I love our new house. We live down a dirt road, we own chickens, and we have three awesome neighbors. We have such awesome neighbors that just assumed everyone around here is awesome. We have a neighbor to the left, an neighbor to the right, a neighbor behind our backyard, and I thought that was it. I thought wrong.
Yesterday I walked down our dirt road to take our trash cans to the curb. An older gentleman was walking toward us. He carried four grocery bags. When he saw me he called out "Do you own a gray cat?"
"No", I answered. "We only have chickens."
"Is that scrawny red one yours? That keeps coming into my yard, too. She lays eggs in my yard all the time."
"Kate?! Kate lays eggs in your yard? She's not mine, but she wanders into my backyard all the time. I've been trying to get to her to lay an egg in a nesting box I made for her. Where do you live?"
"Right here." He pointed to the end of the dirt road. I was surprised: Not only did I not know we had a neighbor I hadn't met, but I had no idea there was a house back there. He introduced himself and I introduced me and my little one. As it turns out, he was just returning home from walking to the grocery store (one point four miles away). Naturally thinking he was another one of our awesome neighbors, and curious about this hidden house of his, I offered to help carry his groceries. He declined, but asked if we wanted plums. He said he had a plum tree that needed harvesting. I jumped at the chance and he led us down the dirt road, behind our neighbor's house, where the road dead ends at a padlocked fence. He undid the padlock and led us into his lot, all the while explaining that his father built this house and he moved here after his father died, about twenty years ago.
It was at this point; as we walked across the dirt lot toward a small, hand built, serial-killer-looking homestead, and passed several rusting, broken down, serial-killer-looking sheds, that I realized the dusty, sun-baked lot was bordered by huge green trees. There was no grass, no flowers, no car. The house and sheds were so broken down, that even if they were spotted them through the trees, they could easily be mistaken for abandoned. No wonder I didn't know this house existed. A part of the lot shared a fence with my own backyard and yet, I never thought anything was back here.
"I'll just go inside and grab you a bag," he said. "The plum tree is over there, next to the almond tree."
"K la," I said to myself. "This may be the most dangerous situation you have ever gotten yourself into. Definitely not your smartest move." I looked back across the barren lot, wondering how fast I could run with a baby on my hip if things turned bad. I held my breath and listened for calls for help, screaming, or scratching coming from the abandoned sheds. I confirmed there was, in fact, a plum tree with lots of ripe plums needing to be picked, but that didn't mean this guy wasn't planning on locking me and my baby in one of his sheds for the next twenty years. If I didn't know he lived back here, did anyone else? How would anyone possibly find us? And then I thought that perhaps I should have read the book Room. A book like that would come in handy if I found myself locked in a shed for twenty years. I resolved to move it to the top of my "to-read" list if I got out of this mess. Just in case.
I nervously looked back toward the house, waiting for him to come back out with a bag. Was this guy dangerous? Was I overreacting? Kate came over here all the time to lay her eggs and if she felt safe, how bad could he be? But she is, after all, just a chicken, and chickens aren't known for their brilliance. I wondered if I should just leave, and then tried to balance being polite with being safe. I decided to stay: He was really old. I could totally take him as long as he didn't have a weapon.
He came out with a bag, handed it to me and thanked me for taking the plums off his hands. He said he needed to put his groceries away so he went back into the house. I picked plums until the bag was full, at which time he wandered back outside. I thanked him profusely and said I would make him some plum bars. He said he'd follow me out to lock the gate behind me.
And that was that. I went home with my little one and enjoyed the most delicious plums I have ever tasted. And now we have four awesome neighbors. I wonder if there are any more hiding around here.