a woman jumped out, with an outstretched hand and barely took a breath when she said “welcome to the neighborhood. My name is Jean. We are so glad somebody finally moved into this house. It’s such a great house. We thought it was going to stand empty forever. I know you’re going to love the house and I know you’re going to love the neighborhood!”
Wow. What a mouthful. She plopped down beside me and said “I made you a list of all the phone numbers for fire, Ems, police, water, gas and electricity.”
I thanked her for the utility numbers but I didn’t mention that I had known how to dial 911 for years. She said “I can see that you have quite a job ahead of you but next week, I want you to take a break and come over for a cup of coffee around ‘one-ish’…say on Tuesday. I won’t take no for an answer and that’s that.” I started to tell her that I really wanted to get everything unpacked but she interrupted me and said “I insist.”
I agreed, thinking that I would just stay for one cup of coffee and then make a legitimate excuse to get back home.
Her idea was actually a good one. After a week, I was almost worn out so I walked over to her house, which was slightly kitty-wampus across the street. She greeted me like we had known each other for years. I prefer friendly people to the opposite but she was going a just a little overboard, I thought.
She was a slender woman with short, thick silver hair. She had an excited way of talking, like she was in a hurry to get it all out or something and she never said one single sentence. Her way of talking was almost as if she was reciting a novella. She closed her eyes when she was talking and I wondered if it was so that she could remember everything she wanted to say.
She told me how she came to live in the neighborhood. She said she had taken care of a woman and when the woman died, she left everything to her, along with what I deduced was quite a bit of money and what Jean described as a flawless diamond ring, worth $38,000.00.
I thought that was a tad bit too much information to be telling somebody you had just met but that seemed to be Jean’s way. She was definitely a flibbertigibbet and a little idiosyncratic but sort of “precious” at the same time.
After she brewed the coffee, we sat down and she served it in a dainty little set of china that you would expect to use if you were an antique porcelain doll. It was beautiful china but it only held a few swallows of coffee. It was more suitable for espresso, I thought. Even so, it took me back to my childhood of tea parties with pots filled with air and cups that when spilled didn’t make a mess.
She began the conversation with “I’m guessing you want to know all about the neighbors.” I hesitated and said “um, okay.”
She said “well….did you notice the man on the corner? Oh, silly me. Of course you did. How could you not?” I told her that I had seen him but I had been pretty busy with the movers and this was the first day I had actually been out of the house. She said “I’m surprised you haven’t heard him.”
“Heard him?” I asked. She said “that’s Judge Carson. Every day come rain or shine, sleet or snow, he stands on the corner holding a tattered and faded sign warning that ‘the end is near’.” I asked her if he was a real judge and she laughed. “No,” she said. “He just acts like one because he preaches hell fire and brimstone and calls for the repentance of all of us wicked and evil people.”
As she started to emulate him, she reminded me of one of those people who, when filled with the Holy spirit, suddenly start speaking in tongues. “Come to me my brethren and I will cleanse your wicked soul.” She laughed and closed her eyes as she wielded her spoon and said “God will smite thee with His mighty sword of vengeance lest ye ask forgiveness for your sins.”
“Do you know his story?” I asked. “Nope,” she quipped. I said “are you not curious?” Again, she quipped “nope.”
She might not be curious but I was. For as long as I could remember, I had a fascination with people in general and found that everybody has a story if you’re willing to listen.
I thanked her for the coffee and the company and told her that I needed to get back home. She said “we’ll do this again next Tuesday, same time and I’ll tell you more about the neighbors.” I didn’t even have time to say I’d think about it before she said “I insist.”
To be continued________________