I am very lucky to have the kind of face, or maybe it’s the vibe I give off – or maybe, more than likely, it’s the fact that I am a perpetual eavesdropper who doesn’t even try to hide it. Whatever the case may be, total strangers share some really personal and powerful stuff with me, and I’m grateful.
Like yesterday, for example. I stopped at a place I’d never been. I was looking for Bosquebello Cemetery. I couldn’t remember where the cemetery was by memory, and honestly, I’d forgotten I was even looking for it when I saw a big grey stucco building with a sign out front that read The Crab Trap – Happy Hour Margaritas 2.99.
I went in and took a seat at the bar. I took out my book and tried to mind my own business, but one of the girls sitting beside me had just gotten married.
“Congratulations.” I said, and that’s all it took. I was in.
They were great characters for a story – the reception had been at a friend’s house who lived beside a drive-thru liquor store. Real laid back, down to earth people. Two young women that I thought were in their early twenties but were in their mid-thirties. Two men – one big burly guy that looked like an ex-bouncer or hockey player, and a quiet guy with a long, skinny braided ponytail and a baseball cap who was the bride’s dad.
I asked them if they had to travel far to make the wedding.
Burly Guy laughed, “We’ve made a real trip out of it. We left home twelve weeks ago.” They’d been to Memphis to visit Graceland and Beale St., New Orleans to visit Bourbon St, and a few other places I can’t remember, but they are hitting Nashville on their way back. I told them I was from Nashville but was down here with my three dogs for a little while.
I got out of their business and started to read. When they were paying up I congratulated the girl again and told them it was really nice to meet them. The girls left, but Quiet Guy said he’d like to have another beer, looked at me and said. “I’ll be right back. I have to go check on the dogs.”
I closed my book.
“Oh, nice. You’re travelling with your dogs.” I said to Burly Guy.
“Yeah. They’re our babies we don’t go anywhere without them. We live on a three-hundred-acre farm in Kansas. Want to see a picture of them?”
One thing I’ve learned is that you ALWAYS answer yes if someone asks if you want to see a picture of their dogs, because nine times out of ten there’s more to it than that.
Quiet Guy came back in and sat down on his stool, while Burly Guy showed me pictures on his phone of two really cute pups – Teddy and Suki. One was a purebred Japanese something and the other another purebred something I’d never heard of. I was expecting bird dogs or coon hounds. Maybe a lab/pit bull mix or a shepherd.
“Suki is so small that she’s scared she’ll get stepped on and likes to be up high. Here’s a picture of her in her favorite chair.” The picture was of the cute little black and white dog sitting on a fancy, heavily upholstered navy and cream throne.
“Dang, that’s a chair.” I laughed. Burly Guy laughed and pointed to Quiet Guy, “He bought it for her.”
“We keep her hair cut because she likes to help her dad clean the koi ponds.” He said and showed me a picture of a beautiful pond that looked like a picture from a magazine cover.
“Wow, that’s nice.” I said.
Quiet Guy nodded and asked if I liked water gardens. “I do.” I said and meant it.
Burly Guy told him to show me some pictures on his phone and sat down, smiling.
“This is my backyard.” Quiet Guy handed me his phone and I almost fell off my chair. Seven koi ponds, three waterfalls, two fountains, a couple of cool statues – my favorite was a huge terra cotta turtle – dozens of water plants and flowers, all surrounded by pavers and big stone sidewalks. And all hidden behind a tall privacy fence. “I put the ponds and the walkways all in myself.”
“Oh, my god.” I said. “You have your own secret garden.”
He nodded and looked at me. I realized our hands were touching, I’d handed him back his phone, but he hadn’t taken it from me. His eyes were searching mine and he looked a little timid.
“Yeah. I’m a bipolar, paranoid schizophrenic.” He nodded. “I like the privacy and when I get anxious, I like to work on my ponds.”
I smiled and nodded back. “I like my privacy, too. Man, what a beautiful hideout you’ve made for yourself.”
Burly Guy said, “Show her the wellhouse.”
Quiet Guy took the phone and found another picture. I looked at his phone and laughed out loud and Quiet Guy smiled. The wellhouse was a replica of a cool dive bar, with a porch and a metal sign outlined with lights. “I keep my beer in there.”
“Whoa. Now, that’s nice.” I said.
“Yeah, I can just go there after cutting hay and wind down with my dogs. It’s like going out, but better, you know.”
Then he showed me the entrance to the farm, a concrete and stone wall with huge black letters that spelled out Quiet Guy’s last name. “They were made by a local blacksmith.”
Then he showed me a picture of him on a tractor, waving at the camera. Then he showed me pictures of the fields, the outside of his beautiful house, more pictures of Suki and Teddy, pictures of the road front, a couple of pictures of a dog that he had that passed about a year ago. All the while nodding and searching my face to see if I really cared to see what he was showing me. I didn’t have to pretend one bit. I loved it all.
He put his phone back in his pocket and said, “My wife died two years ago.”
I said I was sorry to hear that.
“Welp, I’m going to go check on the dogs.” He said and walked outside to a brand-new truck with all four windows down, parked close to the door in the shade.
Burly Guy smiled at me. “He never opens up to people like that. We’ve been best friends for years – more like brothers. He’s fascinating, isn’t he?”
“Yeah, he is.”
“You don’t even know the half of it. He owns twenty-six rental properties. Started working and bought his first house when he was seventeen. Guess who he rented it to? His PE teacher.” We both laughed.
“Wow, so he started working at seventeen and bought his first house?” I asked, impressed.
Quiet Guy was back. “No, I actually started working when I was twelve years old when I found a lawnmower someone was throwing out. I rebuilt it. Then got another and started cutting everybody’s yards. Then I was rebuilding them and selling them. Then I framed houses, worked as a mechanic, bought more houses and now I’m kind of retired. I raise hay. I just sit and watch the grass grow.”
“That’s impressive.” I said, “Cheers to you.”
“I hope I didn’t bore you.” He said when I got up to leave.
I held out my hand to shake his, held it for a second before I did.
“Bore me? Please-I loved it.” I nodded, now my eyes were searching his because I really wanted him to see that I meant it, “Thank you so much for sharing.”
I did get to meet Teddy and Suki, the two very loved and spoiled pups before I left and asked if I could take a picture. I wish I could have taken a picture of their humans, but you’ll just have to use your imagination.