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Delia Wilson, Writer Posts

Our Natural Country Neighbors

The past 18 months have been a time for learning for me between my work with the newspaper, the planning commission, no full time job and living in the country. All of a sudden I’ve had enough revelations about living and life to write many columns!

First, I have to return to my recurrent theme-living in the country. Spring has sprung and the birds and bees (and all sorts of other beasties) have returned.

What I have realized recently is the inevitability of nature. I’m still fighting the weeds, honeysuckle, privet and poison ivy out in the yard. I am taming some of it but my last bout of poison ivy on my face and subsequent emergency use of oral steroids once again has definitely affected my approach to the yard. At this rate, I’ll spend the next 40 years just trying to beat back the unwanted growth! So much for my idea of 2 acres of decorative garden.

The difference between city life and country life that truly has surprised me and upset some of my long-standing assumptions. For instance, one can get rid of mice and insects inside of a home.

Well, the mud daubers really enjoy our attic space and the outside eaves and crevices. They are too many to conquer. Removing the ceiling to the front porch only revealed the dozens of nests that I couldn’t see before. Maybe by being able to see them, we can keep the numbers down. Yeah, right.

We’ve also gained some new flying pests on the back porch. Don’t know what they are. They look kind of like wasps and they gather around a particular knot in the ceiling wood but don’t seem to be building a nest. Wasp and hornet spray didn’t seem to diminish their numbers or drive them away.

I don’t even want to discuss the swarming termites inside the house.

The carpenter bees have literally been driving me crazy. (Dumb me thought they were bumble bees and wasn’t worrying about them.) The incessant drone from these creatures was getting on my nerves but the killing didn’t start until I found holes in my front porch furniture. They haven’t all gone away but at least the noise level has diminished.

We’ve got many mice. My beagle dog is a good ratter-she’s quick to let me know when she’s spotted one. One that we caught inside got loose and hid under the cedar wardrobe. My husband’s effort to remove it put it within reach of the basset/golden retriever who had a blast playing with it – inside the house of course.

My husband’s making a study of mouse trap improvement at this point. A truly macabre occupation I must say.

Occasionally even the birds can become somewhat of an irritation. Between the whippoorwill and the bobwhite it just plain gets noisy around here!!! I can’t believe how loud they are. But it is nice to hear birdsong even if closing the window to hear the TV is sometimes necessary!

Another inevitable face of nature was the bird nest on the side porch. We tore down the old next when we moved in last winter. It was rebuilt.

We tore it down again. It was rebuilt. We tore it down again. Not only was it rebuilt this spring but this weekend my husband discovered several sets of eyes peering down at him. We initially counted 4 babies crowded into a tiny nest, but realized the next day there were actually 5 piled into the space. I took pictures of the totally immobile birdies and commented that they looked full grown. They didn’t flinch through all the picture taking and our discussion. We literally got within a foot or so of them.

Today when he returned from an errand, my husband approached the porch to check on them and they all flew away.

I can’t decide whether to leave the nest this year or not. We just keep making work for the mama bird when all she’s trying to do is give us some more birdsong out here. I won’t quit trying to protect that which is mine: nibbling rodents and dive bombing stingers just have to be controlled. Otherwise, I guess, we had just better relax and learn to live with our country neighbors!

Summer Vacation

One unanticipated benefit of living in the country is a feeling of permanent summer vacation. This I just realized today as I was picking the wild blackberries that line one side of our property.

As a youngster, I did spend time in country with relatives that owned farms years ago. I can even recall picking cotton at my great grandmother’s though I don’t really remember her. I can’t even remember actually picking berries as a child though I must have. Surely I picked berries during those years as well as cotton.

Now I’m spending my free time slowly picking berries, liberating my peach tree from its heavy burden/bounty and putting some walls and windows in that decrepit shed behind the house. All these tasks performed in the muggy, hot weather speak to me of long ago summer days when the world seemed so full of opportunity.

I can forget the pressing issues of grownup life out here. I can forget the necessity for making a living; I can forget the marks of time on my body; I can forget the hallmarks of that cruel (faraway) world. Time has slowed around me as I have adapted to the rhythms of country life.

We did some planting earlier in the spring: some Leyland cypresses for privacy, some azaleas for beauty, some morning glories for memory (Daddy used to wake me whispering “morning, morning glory”), and some caladiums for spot color in my “garden”. I’ve never been much a one for growing stuff. I’ve even insisted for many years that I had a brown thumb, that I would kill it if it couldn’t remind me to water it like my dogs do when they get really thirsty. (Beagles can really give you a stare that communicates!)

But now, I have found myself watering, watching and worrying. Seeing those sprouts come up from the morning glory seeds was a triumph quickly diminished when the deer decided they were tasty enough for breakfast. The caladiums have finally made an appearance without any special care or watering-a miracle in itself. The azaleas might last the summer. We’ve lost some of the cypresses as the drought has progressed due to less watering (we are trying to do our part to preserve the water table).

Our “grass” in the meadow that is our front yard bloomed beautifully white in the spring with some sort of ground cover but it all turned brown in May. It’s now looking greener with the recent rains we’ve had and we are grateful for the reduced growth since the riding lawn mower isn’t running.

I never imagined that sky watching would become a habit, that rain would be an occasion for porch sitting. I never imagined that I could care so much about the weather.

Especially in the summer. Although I was raised in North Georgia, I’ve always hated summers as an adult. Asthma doesn’t mix well with heat and I hate sweating. I spent many summers as a child in the swimming pool or lake: that’s a reasonable activity for a southern summer. Without a pool or lake, I’ve been huddling in my air conditioning since the mid-eighties until last year.

That summer I started working in the yard up there in at my last house. I love buying old houses because they usually come with automatic landscaping. There does come a point though when the yard starts taking over. Because of my decorating interests, I have been exposed to many magazine articles about gardens. I’m talking about decorative gardens, not the eating kind. It finally has started affecting me.

My first efforts at taming the overgrown views from my front porch were not incredibly successful. First, though I didn’t spend much money, I did manage to kill off some dollars planting in the heat of August. Secondly, I proved that I really couldn’t recognize poison oak. Of course, I did get my Girl Scout merit badge for plants; I used to be able to point out many things to be avoided. Since I’ve never broken out from poison anything, however, that knowledge has totally disappeared from my citified brain. Those tiny red spots on my ankle last year were a warning I managed to forget.

This year in an effort to start taming this new yard, I kept rooting around in hedges and flowerbeds before everything bloomed. I would spend 15 minutes here or there on the way to or from the mailbox. After one day when I had spent a fair amount of time pulling vines, I suddenly had a thought. “What if there was poison oak or ivy in those bushes? Did I even notice?” Well, the answer quickly appeared on my legs and arms. I am so grateful that I really am not very allergic!

I had my husband walk the yard with me that week and I was horrified to find I had been wallowing in all sorts of unhealthy stuff. That thought has effectively curtailed my weeding tendencies since then.

Besides a thorough coating of sweat (ick), I only gained a few scratches today gathering my juicy blackberries, ha, ha. I spent the time thinking about writing another column. It’s so easy to wax philosophic out here while listening to the birds, frogs and crickets. The country quiet is definitely tempered with a wide range of natural, soothing noise, once again awakening in me memories of long ago summer days.

Oh no. What if there were poison oak or ivy in amongst the blackberry thorns? Did I really forget to look again? Well, I think it’s time I quit writing now. Perhaps next on my summer agenda will be a thorough shower and a change of clothing. Oh, dear, now I’m itching!

Cold but Cooking

The word for 2001 is…COLD! I know that I’m not telling you anything you don’t know, but we do have a little different take on that since this is our first full winter in our hundred year old house out in the middle of nowhere.

After our move during last year’s ice storm and freezing to death our first months in this old house, we have been thrilled to say that we have been warmer this year than last. We’ve caulked, hammered, reconstructed, re-glazed until the drafts have definitely become less noticeable.

We also have a working fireplace that we’ve kept going all through the holidays. I can’t say we’re warm: in fact, I’m wearing long johns and my ski boots all the time and Tommy is wearing a coat/vest and hat during his waking hours. BUT, we are definitely warmer than last year.

It has been such a relief—we’ve been dreading the cold this year. Reality set in, however, during the day on Dec. 30 when we realized the propane was running out—we may not even make it until they deliver more. It snuck up on us because it’s only been 10 days since we had the tank filled! Oh, dear!

Anyway, this cold weather has triggered some unusual instincts in me. I am not a domesticated lady. I let my husband go about cooking and cleaning while I tend to repairs and remodeling. It’s a great bargain for both of us, but in getting ready for Christmas, I kept gravitating toward the kitchen. Something told me to get cooking.

My family laughed at my apparent domesticity—homemade biscuits and bread along with the homemade pumpkin pie. It’s obviously been so long since I’ve done this kind of thing, no one remembers me cooking!

By this past weekend the call of the kitchen snared me but good. I ended up making turkey soup, pot pies and vegetable/deer soup. I got a freezer full now. (Boy, was I exhausted last night!) This morning I made whole wheat blueberry muffins and I’ve got plans to bake bread this afternoon. Eating those tasty muffins was such a gratification. Hearty food for the stomach leads to such a feeling of contentment—I made it with my own two hands, Ma!

And why was I driven to this? I’ve been wondering for days now. Could it be my experience in a 1890’s vintage house in Carlton with no heating system? It wasn’t a happy experience but I first started baking bread there. Could it be some primal urge to stock up on food since the heat is costing us every penny possible and more? Or could it be boredom, me being a housebound asthmatic? (that cold air is cruel on the lungs, folks)

Finally, this morning I made the connection. After a really cold night, the temp in the house was over 65 degrees for a change. (It’s usually around 60 and takes 2 to 3 hours to warm up to 65.) Ah, residual heat from all that cooking.

Now I’ve got plans for some 15 bean soup—gotta use up the Christmas ham. I wonder how much bread I can bake and freeze that we’ll actually be able to eat. Hmm, maybe I should start of list of folks who might benefit from all this kitchen activity.

Life in the country has brought some interesting surprises this past year. Me, cooking again. Whatta ya know?

A word to the wise–cooking warms up the kitchen, the house and…the soul!

Christmas, What a Good Feeling!

Ah, yes, Christmas is coming.

This has been the strangest Christmas season ever for me. I’ve just spent the last 6 weeks immersed in a commercial renovation for our karate school. When I wasn’t working there, I’ve spent my “free” time either sleeping or working for Greater Georgia Printers.

Yesterday was my first real day of leisure since early November—a brief hiatus in a now very busy Christmas schedule.

There’s been many a year when this wouldn’t be a problem and even would have been a major blessing because such activity helps to remove me from the Christmas scene and all its ramifications. I’ve spent so many Christmases in the past mired in depression (a result of growing up in an alcoholic home) that this year’s activity has really brought home how my life has changed.

It all started with a retail job. I took a minimum wage Christmas position at the Briar Patch in the mall back in the late 80’s. After I became manager some short months later, I knew that I had to work on my selling skills and overcame my reluctance to approach and/or speak to customers. Tied in with this is the fact that Christmas is the life blood of such a store. I found myself immersed in Christmas year round, planning, ordering, storing, displaying—well, it just never stopped.

And then at Christmas, for weeks I listened to Christmas music, sold Christmas items, and generally had to act like I liked it! Wow!

Soon I found that Christmas was not only tolerable but could also be fun. Once I moved to Crawford, we started a foreign (to me) tradition of having an annual Christmas party for our karate school. I found myself decorating the house on Thanksgiving to be ready for the party. I started having my family come for Christmas dinner—a new tradition to replace our family’s problem years. I found out what much of the rest of us already know—Christmas isn’t so bad!

And then this year. I’ve had no time for planning the Christmas party; my new house is too small and way to far out for a party; I have no neighbors to impress with Christmas decorations; I, in fact, still have paint cans and a messy porch as an entryway; and we don’t even have a dining room this year to have Christmas dinner in.

So I’ve worked instead. But we did have a Christmas party this year—at the new facility in town amidst the construction debris. My decorations were minimal but everyone was surprised and pleased that I managed that much.

We didn’t decide until the first week in December that we were going to have Christmas dinner here. Now I’ve got quite a few folks coming next week. I’ll have to move the living room furniture onto the back porch and set up folding tables in my living room but it’s going to happen.

I haven’t decorated yet. I haven’t cleaned yet. I haven’t even done all my Christmas shopping/gift prep yet. But there’s snow on the ground, a fire in the fireplace, and Christmas is coming. What a good feeling!

Manners

Like many folks raised in the South, I was indoctrinated into a polite system of manners and communication that at times has proven not to be so helpful in making my way about the world. Different locales and changing times frequently have necessitated revisions of my personal set of manners.

I was raised by a mother and grandmother in a very traditional southern style. I was required to yes ma’am and yessir, to please and thank you, and to always, on pain of death, to write thank you notes. As I grew older, it all grew more complicated as life, because of the more rigid rules, seemed to be more complicated back in the 50’s and 60’s. For example, one had to know what was appropriate to wear and when. I had my white gloves but was grateful that I arrived at college in the first year that the coeds were NOT required to wear them off-campus. An occasion was either casual, Sunday school dressy, semi-formal or formal, with no blurring of the lines like today.

My first brush with an alternate ‘manners’ reality came in high school, though, when I rode a bus to Atlanta and then caught a taxi to my sister’s home. The taxi driver was asking me questions and, the good girl I was, I responded with “yessir” immediately. His reaction was astonishing to me at the time and may also be to my younger readers today. He got upset at my yes sir and told me not to yessir him. You see, he was a black male in his 40’s or 50’s. As a product of his generation at that time, he obviously felt that it wasn’t appropriate that I, a young white miss, yessir him. But he was my elder, so I did.

He certainly gave me some things to ponder. It was a shock to find out that the world doesn’t work the way my ‘genteel’ family told me that it did. After all, back then so many customs, good or bad, were unwritten, but I, however, only operated on the written rules, such as the yessir-your-elders one.

I ran head long into this again while overseas and became interested in language from a cultural aspect while teaching a variety of men from different backgrounds that weren’t southern. I was disturbed at our lack of communication. I decided to research communication from a cultural position and even did graduate work in the field later after returning to Georgia.

One acquaintance at the time relayed a story that highlighted this difference in language. She moved from the South to Chicago as a teenager. Soon after enrolling in school there, she answered a teacher with a yes ma’am and found herself sent to the principal’s office for sassing!

As the years have passed, I’ve found deciphering these unwritten communication rules takes up inordinate amounts of my time and thought. My first job as a reporter was very difficult for me because “it’s not polite to pry”. Asking questions for many years was just hard. I found it easier (and still do) to talk about myself instead. I know that folks have thought me 1) self-centered or 2) uninterested in them. I read some years back that asking questions is a better conversation gambit and I’ve worked very hard to develop that habit. I still, however, occasionally wonder if folks think I’m nosy or rude!

I’ve always tended to be an honest, up-front person (Never tell a lie) and I have always gotten my self in trouble that way as well! Not knowing how to evade a question or come up with a polite “white” lie, has hurt my chances for promotion, lost friends and has even gotten me fired!

When I first moved out of the big city, back in the early 80’s, my first encounter with the locals was in the “mercantile” store when I was trying to find out where to pay my water bill. After stating my question in my generic (overseas military) accent, the fellow returned with a question, “Ware you from?” I replied “Gainesville” in a very southern (hill) accent. He said “Oh, ok,” and then answered my question! I wasn’t a yankee so I got results.

But I found myself stumbling there as well. Just being polite with the right accent didn’t always seem to get the results I wanted but I was back in the South.

On my return to the city and my entry into retail, I did find manners to be an important element in business. They stood me in good stead when confronted by a difficult customer. “Excuse me, sir, I must ask you not to smoke in here.” “I’m sorry you have had that difficulty, ma’am.” No, sir, I can’t sell you that beer at this hour of the night.” Customers like being treated that way (or at least find it harder to get belligerent when faced with such). I continued the practice and delivered excellent customer service after opening my own store.

Recently I’ve been truly amazed since my move to the country about how well I fit in out here. I’ve always thought as rural southern areas as just countrified with folks that I wouldn’t have anything in common with. I have been delighted to find that my manners, my language customs, work out here (not to mention how wonderful my new neighbors are). I’m glad to say I live here.

But this comfort has raised some old problems and presented some new ones. Over the past few months I have had occasion to leave messages (polite, genteel, of course) on answering machines and with live secretaries; however, folks frequently don’t respond. What is today’s effective phone etiquette or is there any at all? I’m clueless.

I’m having to deal with various and sundry contractors as work progresses on my 100 year old house. The carpenter disappeared after 3 days and never returned . The first 2 insulating companies never showed up in the first place and so on. I finally had a thought and asked someone (male, not female) if I had to be mean to these folks to get results. His answer—yes! Another man’s response (this guy was a yankee) was also a very forceful “you better believe it”.

Obviously, I have a lot more to learn about communicating effectively in today’s world.

Ah, Peace and Quiet!

Everyone talks about the peace and quiet of the country. All of our visitors have commented on the serenity of our “estate”; both my husband and I fell in love with this place simply because of the quiet.

How quiet is it? Well, quiet enough to discover a few new things about our world. It’s so quiet that I am able to hear all that air traffic.–all that air traffic that one does not normally notice amidst the noise of city life. I am truly amazed at how much noise comes from the sky.

Now, I have it on good authority that the helicopters are there for one thing and one thing only, to search out all those nefarious marijuana plots nestled in our back country. We must not have any of those type plots anymore because the helicopter traffic is constant. Prevention or discovery? I would like to know.

There’s a lot of small aircraft as well as jets up there and they’re pretty noisy since they are so low flying. I can, however, hear those jets even when I can’t see them and I’m not even used to hearing them. I figure that the air traffic controllers must send ‘em out here so that a crash will not hit largely populated areas—just my house instead.

Another modern intrusion has become apparent recently. I knew parts of this area were being logged, but it was only this week that I’ve been hearing big trucks and machinery in the distance. I had been more concerned about the traffic from the loggers but the passing trucks don’t bother me. I don’t really like meeting one of them on the road, but we’ve already discovered an advantage.

Last Saturday during all that wind a pine tree fell across the road up a ways. Tommy said he had to go into the ditch to keep traveling. We were about to gear up and get it moved when a visitor arrived and told us it had been cut already. I had noticed a lot of logging traffic in the meantime, so I guess the guys just took care of it for us. Thank you, sirs! (I’ll try harder to ignore all that machinery noise.)

Another heretofore unnoticed noise is the wind. One day last week I thought I heard a train approaching and was amused to realize it was only the wind. When the wind is blowing, it gets incredibly noisy around here. I can also swear the wind is fiercer out here as well with no buildings to block or divert it. I feel buffeted by both the movement and the noise. (I’ve never had the opportunity to use that word, ‘buffeted’, before; I just couldn’t resist!) Ain’t nature grand!

I heard our resident turkey this morning—the first time I have ever heard and identified a turkey gobble! (Tommy is planning to go turkey hunting this year.) I hear even more bird calls than ever before, even more than my husband. Tommy’s slight hearing loss makes him think this place is quieter than it really is. He’s no help in identifying some of those birds since he can’t hear what I’m asking about. Oh, well!

My first warm Saturday after we moved here was also an eye opener. I was working on something outside and enjoying my first really peaceful day when suddenly I didn’t feel so isolated anymore. I heard dogs and hunters and firearms on the land behind us: obviously, the hunting club was out in full force that day. I just had to laugh at my preconceptions of how quiet the country is.

How quiet it is? Oh, my heavens, not quiet enough! I felt so crowded while on Okinawa, Japan, and was so glad to get back to less populated area here in north Georgia. Now I understand what Tommy means by “away from people”. Do you believe that? Delia, the city girl, is starting to complain about crowding! I must be getting used to living out in the “boonies”.

Short and Sweet

After I returned from Japan, I kept threatening to write a book entitled “How to be tall at 5’2″. I wrote for a weekly entertainment magazine while in Okinawa and was always on the lookout for the zany, the odd, and/or the different to use in my humor column there. (I was going to compile those witty pieces into one volume with that title.)

The most obvious difference for me in Japan was the fact that at 5’ 2 ¾” I was tall!! Okay, let me rephrase that. I was taller than a large portion of the native population, men and women. All the cars were made for midgets over there, just as the roads were smaller, the furniture was smaller and even the trash trucks were smaller. I reveled in the feeling of being taller than someone (anyone).

Interestingly enough, the off-base housing we rented at first had been built post-WWII by the Japanese for the Americans and my kitchen cabinets were so high I had to use a stepstool to reach anything. The Japanese tend to assume all Americans all tall. HA!

I must admit, however, there really hasn’t been too many times when I wished I was taller. I’ve been fond of saying for many years now that the only time I wish I was taller was in the movie theater. I’ve been known to move three times to get a seat with no one in front of me so I can see the movie!

But now, among all the other changes I’ve undergone, I must tell you that I am getting tired of this tall world. Now I wouldn’t mind being taller. In my zeal to fit as much “stuff” in this new house, I have taken full advantage of the 10 ft. ceilings. I built bookcases and storage shelving from floor and desktop to ceiling in both my office and the hallway. (No, I still don’t have enough bookshelves.)

My new physical limitations have proven this to be, although an efficient use of space, a real problem for me. I can no longer look up. No, I don’t know what the problem is, but physical therapy didn’t fix it. I’m not talking a major problem here. If I was taller, it wouldn’t even be so evident (because I wouldn’t have to look up all the dang time).

Of course, I can’t paint ceilings and even have some difficulty getting to the top of the 10 ft. walls. I spent quite some time recently arranging books by author on some of the freestanding bookcases in the hall. Boy, was that a pain (literally) in the neck!

I’ve always found there are many things I can’t do, not because of a lack of strength, but a lack of a leverage. Sure I can pick it up, but lifting it (whatever “it” is) up to where it needs to be becomes a life-threatening situation (especially since I tend to spend inordinate amounts of time teetering on top of a ladder, a stool, a counter top, etc.). When one is short and not incredibly strong, one simply can’t easily do everything a tall person does.

Working on a computer has also been uncomfortable for years due to my short legs and increasing reliance on bifocals. At work I always feel like shrimp number one since adjustable chairs can’t be adjusted high enough for me. Here at the house I built a desktop 4″ lower than normal and so have found comfort for the first time ever at a computer.

But I can’t adjust the rest of the world so easily. I am always having difficulty reaching products on the higher shelves in stores. I frequently can’t see over the steering wheel and dash when cresting a hill in the car. (That was sheer terror while living in Tacoma, WA, years ago with those San Francisco-like hills). There’s even 2 spots on my dirt road out here where I simply can’t see!!

I have to fight the feelings of inferiority that occasionally come over me while standing and talking with tall people. I’m the shortest of all the 10 first cousins in my generation. Even my sister is taller than me!

And what is the point to this cataloging of “short” problems? (As usual, actually just to let me vent) No, no, really, this is all about aging. I’m not even 50, yet the physical limitations of aging are becoming evident to me. I’ve always been short and, no, it hasn’t mattered before.

I’ve decided that one’s life is defined by those words ‘can’ and ‘can’t’. Can’t is a four-letter word in my dictionary. I’ve spent years denying there wasn’t anything I can’t do. Now I have to look at my life as defined by can and can’t.

As a child and teenager, ‘can I’ was the key phrase. We are learning what is permissible and isn’t permissible in this big scary world. As parents, our job is to teach our children that they can. They can do whatever it takes to become happy, productive adults. Mama always told me I was just as good as any man—this was before feminism, remember—that I could….

As an adult, I learned over time that never saying ‘can’t’ was an important tool in getting along in this world. One can overcome almost anything as long as one says, “I can…”

In middle age we start running into limitations. All of sudden a 45-year-old man finds playing a casual game of football is not as easy as it used to be. A 42-year-old mother of 3 finds her attention to family and home has left her out of shape and dumpy. My husband has found that rotator cuff repairs remove most of the pain but limit activities. I find I’m no longer able to whip a house into shape like I used to before.

But, instead of just saying I can’t, perhaps it’s time to say “Can you help me with this? Can you fix this? Can you do this so I don’t have to?”

For it’s also time for another useful set of words, “Can I help you?” It’s time to use what I know for others.

‘Can I’, ‘I can’, ‘can you’, and back to ‘can I’. Funny how much life can be stuffed into those few words…

Deer Tales

I’ve had to accustom myself to many things since my move to Oglethorpe County, but one of the newest learning experiences has been the deer. Now deer is something that I have history with—starting early in Gainesville with my dad. He used to go on “hunting trips” to the mountains with friends. Since he never bagged anything besides a hangover, I decided as a child that deer hunting was just a way for the guys to have a weekend for fun.

My only other deer encounter had been my first movie, Bambi. Mother said I cried so much that she had to take me out of the theater. As I got older, like many city-raised young women, I decided I didn’t like the idea of hunters killing any of those Bambi’s out there.

I did spot a few deer while living in Carlton and then some while tooling around on early morning paper routes back in the 80’s; but after Tommy and I married, deer became a part of life—our inexhaustible freezer meat. I had no desire to go hunting myself, but he seemed to get such joy out of it that I couldn’t complain too much about the time involved.

Then something happened that changed my “deer views” forever. Early one morning as I came up to the beginning of the four lane right before the new Wal-Mart, I became intimately involved with a deer–so intimately that it took $4500 to put the front of the pickup truck back together.

The deer? Well, he got up and ran away. Deer – 1, truck – 0.

I became deer paranoid.

I knew that Tommy could spot a deer any time day or night while in the car, so I started listening to him. I learned that deer are more likely to travel in a group than singly, so I should never assume I’m safe when only one crosses in front of me. I learned that I should always drive with my high beams on—something I didn’t usually do on roads that I knew well. I learned to spot deer and I learned that alertness and knowledge is enough. Paranoia isn’t necessary.

And now, now that we are off the traveled roads, this has become more important than ever. I’m learning the usual deer routes out here; I drive slower than I used to on the dirt roads; I’ve met the same confused deer in the same place several times…I’m getting accustomed to my deer neighbors.

Now when I drive up to my house, I keep an eye out for “my” deer that graze in my front yard after dark. And, while I’m at it, I also enjoy the sights of the raccoons, possums and rabbits that dash out of the glare of my headlights near my front door. Once again, I am surprised and delighted to find that it’s really hard to get lonely out here in the “isolated” countryside!

Country Greetings

Every time I don’t write a column, somebody is sure to complain about it that next week.  I really appreciate such a reaction because it is so flattering, but I resolved recently to avoid such complaints which are at times delivered in a scolding tone. Thank you, my fans (!), I’m really trying but some weeks I have no thoughts besides the usual drudgery of housework, computer work, miscellaneous physical complaints and other run-of-the-mill stuff.

When I was writing on Okinawa, I discovered quickly that keen observation and a sense of humor was enough to get me by every week.  And there was so much new to see there!  A never-ending source of fun, amazement and great topics.  Here everything is becoming old hat, 7 months after my move to the country.

When I first starting writing this column, someone suggested that I write on a custom  that she, a big city girl, was still getting used to out here:  the greetings from other drivers.  This phenomenon is not new to me; I was first introduced to it back in the early ‘80’s while living in another small town.  Every since Susan mentioned it,  that seed of an idea has been rolling around in my brain and it finally did some growing last week.

I’ll never forget the first time someone raised their index finger off the steering wheel as an acknowledgement, a greeting.  I was 30 and had lived overseas and was raised in north Georgia.  To discover such a custom was truly a revelation.  I had just spent 3 years in Japan and was glad to get home to Georgia, yet I was immediately faced with a “foreign” custom.  I didn’t know what to make of it.

In the years since it has become familiar to me, but I have been reintroduced to it local-style.  I have observed some interesting things out here in my quiet “neighborhood”.  Of course, there are some folks who simply lift that finger while staring straight ahead. It is an acknowledgement, nothing more, that says “Yup, I see you.”

Others lift all 4 fingers which is a friendlier, more personal greeting.  Others still actually lift the hand Indian-style (how, kemo sabe!).  It looks like a “Howdy!”, not a hello.

These gestures can be delivered with no eye contact, no smiles, and very little personal interest, almost in a big city way.  I thought for years that was the way it was supposed to be done.  You know, to avoid seeming personally interested in someone who you really didn’t know. When Susan suggested this topic, she also mentioned how such activity could be construed by one’s husband as personal knowledge.  “Like, who was that man you waved to?”  Jealousy had never entered my mind.

In the months since though, I have tried to adopt a new way of looking at life out here, working on becoming more observant, and I am now more experienced in the ways of country greetings.  So, now, some new thoughts!  (mom would be so proud of me!  I sure am!)

One of the more interesting things I’ve noticed recently has been the messages also being delivered by these country drivers around here. No longer do I see just an impersonal finger lift.  There’s more and it’s infecting me, too, since I’m now comfortably settled into my country home.

Now I see folks waving and craning their necks.  I now see the curiosity in their eyes:  they’re wondering who I am.  I recognize that now.  Why?  Well, because I am wondering, too!  There’s simply not much traffic back here, though lots of folks use my road as a cut through to neighboring counties.  This I didn’t realize until recently when someone told me you can get there from here without going south down the highway.

Up until I found that out, I wanted to know who those folks were that traveled my road.  On Sundays, the church folk are obvious—they jaunt along in their finery with a sense of purpose about them.  The loggers are identifiable as well in their big trucks and pickups, bristling with implements and official airs.

I now wonder who the others are. I’ve talked to some of my neighbors on the phone, but I’ve not met them in person.  So I wonder, “Is that Mrs. So and so?  Is that car full of a neighboring family of 5 kids or a carpool?”

So now I know, curiosity has a lot to do with those country greetings.  But that’s only what it looks like to me.

I asked my husband, who is simply naturally at home out here,  how did this custom of automobile greetings get started?  He wasn’t sure of the origin but he did have another thought.  It’s not just about wondering who someone is. It’s about a different mind set as well.

He says that folks simply expect to know who you are. “If you’re here on this road, you must be somebody I know or know of.  But, wait, I don’t recognize you.  But I must know you!  I’ve lived here for 30 years.  I know everybody. I must know you, too.”  Assumptions that I am now tapping into.  Assumptions that are really starting to make sense to me here in my country home.

Who do you know?

Once years ago I was walking through the mall in North Charleston, SC, and spoke to someone I knew in passing. A few feet down the corridor I realized I hadn’t seen him since Okinawa, Japan! I chuckled and thought, “yes, the Air Force really is a small community!”

In light of that, why do I find it hard sometimes to adjust to small town life in this area? Eleven years ago when I met my husband, Tommy, we both marveled at the synchronicity of our lives. We had had the same dentist for nearly 20 years; we had mutual friends in common; we bought new vehicles at the same dealership 2 weeks apart only a few months before; our first marriages took place only 2 weeks apart here in the Athens area in 1970; and yet we had never crossed paths before a singles ad, of all things, brought us together. We decided this match just had to be!

Then why did it feel so strange when my electrician, Billy Gabriel, and his grandson mention we had the same chiropractor? And why did it seem so amazing that the chimney sweep’s recommended brick mason turned out to be a relative of Tommy’s by marriage?

I’ve lived in the Athens area continuously since 1983 and I have finally gotten used to the fact that it is common that Tommy and I run across someone one of us knows whenever we go to the grocery store or Home Depot or a restaurant. I had lived in Athens for over 5 years before I ever ran into anyone I knew, even though I actually graduated from Athens High School, and my parents lived here for over 20 years.

Now I’ve moved into an isolated spot in the country with not a neighbor in sight. But I was lonelier in Athens, more cut off from people in the “city”. Here, I mention a name, such as Donna Disque, in a column. She reported to me that everyone reads the Echo—she knows because they all told her they saw her name!

There’s a vast community out here in Oglethorpe County that I had heard about. My husband even has history here—he was the county ranger back in the late 1960’s/early 1970’s. But as I finally meet that community, I’m still constantly surprised how connected we all are, and, that for the first time as an adult, I am becoming part of an established community. I have so long accepted my presence as an outsider, that discovering what it’s like on the inside is truly one surprise after another. What is truly amazing is my husband’s reaction to this, which is probably your reaction: “But, Delia, this is normal! Boy, are you weird!”