The Appalachian Nice

The Appalachian Nice September 26, 2021


I desperately needed my lawn mowed.

If you’ve followed my blog for very long, you know that this has been an ordeal for years. Our menacing neighbor who tore up my garden last year and terrified me into panic multiple times this year besides taking her anger out on the car, makes this chore a hell on earth. She is paranoid that we will cross her property line and poison the giant German Shepherd she allows to relieve itself on our grass.  She is incensed every time a blade of grass flies into her yard, and screams that we’re trespassing if we try to tidy up with the rake. She usually stands there on her side of the property line screaming obscenities and insults while Michael mows and I watch from the window. Sometimes she trespasses on our yard and assaults him. Sometimes she calls the police and tells them that he ran onto the porch to taunt her.  Sometimes she goes and whines to the grouchy family across the street that we have been pressing our faces against the window and calling her names all night again, and the grouchy neighbors yell insults at us for scaring a poor innocent old woman.

I never even get to go into my backyard to garden or relax anymore. It’s just a hay meadow that I’m ashamed of and try not to think about. Rosie sometimes goes out to the back to pick strawberries, but if I go outside, the neighbor comes out on her porch to let out the German Shepherd. She is constantly on the watch for us to make sure we don’t have a moment’s peace.

But that doesn’t mean we’re excused from mowing our lawn. Whenever the grass starts to sprout, I get a concerned letter from the police who wouldn’t enforce the restraining order and talked as if they expected me to get my own witness about my slashed tires. They tell me I’m going to get a ticket and have to go to court if the grass isn’t cut within five days, and the letter can take close to that long to get to me. So about once a month, we dart outside and try to cut the grass, and our neighbor attacks.

This week, the cool weather started to descend over Steubenville. The wonderful, merciful Appalachian autumn is my favorite time of year. We can have the windows open for fresh air. The trees all burst into a riot of color. People put out the most delightfully tacky Halloween displays. It’s glorious to go hiking at Beatty Park or over in Raccoon Creek Park. And best of all, the lawn stops growing. I won’t have to worry about it until May.

But I had to cut the grass one last time, or I’d surely get a ticket when the ordinance officer drove through to inspect backyards on Monday morning.

I panicked and stewed, and then I got an idea.

I ran down the street to see if Rosie’s friend’s stepdad was in.

I don’t even know his name, so I just call him So-and-So’s stepdad. He is always doing odd jobs around the neighborhood and he usually smokes one of those vape cigarettes, so I smell cotton candy before I see him coming. I knew he had a push mower and that my menacing neighbor left him alone, for one reason or another. It’s either a symptom of her madness or a trait of her genius. She shrewdly chooses a list of victims, and Rosie’s friend’s stepdad isn’t on it. She’s cordial to him.

I was going to knock at his door, but the door was open for fresh air. The pit bulls were running around the backyard on long chains, and the children were playing inside. The three-year-old son burst outside excitedly when he saw I’d brought Rosie, because the three-year-old loves to bounce on the trampoline with Rosie. I explained my predicament in a comically disorganized way. I promised the stepdad we’d pay him something later this week, if he would run onto my property and mow my lawn and ignore my neighbor.

He said yes immediately, and went to get the mower.

My neighbor had been on her porch waiting to swoop like a buzzard when we came out. When she saw Rosie’s friend’s stepdad, she ran away across the street as if the smell of his cotton candy vape was the smoke from the brazier in the Book of Tobit and she was Asmodeus. She stood there, ranting to my grouchy neighbors about something or other, the whole time he worked.

My lawn was done in half an hour with no trauma at all.

I don’t even know this gentleman’s name.

I have encountered two distinct types of people who live in LaBelle. I call them “Appalachian Nasty” and “Appalachian Nice,” though I know there are similar variations on a theme in every culture you could name. Many of the people in this place are similar to my menacing neighbor or the grouchy neighbors across the street: paranoid, impossibly touchy, passive aggressive, self-centered and relishing cruelty. I try to stay away from them, but they always find me out and make me miserable. But there’s another kind of person, a person like Rosie’s friend’s stepdad or the grandmother of the Baker Street Irregulars. They are generous to a fault and they don’t ask questions. People come to them in dire straits with babbled half-explanations, and they come to the rescue at once. This is perfectly normal for them. They don’t think about it. They help.

I can’t express how abusive the Appalachian Nasty are, and I hate it here because of them. But an encounter with the Appalachian Nice always drives the taste out of my mouth for a little while.  I could almost like living in LaBelle, because of the Appalachian Nice.

I would like to be Appalachian Nice.

image via pixabay

Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.
Steel Magnificat operates almost entirely on tips. To tip the author, visit our donate page.

Browse Our Archives