Small Town Crap
I haven’t been able to find the author of this next piece but as a resident of a small town … this really struck a cord.
The neighborhood buzzed with excitement when the “sold” sign went up on the old Johnston home, vacant since Mrs. Johnston passed almost twenty years earlier.
Nature plays cruel tricks on uninhabited structures. The house was once alive with the sounds of life and the fresh smells of home cooking. Mrs. Johnston could be seen daily in her garden, tending her flowers with loving care.
But time had turned the last annuals into dust while the perennials became choked by thistle and long natural grasses. The old home itself had long since refused to deliver a warm and inviting feeling. It had become a haunted, and decayed image and only the best of imaginations could conjure a picture of what it once might have been.
While change in this small community was often resisted, the advent of a new neighbor who might invigorate this historical town landmark was the buzz at the coffee shop and it was clear that all were in favor. For a group normally highly protective of their ways and quite resistant to outsiders, this was an odd turn of events. In fact, people who lived in the community for more than 30 years were still referred to as “that new family” by members of the community’s most established residents.
Belinda Matheson, the only real estate agent in town for as long as anyone could remember, was one of those residents. Belinda loved being the center of attention as the town nudged her for information about the new comer.
But Belinda hadn’t met Lisa, the new owner. So she was only able to string together inferences she’d picked up from Lisa’s agent. Fortunately, Belinda had the ability to speculate and fill in the blanks on her own and everyone stood transfixed as she stated her observations. She really didn’t want to over do it, though, until possession had taken place and her commission was in the bank. So she seeded the crowds’ appetite with what most would describe as statistical information.
Lisa was a younger woman, early forties she’d guess. There was no man around from what Belinda could tell, certainly no one else was listed on the offer to purchase. Belinda wasn’t sure about Lisa’s job, but thought that she might be an artist.
Secretly, Belinda thought Lisa was a little aloof, perhaps going as far as to think snooty. City girl with a city girl attitude. When Belinda met with the agent the week prior, Lisa had stayed in the car while they discussed the home and Belinda gave the other agent the keys to show the property. Not until after Belinda was going down the driveway did Lisa get out of the vehicle.
But Belinda wasn’t going to offer any of this information until the closing had occurred and the property duly transferred. That had now happened and Lisa was about to take up residence.
A moving van in town was always a big deal and the day Lisa’s arrived was no exception. Not that this was the first bit of excitement, since work crews had been at the property sprucing up various parts of the old house for almost a month. But today, it would appear, would be the first time Lisa would be there. And that was exciting. The rumor mill had naturally been churning, but everyone had quietly reserved judgment until an official meeting could take place.
The first sign of trouble surfaced within an hour of the moving van’s arrival and centered on several large iron “things” strategically placed around the front yard. Art, in this community, certainly didn’t include large iron “things.” It was definitely not some monolithic structure of old twisted steel bent, grinded and shaped to somehow remotely resemble a heart or flying bird, or whatever that was so proudly plunked upon Lisa’s front lawn.
If THAT wasn’t enough to get the coffee shop buzzing, the entrance of Florence Buchanan, the towns’ primary busy body was. As she explained to everyone, she had quite coincidentally been walking down the opposite side of the street and took it upon herself to give a neighborly wave to Lisa, who was clearly looking in her direction. It was impossible for Lisa NOT to have seen the wave, yet she completely ignored it. Florence, and the town, had never seen such behavior, and the lack of a wave back ended any speculation that Lisa might not be a snob.
And the town responded with a good old-fashioned shunning. So, for weeks, neighbors walked by Lisa’s new home on the opposite side of the street. Although they were drawn to look over, they would only peer sideways, stretching their peripheral vision to the maximum. Some would notice city cars in her driveway from time to time loading up her metal things, or – as they thought of them Ã sculptures. Lisa certainly seemed to be friendly toward them.
But everyone soon settled in to their old routines and would restrict their coffee shop stories of Lisa to one or two and then move on to other things. The atrocities on her lawn became somehow less offensive. Some even thought they could detect the odd tractor part being used and somehow that made it just a little bit more palatable.
The flying sparks from her wheel grinder filled the air in Lisa’s mammoth garage. It had been the size of the garage and the fact that old farm equipment repairs took place there so many years ago, that made Lisa fall in love with the Johnston place. A great space to create, filled with history and loads of room to maneuver her art. The overhead hoist complete with block and tackle was the deal clincher. But the sparks and crackle of the plasma metal cutter were now familiar to the locals and although necks craned as they walked by, none would approach. And particularly as a rather large German Shepherd apparently named Chester stood vigilant guard at the shop’s entrance way. Regular morning walks with a leashed Chester in a purposeful gait made Lisa seem unapproachable as well.
The relative calm about Lisa was short-lived, though. It was broken shortly after dusk one Saturday evening, when Gerald Kovak was spotted standing in Lisa’s shop doorway, seemingly having a delightful conversation. The locals simply couldn’t wait for Gerald to saunter into the coffee shop Monday morning, as he had for hundreds of previous Monday mornings, to get the skinny.
Gerald was a man who always kept pretty close to himself and he wasn’t a big fan of gossip, so he’d generally just read his paper and ignore the goings on.
But he wasn’t surprised when all eyes turned to him as he entered Claire’s on Monday morning. And didn’t it seem a little more crowded than normal, he thought to himself? If he also was wondering how long it would be before he was approached about his visit to Lisa, it was quickly answered by way of a very forthright Mrs. Buchanan.
“Heard you were by the old Johnston place Saturday night.” Florence stated in a type of accusatory tone that is rarely warranted.
“Ah hum,” Gerald replied, without even raising his head from the newspaper.
“And what, may I ask, brought you to that particular door step?”
Gerald very slowly looked up at Florence Buchanan, ensuring that his gaze lingered long enough in time for the inappropriateness of the question to sink in for everyone, including her. And while Florence would never think that this was none of her business, Gerald wanted everyone else to realize it. He let it settle in for a moment longer.
“Broke an axel and was welding it Saturday….. ran out of rods….. phoned around and no one had any. Remembered seeing sparks at her place…. figured she might have a few spare rods. I called over and it turned out she did.”
“Well, I’m surprised she bothered to give you the time of day,” Florence said, and so condescendingly that the words themselves nearly dripped with disdain as they left her mouth. “She most certainly hasn’t extended any courtesies to us.”
“Treated me real nice, very pleasant in fact. Showed me her art and I must say that her welds are as good as any I’ve seen.”
The crowd strained to listen in on the exchange, which seemed to be festering toward a showdown of sorts.
“Quite a visionary I’d say,” Gerald continued. “And looking at some of the newspaper and magazine stories she’s got framed up on the shop wall…. pretty highly respected out there considering….”
“Considering she’s stuck-up and doesn’t give us the time of day?” Florence stated as if it were fact. She did not draw a breath, leaving no room for Gerald to interrupt. “I graciously made the first ovation with a friendly and heartfelt wave, which she completely ignored…is that how city girls become ‘highly respected’?” Florence emphasized the last two words using air quotes, which surprised everyone.
“Nope,” Gerald spoke, gently shaking his head in slow motion from side to side in the universal motion of disagreement. “Considering Lisa is blind.”
There are moments in all of our lives when an event, a realization, instantly causes chills that run deep into our souls. Moments that make us stop and examine ourselves, our motives and our actions. For all at Claire’s Coffee Shop that morning, this was one of those moments.
“I believe Lisa sees beauty in everything she touches,” Gerald continued. “She creates even more beauty from those scraps of metal. Even her lack of sight fails to diminish her great vision.”
Today the old Johnston house is known as Lisa’s house, the neighbors call “good morning” as Lisa and her guide dog Chester walk down the street and there’s talk that maybe some of them might just buy a piece of sculpture from her.
Well, you know, now that a famous artist lives right in their own town.