My Best Beloved, The Ailing Rescuepoo* and I are up at our cabin by a creek in the mountains of Pennsylvania. We love it up here, and my new tag line is, “You can learn a lot sitting by a creek.”
Here was yesterday’s lesson.
We were walking the Ailing Rescuepoo* along the creek road, a narrow strip of gravel with hundred-year-old log cabins on one side and the Bushkill Creek on the other. There aren’t many people up here just now. The opening of fishing season is past, and the raucous, firework-and-gunfire parties of Memorial Day are over. We don’t mind fishing season, since fishermen are generally quiet folk (even if some of them don’t know how to respect a creek and toss their cigarette butts in the water, triggering a scolding from yours truly). Memorial Day is another story. We never come up here then. There’s enough fireworks – which are legal in Pennsylvania — and gunplay — how these folks love “popping cans” — on any regular old Saturday night. On holidays it’s unbearable. My nerves can’t take it.
We are, we think, the only people on the road without at least one gun in the cabin. We don’t own any guns. The people up here think we’re nice but clearly a little lacking in the intelligence department. They claim the only reason there’s so little crime in this area is that everyone’s armed. We’ve never been broken into (touch wood, but then again there’s really nothing worth stealing in our wee cabin), but some of our neighbors have. One neighbor, a woman I’ll call Cindy, was walking her two adorable fluffy dogs past our cabin last spring. She stopped to try to convince me not to take “that vaccine.” She pointed her finger a lot and her voice rose as she informed me “they’re not telling us the truth. I know five people who had strokes right after they took that vaccine. Don’t you take it!”I suspect that probably wasn’t true, but I changed the subject and asked how her summer was. She told me they’d been broken into.
“I’m so sorry,” I said. “Did they steal much?”
“They left all the guns,” Cindy said, “But they took the ammo.”
“You know, that’s not comforting in any way,” I said.
“Well, ammo’s pretty expensive,” Cindy said.
Well, all righty then. Now, Cindy and her husband, a lovely man (the other day he said I looked like a teenager, so yay, him! Snort.) who sort of patrols the lane in his golf cart, would do anything for us. I wouldn’t hesitate to call them if, say, there was a bear on the roof. And they wouldn’t hesitate to come help. I just don’t talk about certain things, like politics and guns.
And then there’s Mike (not his real name). Mike has done a lot of work on our cabin. He is a master craftsman. A MASTER. That man could build a city out of wood from the ground up and not only would it be beautiful, but it would also last forever. He is married to a lovely woman and has two tiny girls, who are the cutest things, and a couple of dogs. Mike has the keys to our cabin. He is kind. Funny. Gentle. And he loves his AR-15. He never leaves the house without a gun on him, “Because people are crazy these days” and always has at least one gun in his truck. He is a one-issue voter: 2nd Amendment, even though he thinks Trump is an idiot. Still, it’s about the guns. Sigh. I adore him.
Now, I should mention, that when I start talking about the folks who live in the mountains around our cabin, people seem to assume they’re all white hillbillies. They’re not. I would say a third of the folks up here are Black. And yes, they love their guns, too. So let’s take that stereotype off the table.
Anyway, back to our walk yesterday.
At the end of the lane, which deadends at a spot where the creek takes a bend and there’s the remains of a bridge that came down in a storm about twenty years ago and has never been rebuilt, is another cabin. The owners rent it out, and sure enough, there was an SUV and a pickup truck in the yard, Virginia license plates. There was also, I notice, a “COEXIST” decal, alongside one for the Marines. I was sort of surprised, to be honest. But I shouldn’t be. I know full well that not all southerners are gun-toting anti-semitic Islamophobic racists, so to see a decal suggesting all religions should live in peace ought not surprise me.
“‘Well, hello there,” a voice said.
I jumped. We hadn’t seen the small, white-haired, rather elfin man sitting around the unlit firepit on the creek-side of the land. We laughed and said hello. The man was wearing a “US Marines” cap.
“I like your ‘Coexist’ sticker,” I said, giving it the old thumbs up.
“You do? Why I thought everyone up here were Democrats,” the man said.
I didn’t want to tell him that while that might be true for much of the North, here in Pennsylvania there are a LOT of Republicans. But I was puzzled. “Well, we are Democrats,” I said. “And I think all religions can get along.”
It was his turn to look puzzled, then he chuckled. “I don’t think you looked closely enough at that decal.”
I took another look and burst out laughing. He was right. It wasn’t about religion, this decal, it was about guns and grenades.
“I hope we can still get along,” I said.
He agreed, and then started talking. He was a great talker. Gentle and polite and funny and self-deprecating in that Southern way. It didn’t take me long to kind of fall in love with this diminutive, elderly marine. He talked about going to West Point and dating Jewish girls from New York, and marrying a Jersey Girl (who was off at the end of the road fly fishing) and not being able to drink within 5 miles of West Point, but knowing there was a bar 5.1 miles away, across the Hudson River in Cold Springs. He had great stories. He owned a pig farm down in Virginia, but he never killed the pigs because he loved them so. He couldn’t ever, he said, hurt a sweet pig. He raised miniature pigs for people who liked them as pets. They make, he told me, excellent pets. Intelligent and affectionate and loyal.
While we were talking a little chipmunk ran up and stood on his foot for a second before dashing off down the creek bank. My dog liked him, too.
I could have talked to him all day and would have if the Ailing Rescuepoo* hadn’t had ideas about needing to do his business and then demanding his dinner.
But the gentleman will be here for a few days, so I hope I’ll see him again. I think he has more great stories.
Coexist? Well, one of the things I’ve learned by living along a creek, is that it’s easy to say I can’t coexist with people I only see from a distance, on TV, or on social media, or in the newspaper, or through hearsay; it’s much harder to say that when someone with a good heart is sitting right in front of me, talking about not being able to hurt a small animal he loves, let alone his neighbor. Do we disagree on many things? I suspect we do. But not on our affection for each other, and damn it, that matters, it really, really, matters.
*The Ailing Rescuepoo’s real name is Bailey, for those who are new to this blog, and he is the dog of my heart. He has two masses, one on his liver and one on his lung. We don’t think we have much more time with him. This is excruciating pain. But that’s not what today’s post is about. I’ve written about it in other blogs and will do so again. Not today.