So, I decided instead to drag out another anecdote from my old freelancing days -- back when I drove a pickup with a camper and cruised around looking for stories. I thought perhaps on a Tuesday in the merry month of May, I might not be the only person ready to take a break from keeping up with the news.
The following is what I think of as a "hollar story" -- a story that involves a person who lives up in the deep crevices of this country and doesn't particularly want to live anywhere else. I've spent quite a lot of time chatting on front porches with such folks about bear and rattlesnake hunting, cooking, making a living, and family. The following, I think, tells the story of the only time I got relationship advice.
This story comes from fairly far back in the vault. Here you go. . .
There was once an old squatter who lived west of Charlottesville, up in one of the hollars. I'd met her doing a freelancing assignment the year before this particular afternoon took place. She lived in an unpainted shack beside a dusty road, and she spent her summer days sitting on the front porch of her house spying on her world.
Her name was Maggie. I have no idea what her age was or how she ended up in that house. She had kin in Criglersville who checked up on her once a month or so. In between these visits, she just survived and stayed vigilant. I think it is not impolite to say Maggie was pretty much out there, viewing the world from a different vantage point than most of the rest of us.
I pulled up in front of Maggie’s house late one summer afternoon and asked if I could stop and chat for a while. Everyone has their price, and Maggie’s price for her conversation was a large bottle of Pepsi. So I drove to the nearest store, got her a Pepsi and brought it back.
We settled on the porch and Maggie started talking. Her first subject was her family and what they had done to her. Then she moved on to her neighbors and what they had done to her. Cars rolled by occasionally and kicked up dust that covered us and the porch. Maggie hated the dust and told me all about all the things she did to try to keep it out of her house.
Suddenly, right in the middle of our housekeeping discussion, she asked if I was married.
“No, Maggie,” I replied. “I’m not married.”
We sat in silence for a moment. I felt that Maggie was studying me, making a decision as to whether I was suitable for girl talk.
Finally, she spoke again. “Better off, ain’t you?” she asked.
I didn’t understand. “Pardon?”
“Better of,” Maggie repeated. “Ain’t got nobody to boss you.”
“Oh,” I said, thinking of the two nice men to whom I'd been briefly married. “I guess so, Maggie.”
“I was almost married once,” Maggie said. She grinned. “I used to go with a fellow. I did.”
“So, why didn’t you marry him, Maggie,” I asked.
“Didn’t want to.”
“Why didn’t you want to?”
Then Maggie leaned over and lowered her voice. “You know what men do with you at night, don’t you?” she asked. She was so dusty her lined face looked eroded.
“No, Maggie,” I said. “What do men do with you at night?”
“They take you out,” Maggie said, leaning even closer. “They take you out in the dark . . . and then they kill you.”
I do not remember what I said in response. I guess I was speechless. Which, as you might imagine, does not happen very often.