This isn’t a friendly town. People fraternize with the people who attend their church and seem to regard anyone else as potentially hostile.
Of course we didn’t know that when we moved here. We knew that it was a very white town, that Garry was likely to be the first (only) person of color, and I might well be the first (only) Jew. In fact, apparently well-intentioned people said stuff like “Gee, I’ve never known a Jewish person before” and honestly didn’t see anything wrong with it. Garry just got stares until they realized they’d seen him on TV. Celebrity beats skin color, at least here in the north.
Our situation was made more complicated by our neighbor, Ned. Big guy. Rode a Harley. I love Harleys, but there are Harleys and then, there are Harleys. This one was chopped and loud. When Ned started his bike, the vibration alone could knock me out of bed.
Ned was massive. Tattooed. Hung with a bunch of skin-heads. They had raucous parties with lots of beer. We didn’t expect to be invited and we weren’t. Ned also flew a Confederate flag. Prominently. We learned he’d always done it. It was part of some family roots thing tying him to his original home state of Georgia. Me? I thought them — and still think — it’s time the south moved on. The war ended a long time ago. Get over it. But I’m from New York so I probably don’t get it. Apparently a lot of people don’t get it.
Our neighbor’s house was the only one in the Valley flying a confederate flag and we were the only mixed-race couple in town. Ironic, to say the least. And we were a poster couple for hate groups.
Garry is pragmatic and tough. His mild-mannered demeanor belies his Marine Corps interior. Semper fi. Moreover, he couldn’t have survived 40-years as a reporter without being tough. One fine summer’s day, music screaming from Ned’s boombox, Garry looked at me and murmured those fighting words: “This is ridiculous!”
He marched down the driveway, through the woods that join our two houses, to Ned’s front door. Garry knocked. Loudly. When Ned finally answered, Garry said: “Hi. I’m your neighbor. Garry Armstrong. Do we have a problem?”
Shortly the flag disappeared along with a noxious black jockey statue. Turned out, Ned was a plumber. He fixed our bathroom pipes. The whole skinhead thing dissolved in the face of a brown-skinned guy who did news on Boston TV. Seemed it was less important who Ned was than who Ned, with a little encouragement, was willing to become.
Eventually Ned got into drugs. Or something. We were never sure what. His wife left. His life fell apart. One day, he vanished. Fortunately, he gave back our extension ladder before leaving.
Other folks live there now. They are not actively hostile, which is about the best one could say of them. In the two and half years they have lived there, they’ve never said hello. I doubt they ever will. They object to our dogs barking. Hard to argue with that but they’ve got dogs who do their own share of barking. There are a lot of dogs around here. If you are outside in the evening, you can always hear a dog barking somewhere.
I miss Ned. No one fixed pipes like he did and gave us a huge discount. He turned out to be a funny guy and a good neighbor. Who’d have thunk it.