After a few weeks of house hunting, Kimberly and I had found our favorite just outside of Wilson, N.C. We actually had two favorites, but one was on Banana Loop Road. I told Kimberly I couldn't write that address on our letters or legal papers and still take myself seriously. The address of the other house, however, had a tough, masculine ring to it--Slabtown Road. Better still, this property was only about a mile from our horsey friends Jack and Claudia.
The property offered 11 acres with a barn, a house and a couple of old, cinder block tobacco barns. The property was a diamond in the rough, having been lived in for years by a 40-something, divorced handyman. It's not the "divorced" part that put the property "in the rough"; it was the "man" part and the "handy" part. We men can usually lift heavy objects and be generally helpful around a farm, but we can also be slobs when left unsupervised. Also, even if a handyman is truly handy, said handyman may not want to be so handy at home after being handy at work all day. The homeowner, Dean, was both unsupervised slob and reluctant handyman. I can't comfortably throw stones at Dean from my glass house. I'm fairly organized, but I can only imagine what our home would look like without Kimberly's touch.
Dean, Kimberly and I checked out his barn at the back of the property. The barn housed rusty tractor parts, scrap metal, piles of bricks and a busted jet ski on a tireless trailer. The barn was solidly built, though siding had never been put over the quarter-inch plywood shell, which was slightly warped in places. Additionally, the advertised "ready-to-use horse stall" didn't look sturdy enough to safely contain an anemic Shetland pony. Waves of rusted chicken wire were stapled to a hodge-podge of scrap wood comprising the stall's inner walls, and the outer walls were nothing more than the barn's outside-nailed, warped plywood. Any horse placed in this stall would likely gouge himself on one of the myriad of rusty nails and run right through the plywood wall. The barn would need some work, but it had water and electricity and would easily accommodate three more stalls and a wash area.
"So, y'all got horses, huh?" Dean asked.
"Yes, two," Kimberly answered.
"Well, this place is just perfect for ya," Dean responded, beaming. "I built this myself." He proudly patted one of the stall's inside walls, which creaked and fell, filling the barn with a cloud of dust. A swaying length of chicken wire hung sadly from a ceiling beam. "I'll fix that," Dean added with a couple coughs and a frown. "Let's go see the garden."
I looked out from the barn at the field behind the house. Dean had apparently taken home all the most hazardous trash from every job he'd ever worked. Most of it was scrap metal, broken glass, nails and screws, and, naturally, it was strewn across the areas we'd need to use for pasture. I could see we'd have plenty to do for many evenings and weekends to come. Dean walked us to the west side of the property near the woods. It was about four acres completely overgrown with weeds and grass.
"Here's yer new garden!" Dean exclaimed, making an odd sweeping motion with his right hand. "Ain't done much with it since I planted. I guess you could call this garden cer-tee-fied organic."
"What garden?" I asked. "Where?"
"Right here!" Dean said. "Yer standing on the radishes."
I looked down at my feet. I could make out a raised row of dirt, and noticed, deep in the hip-high grass, a popsicle stick with "radishes" written on it in black marker. I took a step back.
"Now yer in the beets," Dean said to me, looking annoyed.
I noticed the appropriately labeled popsicle stick near my foot, and took another step back. Dean just stood and stared at me.
"What?" I asked. "Now what am I standing in?" I asked.
"Fire ants," Dean answered calmly.
Dean's calm declaration was apparently the command for the ants to attack. I leapt up in the air and began swatting at my pant legs, but I could still feel the ants' stings. In a split second I kicked my shoes loose, whipped off my jeans and began swatting away the remaining ants as I hopped backwards toward the woods. As I brushed away the last ant, I could see the red welts rising on my skin. I stood on the edge of the woods in my T-shirt, underwear and socks. Kimberly was staring, mouth agape while Dean chuckled.
"Anything else I need to know?" I asked, glancing around to see where my pants and shoes landed.
"Yes," Dean said with a belly laugh. "Now yer standing in poison ivy."
Dean was laughing so hard he nearly fell over. Kimberly just sighed. I looked down at the knee-high patch of almond-shaped leaflets.
"Come over here," Dean said, walking to the barn. I hadn't located my pants or shoes, but I followed him anyway. He turned on a water spigot with a hose and sprayed my legs with freezing cold water. His aim wasn't the best, and I was quickly soaked from head to toe.
"Now stay put a sec while I grab the diesel," Dean said, before disappearing around the corner of the barn. I stood in a mud puddle, dripping and watching the welts on my legs grow larger and redder. He returned moments later with a glass jar filled with fuel and a rag. "Wipe this on yer legs. Nothin' personal, but I ain't doin' it. Hell, we just met!" Dean laughed.
I dipped the rag in the diesel and wiped my legs. It burned, and I winced with each wipe. I wondered if this poison ivy treatment might be employed by any reputable hospitals.
"What exactly is this diesel supposed to do?" I asked.
"Nothin'" Dean said. "I just wanted to see if you'd do it." With this, he doubled over and laughed so hard his eyes watered. "You city folks is so funny."
"Nice. Thanks," I said. I turned to Kimberly. "Honey, was there anything else we needed to see?"
"I want to take another look inside the house," she answered, staring at my legs and shaking her head. I looked down. Both legs were completely red with bright red welts and scratches, and I reeked of diesel. "Why don't you wait in the truck," Kimberly said, "...in the back, I think, would be best."
She and Dean headed to the house and I located my shoes and pants. I put on my shoes, but my legs were far too sore for jeans. I walked to the truck parked in front of the house and tossed my pants in the back. I stood beside the truck admiring the home. Except for the barn area, most everything else we needed to do was cosmetic. The yard could be cleaned up, mowed and the weeds pulled from the flower beds. Trees could be pruned, the house pressure washed and the deck painted. We would need to get some fencing up and a couple of stalls built. I figured we could be in before the week was out. Dean had moved back to his parents' house in town so the house was empty. What remained were the piles, mounds and heaps of trash, tools and tractor parts, as well as two boats, a pick-up with no wheels and a broken-down RV.
Kimberly came around the corner of the house toward the truck. Dean was already in his camouflage-painted, late-model pick-up truck--the only vehicle of his that ran. He stopped beside us in the semicircular driveway.
"Y'all can look around some more if you like," he said, "but look out for them ants!" He laughed as he drove away.
"Nice outfit. Are your legs okay?" Kimberly asked.
"Okay enough," I said. I had been thinking about how good the place would look after we fixed it all up and had forgotten about my legs. They burned and itched, but I was getting used to it. "What do you think about this place?"
"It's at the top of our budget, but we can do it," Kimberly said. "You like eating Ramen, right?"
"If we eat it here, it'll be delicious," I said.
"Good," she responded. "I think we can do the paperwork tomorrow." Kimberly put her arms around me. We stood for a moment, admiring the property.
"We probably need to get back to meet the vet," I said. "I'm sure everything's fine, but I want to hear that Ellie is definitely pregnant. I want us to be grandparents."
"Me, too," Kimberly said. "And I think we have time to stop and get you something for those legs. They look like they'll glow in the dark. Are you sure you're okay?"
"I'm fine," I said, handing her the keys and climbing into the back of the truck. The odor of diesel was still strong. "Do you mind picking out the lotion by yourself?" I asked. "I think the pharmacy has a dress code."
Kimberly laughed and climbed into the cab of the truck. Despite the fact that 30 minutes at the new property had left me with severe skin problems, I was excited to begin our new life. There was a lot of work to be done, but we would still have more time with our horses and our horsey friends, not to mention a foal on the way.
On the way to the drugstore, a few semi-truck drivers stared down at me, sitting in my underwear in the bed of the truck. I just smiled and waved.
It's strange to remember that not that long ago I was living in a small, basement apartment near downtown Denver, taking the bus to work in the city. I didn't have any pets or plants, and I hadn't been near a horse in nearly 20 years. My life then couldn't have been more different than my life now. I know now how wonderful it is, but back then I never imagined being married with horses.
Kimberly and I have a lot to look forward to, and so much to be thankful for... especially if the drugstore sells Calamine lotion by the gallon.
Jeremy Law and his wife, Kimberly, live on a small farm in North Carolina.
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