On Wednesday nights between 7 and 9 at the Tractor
Supply store, you can get your dog a rabies shot for $19.00. Folks here in the
Park know all about places like Tractor Supply.
When a new Sheetz gas station opened up on
401, the grand opening price for regular was $1.95. Three people told me in
less than an hour.
In turn I told them I’d just gotten a huge
deal on good bread – $3.99 bread – for a buck twenty-nine at Ollie’s. And, I added, lowering my voice
to enthrall my
co-conspirators, the girl working the register told me it comes in regular on
Thursdays and Saturday mornings.
It’s the currency of the neighborhood. That tidbit will put me in good standing
a couple of weeks.
There is an underground economy here. Nothing’s
formalized, it passes word to mouth. Sometimes a call or text if folks still
have minutes left on their phones.
But we do have a hub in our cheap-stuff
information network. It’s my friend Erlene’s trailer. I say my friend, but
really Erlene is everyone’s friend. Sooner or later, we all end up on her tiny
front deck; stepping carefully over the rotten board she hasn’t found the time or
money to replace.
Erlene’s a likable woman, Southern to the
core, probably in her middle 50’s, a long braid running down her back. There’s
a perennial scab in the middle of her forehead – skin cancer she can’t afford
to treat – so she puts hydrogen peroxide on the lesion.
I don’t know if it helps, she’ll tell you,
but I feel better doing something instead of nothing.
Back when I lived in my big house, with my
employee health plan and my PTO, I’d have laughed at such foolishness. I had no
clue you could have a full-time job with no health insurance or paid sick
days. When I had breast cancer, I used
up a month of PTO and worked from home more days than not. My employer never
I had no idea that taking time off because
you were sick could get you fired. That a trip leading to a long wait so you
might get in at a free clinic meant the loss of a day’s pay.
That hydrogen peroxide is a cure-all,
super-glue works in lieu of stitches and you never finish your antibiotics – once
you feel better, you hoard the rest for next time.
I am Erlene’s token Yankee; she takes great
amusement in my otherness. That there is such a thing as unsweet tea always gets
her laughing. She is mystified by my inability to produce edible fried chicken
– “Didn’t your momma ever teach ya?”
Where some of my neighbors view me with mild suspicion,
she delights in my education on all things Southern. The value of a
well-seasoned cast iron pan, the magical properties of apple cider vinegar, the
best cricks to fish and best spots to camp.
That a Southerner’s “Bless your heart” is the
equivalent of a New Yorker’s “What the fuck?”
I am a damn Yankee, I remind her, referring to
the age-old joke. An illegal alien, she
jokes back. Both of us pause, involuntarily
glance toward a cluster of trailers at the end of the road where most of our
Latinos neighbors live.
I don’t know the status of anyone who lives here.
I mostly see the moms who walk their kids up the street to the bus stop. We
wave and smile but have never really talked.
One family has a trail of little dogs that yap up the street, overcome
with glee when the kids pile off the bus, grateful to be home.
Be free to run and play.
“Is everyone okay down there,” I ask quietly.
She knows what I mean. “I haven’t seen
the kids out on their bikes much lately.” She nods, but doesn’t reply. I don’t
know who she voted for or even if she voted at all.
But while it might be okay to round up bad
hombres, it’s another thing to watch the neighbors be put in handcuffs. To drag
off a mom walking her children to the bus stop. Someone’s whose biggest crime is a tiny but
fierce dog running without a leash.
We sit in silence for a minute, then she nods
at a trailer up the road where a Trump campaign sign is still stuck in the
“I wish she’d take that down.”
“Makes me sick it was ever put up.”
“Your New York is showing,” she teases. I look away.
Her smile fades, she touches my arm. “I thought you knew. Folks really don’t
like her. Hillary.”
There’s nothing I can say. I did know that
but its apparent now no one really understood how deep that enmity ran. The
consequences for our country leave me speechless.
We move on to the mysteries of boiled peanuts
and whether or not Vick’s Vapor Rub will kill toenail fungus. We never mention Trump’s name. Or Angel’s.
Or Ricardo’s. Or Oscar’s. Or Emma’s.
a couple of days later, after the Sheetz alert, the sign is gone.