Miss Dorothy is somewhere in her late eighties. She’s tiny, adorable, and charmingly eccentric. She’s got a Southern accent as thick as molasses in January and a love for knit caps and men’s heavy duty work shirts, which always look like they’re swallowing her whole.
Dorothy and her husband, Norman, bought their land about 60 years ago, when there was nothing in the area. She can remember when they would sit on the front porch looking down towards the road, and if two cars went by in an hour, you knew it was a busy day. They kept chickens and bees and had the biggest woodpile I’ve ever seen.
Whenever we had a major snowfall (which only happened a few times during my childhood), we would walk across the street to “check on them.” It was a joke, really, because they were better prepared than anyone in the neighborhood. They had a wood-burning stove in their living room, and the big outdoor thermometer on the wall usually read well over 90 degrees. By the time we were done visiting, it was a relief to get back out into the snow!
Once, when I was very small, Dorothy called my mom and said, “Get that child in the house! Norman just saw a puff adder down by the mailbox!” My mom promptly went and looked up puff adders in the encyclopedia (Remember when we used to look things up in encyclopedias? Me, too. I miss that.) and discovered that they were native to Africa and the Middle East. Turns out, though, that around here, people refer to the harmless hognose snake as a puff adder because of its habit of flattening out its head like a cobra when threatened. Many people also assume that they’re deadly. And then those people worry about their neighbor’s toddler playing outside with such a beast at large.
In the 1980s, several large subdivisions went in around them, and developers came to their door more than once with a blank check, wanting to buy their property. Norman always declined, saying that he had bought that land intending to have his bones carried off of it. And about fifteen years ago, that’s exactly what happened.
Miss Dorothy stayed in their cozy little house, though, and their daughter more or less lives there with her now. She calls her mama “Little Mother” because that’s what Norman used to call her. They are two of the sweetest, cutest, and most independent women imaginable. I honestly cannot imagine either one of them saying a mean word about another person. It just isn’t in them.
Until just a few years ago, they were splitting all of their own wood to heat the house — two large trees per winter. Now they’ve switched to a propane heating system, and they no longer have the chickens or the bees, which practically makes them ladies of leisure.
I only see them once or twice a year now. We take the kids trick-or-treating there on Halloween, and sometimes the two of them come to my parents’ Christmas party. I always mean to visit more often, because I would love for my kids to have memories of Miss Dorothy. I’m resolving once again to do that before it’s too late.
That’s the thing about country neighbors. You don’t accidentally run into them while you’re unloading groceries from the car or trimming the hedges. You have to go calling, pay a visit, make time to seek them out. Good fences might make good neighbors, but good neighbors make great friends.