Saturday, May 01, 2021

Lettuce in the garden


Mr. Lloyd at our house today getting his stitches out (so sorry I got it sideways!)

I pull into the driveway to show Grama Joni the property our friend Anni bought. She purchased seven acres behind Mr. Lloyd's house last year, and in the next few months, she'll be leaving her home in Knoxville and spending her life here with us in Bulls Gap. 

I have no idea how old Mr. Lloyd is. Like most of the older folks around here, their life story isn't the first thing they want to talk about. They laugh when you ask them their age. And many times, your questions are lost in the space between your mouth and their ear.

Mr. Lloyd with some of the fish he caught.

We see Mr. Lloyd, messing with a tree in his front yard. He sold that acreage to Anni to simply his life. "Less to mow," he told her in his "Lloyd-voice" a mixture of laughter and shyness all rolled into one. 

But you wonder if he knows something. Is he simplifying life because he knows he's near the end of it?

He doesn't have children. We think he was married once, a long time ago. But we have no details. He has a girlfriend who comes around, and they seem to be good friends. He attends the tiny Presbyterian church across the street from his house with the other "veterans" of the area ... John's parents attend there also. Two-dozen folks all at least 70 years of age. Most of them raised their children in this church and then watched them leave the rural area for bigger things.

As I swing around his house to show Joni the property our friend Anni will be calling home, Lloyd comes waddling over. I say waddling because like many of these Appalachians in their later years who have spent their life doing hard-labor work, their knees are going. And it causes them to walk with their legs swinging a bit out to the side. I've grown used to the gait and don't really think much about it now ... unless I am writing in recollection. Like I am now.

Lloyd's face is drooping on one side. He dropped a muffler on his cheekbone last week, and John said he was really lucky not to hurt himself more than he did. With the blood thinners he is on, it could have been bad. Because Mr. Lloyd lives alone, he does carry an old cell phone -- which is more than a lot of the locals do. If you want to reach them, you call their house phone and wait for them to finally be in from their farm and answer. 

The bruising after the muffler incident was so bad, Mr. Lloyd drove right over to see my ER-doctor-husband who initially let it be but later, put a few stitches into his face to remove the hematoma that was sort of "stuck" under his cheekbone.

(John often does medical consultations in the driveway for our elderly neighbors. They'll be sitting on their four-wheeler or side-by-side, and John will check them out from the seat of their farm vehicle.) 

Lloyd will often catch fish for us in our pond, clean them, and hand them to Grama Mary: "I don't eat much fish," he'll say in his normal mixture of laughter and sing-song words. The fish is his way of "paying" for John's help. But he'd never say that. Neighbors here don't keep track of how they help each other our here. 

Today, as I point to the goats peering through the fence at us in Anni's yard, Mr. Lloyd asks me if we eat lettuce. "Of course we do!" I say, and he pulls back a clear tarp and hands me a pair of scissors. "My hands don't work so good anymore," he says, "But you cut yourself out there some lettuce." Underneath are beautiful greens -- a basic romaine and a black-seeded Simpson -- more than he could ever eat himself. I know Lloyd doesn't spray his food at all so I begin cutting, and try to stop, and he tells me to keep going, and I keep cutting and keep handing it to Joni.

He tells me just to go home and squeeze some Mayonnaise directly on a piece and that it will be delicious.

The next night we will go home and Joni uses that lettuce to make a delicious salad -- avocado and tomato and mango mixed with Mr. Lloyd's greens.

And I think to myself: "How many people in our world have gotten to accept fresh lettuce from their elderly neighbor who was born and raised on the same street he now grows his lettuce on?"

And I think to myself: "I could never, ever, not live right where I am."

While home was never Tennessee and it certainly wasn't rural and prior to my late 30's I never ate anything that didn't come from the grocery store, the life here in Appalachia has now wound itself deep into my bones, and I know I can't ever live anywhere else. 

I know the world pictures old racist white folks. But that isn't what these people are at all. They really don't care at all what someone looks like or what they do for a living or where they work. They just love their neighbors.

And feed them lettuce.

There is a culture here and a people here that sits so deeply inside me. I've lived and loved many other places. But as the sun sets on my farm, and I sit on the porch without TV or radio or the sound of anything but simply ... Earth ... I know I will die right here just like Mr. Lloyd will. I pray that there are young people around me who will come and eat the lettuce out of my garden that I hand them scissors to cut out because my fingers don't work so well either. I hope they will come see me and enjoy the silence and solitude with me. 



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