There’s nothing in the world quite like meeting new neighbors. The folks who live next door and across the street are new to us, and I’ve chummed up with the fella next door right quick. I could tell with one glance that he’s former military, and he did not disappoint. He spent six years in the Navy and is soon going to be celebrating his 86th birthday.
I walked over in the midst of lugging heavy bins into the garage to introduce myself to him, and take a much needed five-minute break.
Well, you know what happens when you put two jabberjockeys together ...
Mr. Pendleton is the eagle eye of the street we live on. Well, he’s the eagle eye of the part of the street that he can see from his perch on his front porch, that is.
He was wearing one of his golf hats, and I was impressed that he still looked so physically fit. He was dressed very neatly, shirt tucked in, belt buckled, spit-shined.
He and I exchanged pleasantries and then he got right down to business, giving me the dish on the gal who had lived in the house before we bought it.
He spoke quite slowly, choosing his words carefully, with an expert droll sense of humor.
“You know, that gal had two boys. One of ’em wasn’t quite right in the head and the other one ... well, I guess he was in jail ’cause that’s what I heard. She didn’t work, far as I could tell, seemed to have different guys in and out of that place all the time. Sometimes she’d take off for a week and I pretty well knew what she was up to. You know what I call women like that, dontcha?”
“Sweetheart?” I said, kidding.
We both laughed and he said, “Well, I reckon you know what I’m talkin’ about then. I’d come out here in the morning and if her car was gone, I’d tell Harriett — you met my wife, right? — well, I’d tell Harriett, ‘Looks like Hot Pants is off on another business trip!’”
I laughed so hard at the expression “Hot Pants.” Hadn’t heard that one in a long time.
“That woman needed to spend more time with those boys, but she was a little strange. Had all kinds of animals over there, too.”
“Really? More than the dog, cat, and bird?”
He said, “Oh yeah. Had three rats and a red snake that I found right here one morning when I walked out. Made her come and get it.”
“Hmm. I think I know where one of her rats is ... we can smell it up in the attic now ... festering...”
He thought that was funny.
“Did you say your name was Lambert?”
“Oh. I knew a girl named Lambert once. From up the hill there at Cedar City. I was working in the mine out to Pioche with my uncle back when there was still a mine out there, and he loaded up the back of his wagon with some apricot brandy and lit up to Cedar to bring her back down to the mine. She was a tall gal. Lasted about as long as the apricot brandy.”
“Yeah, we didn’t see too much of her after that, but I heard later that they’d found her out in a field ...someone had done her in.”
“Maybe she’d had just a little too much brandy,” I suggested.
“Oh, she’d had a little too much of somethin’, that’s for sure!”
Harriet then made her appearance, looking at me and shaking her head.
“Don’t believe a word of anything he tells you. He can’t hear, and he makes stuff up.”
“Are you kidding me? I love him! I could sit here and listen to him all day!”
He turned to her and said, “See? I told you she looked like a good ol’ gal.”
“But apricot brandy is out for me!”
He laughed and then said, “See that place across the street? Never used to look like that around here. Now they got too many people livin’ in that house and they got all that junk outside. Makes the neighborhood look run down. I don’t like it. I don’t trust them. I know they act like they’re going to work, but I don’t like it. That’s why I sit out here and watch them. I hope it will make them leave.”
I’ve seen him, too. He doesn’t take his eyes off that house across the street.
They have family that live on the far end of the street, but I don’t know how often they’re over. He told me that Harriet fell in the bathroom not too long ago, guess she passed out in the shower.
“You see how slow I am. I tried like hell getting her outta that tub. Like lifting dead weight. I got her out far enough that she could crawl over to the toilet and lift herself up.”
I could only imagine what that must’ve been like, and was thankful that she wasn’t standing right there listening to that little tale.
“Was she OK?”
“Oh, I guess so. Took me about an hour to recover, though. She’s heavier than she looks.”
Oh Lord. Don’t go there, old man.
I went in to get pen and paper and gave him my phone number.
“You call me anytime you need a hand. Don’t wait, just call.”
Why he didn’t call the family down the street is beyond me; maybe Harriet was too embarrassed. I know I wouldn’t want my family to come haul my big wet carcass out of a bathtub, either.
I excused myself to get back to work and promised to drop by later for another chat.
The Kid looked at me as I made my way through the maze that was forming in the garage, and shook his head.
“You like those old people, don’t you?”
I laughed and said, “Oh yeah ... sometimes they have wild tales to tell!”
Harriet herself topped it off by telling me about finding “gang clothing” in her garbage bin.
In this Wonder Bread neighborhood?
Apparently it had something to do with the son who wasn’t quite right in the head.
I think a shot of apricot brandy would fix that pretty quick.
Works for me when I ain’t right in the head.
I told her she should’ve made the husband wear those clothes when he’s out patrolling on the porch.
That would send a clear message to the thug wannabees.
And it would sure give him some street cred.
“He’s lucky to put on matching socks, never mind gang-wear,” she said.
I get the feeling I’m gonna get some good stories out of the folks next door.
Apricot brandy, murder, gang-wear, and a hard of hearing old man who can’t match up socks.
Life is good.