She was standing by my mailbox yesterday afternoon, a thin woman with gray hair holding a little black dog. “Have you seen Sadie’s house?” she asked as I rolled down the car window.
“Can you describe it?”
Her face went blank. “I don’t reckon I can.”
“Did you walk up this road?”
“No,” she said, “I came over the mountain.” I looked at her frail limbs and her thin-soled shoes and had a hard time imagining it. She pointed up the dirt road that crosses a cattle pasture and dead-ends at Sara and Buck’s home, insisting as she took a step toward it that Sadie’s house was up that way. I pictured her opening the gate and tangling with either the cattle or Buck’s highly protective dogs, and I said, “Why don’t you get in the car and we’ll try to find Sadie’s house together?”
She smiled, introduced herself as Hazel, and settled into the passenger seat with her dog on her lap. I didn’t actually have a plan, other than to drive around the neighboring hollers until Hazel recognized someplace or somebody. Blessed providence, as I was turning the car around at the end of the road, she spied the mailbox with the name Campbell on it. “Why, Campbell, that’s my son’s name,” she commented. I asked her his first name. “Jack,” she said.
This cove is filled with Campbells, the great-grandchildren of Hiram, who owned it all around the time of the Civil War, gave his name to our road, and is now buried by the little church near the other end of it. Hazel had in fact come down the mountain. I knew how to get up to Jack’s house as the crow flies—but we are not crows, nor are we prone to flying. Hazel and I set out to discover a road. Eventually we came across a steep, winding, rutted, gravel one, and I threw the car into 4-wheel drive and forged ahead. Four dogs, all hound varieties—one dachshund, one very bow-legged Bassett, and two of eclectic parentage—barked vigorously as we approached Jack and Bonnie’s home.
Bonnie ran out onto the porch, followed by her two young children. “Oh, Honey,” she said to Hazel, “we talked about you not walking off.” Clearly relieved, she asked me where I had found her mother-in-law and thanked me for bringing her home. I gave Bonnie the empathetic smile of one who had walked with my own mother on her challenging 8-year journey with dementia.
Hazel gave me a hug and said, “Thank you. I had such a nice time.”
I love this about rural life: people know how to be neighborly. When Bill and I moved here three years ago, Louise showed up at the door with heirloom tomatoes from her garden. With a warm, gap-toothed smile framed by a shock of white hair, she explained why she had walked up the road with a long stick: “Now, don’t think I need it to lean on, no ma’am. I need it to scare away the dogs and the snakes.”
On our second day in our home, Bill and I woke up to find a few of Buck’s two dozen cattle down by the creek at the bottom of our ridge, munching on grass that had not seen a mower in quite some time. We considered letting them do the work for us, but they were as determined to fertilize the grass as they were to eat it. We helped Buck herd them back behind the fence, a task we have repeated a few times since. He thanks us by delivering organic eggs from Sara’s hens and smoothing out our gravel driveway from time to time.
Last year, just before Christmas, I was driving home and heard a terrible roaring and clattering. I pulled into a service station and discovered the muffler dragging on the ground, barely attached. The very nice cashier called the closest repair shop on my behalf and reported that someone would come to help, but she didn’t know how long it would be.
Overhearing my dilemma, a young man wearing a John Deere cap and camo fatigues climbed up into the bed of his huge black truck with gigantic wheels and a Donald Trump bumper sticker. He pulled out a length of wire. On the coldest day of the winter, he got down on the ground on his back under my car and wired up the muffler so that I could drive home.
Not long ago I overheard a woman say of our current presidency, “At least the ones who voted for him will suffer the most.” Her words cut deep. That woman was talking about my neighbors. They don’t usually make our list when we talk about the vulnerability of immigrants and African-Americans, Muslims and Jews, LGBT persons and women; but they are indeed likely to suffer under the new regime. And I’m convinced that we’re not going to get out of this mess our country is in without them, without listening to their lives and understanding the disaffection and sense of powerlessness that drove them to grasp for what looked like hope and change.
We no doubt disagree about politics, about how to live out our faith, and the best way to eat chicken. But maybe if we all did a little more “Love your neighbor as yourself,” we’d discover a heap of kindness and recognize that we have a lot more that unites us than separates us.