2975 Bradford Street, Gastonia, North Carolina, USA
April 2001 – August 2001
Eric lived in Los Angeles. I lived in New Zealand. We chatted online. We both had reached an impasse in our lives. The textile company that Eric worked for collapsed and Eric was out of work. I’d just left the priesthood and was pretty much at a loose end. We decided we might as well pursue new adventures together. By the time I arrived in the States Eric had got a job at a textile plant in North Carolina. Upon my arrival we rented a house.
Bradford Street was in a Black area of Gastonia. We were the only White people for miles and it was the only house we’ve subsequently lived in where we didn’t have to lock the door when we went out. There were few boundary fences between houses, and some fronts of houses had a covered porch where in late summer afternoons residents would go to relax and call to those who passed by!
The street was full of all sorts of characters. Clover, whose property bordered the back of ours, had a huge vegetable garden where he grew mainly okra. His wife had a strident voice and berated him loudly from dawn to dusk from the back veranda. He loved to lean on his spade and chat. It was mainly about gardening. I too had dug a small garden at the back and planted only tomatoes. The lady in the plant shop didn’t want to sell me tomato plants because it was too late in the season to be planting. I said I’d take the risk and I’ve never seen so many tomatoes on a vine as in that year. Of course, Clover liked to talk tomatoes as well as okra. And Swiss chard (silver beet). And lettuce. And carrots. And cabbages. And rutabaga (swede). And… SQUAWK! SQUAWK! STOP TALKING AND DO SOME WORK!
Next door was the loveliest man imaginable – Richard was his name. He was crippled since birth and found it difficult to walk. He was number sixteen of sixteen children. He lived under the aegis of his brother, Caesar. Caesar was the Methodist Minister and enjoyed living off the proceeds that Richard’s health benefit provided. Caesar had a giant television in his room. Richard had only one dream in life: to have his own little television in his room so he could watch what he wanted. But Caesar would not allow it.
One day Richard tripped on the lawn and fell over. He hurt his leg and arm. He called out to Caesar, but Caesar called back that he was watching television. We gathered Richard up and took him to hospital. The nurse asked “Are you allergic?” “No, no,” said Richard, “I’m American”. The nurse explained what “allergic” meant. “Yes,” said Richard, “I’m allergic to them big pills”. In the long run he was fine and was given some medication that Caesar duly confiscated.
I started to jot down some of the expressions Richard used. Two I remember were: “Look at that man washing his car. Why not wait for rain and let Jesus wash the car?” and “A good morning? I thank my sweet Jesus that I woke up at all.”
The street’s citizens were strict Methodist teetotallers. Richard would come over for a Coca Cola. “No! No! Not that coke; the red one that comes out of a bottle with a cork!” Eric is French, so Richard wanted to try French food. He had read about it. After we had left the area we thought it would be nice to ask him if he would like to come and stay a few days with us on vacation. We drove to Caesar’s house. It was boarded up, and empty. Richard had gone.
We felt so much at home in the street. The only incident was a teenage girl who threw eggs at our window. She had been told by her teacher at school to throw eggs at the Whiteys’ house. Richard saw to it that the whole street came to our rescue, and the young teenager was duly corrected. Possibly the teacher was never admonished.
Bradford was my first experience of fireflies. I guess I knew the word but had no idea they could be so spectacular. Whole trees were afire. It made Christmas lights look like an inferior imposter. I don’t know why they don’t have tourist buses come by the thousands from non-firefly countries such as New Zealand. Honestly, in the evenings I could sit for hours and just look, mouth agape, in wonder!
One day I opened the back door only to find a cat there placing a little kitten on the door step. The mother was clearly hungry. I put some milk in a saucer in a corner of the kitchen and she drank. I went on with whatever I was doing. Next time I looked, the cat was still there, but with five kittens. I gave the mother more milk. They stayed a week before a gentleman from several houses away came storming in. Why was I keeping his cat? I said she wasn’t getting fed properly and could hardly feed five kittens when she wasn’t fed herself. By now the five kittens were outside and underneath my car. When the man tried to grab them they climbed up into the engine. I watched for half an hour as the man tried to extricate them.
A little basset hound came onto our front lawn. It had possibly been dumped there. It was crying and we gave it some food. The neighbours knew nothing of it. The Charlotte Basset Hound Society said they couldn’t take it. I phoned the vet who said they would try to find someone to take it provided I paid $85 dollars for all the vaccinations it would require. I agreed. What else could we do? The landlord did not permit dogs. I paid the vet. A group stood around patting the “Isn’t-it-cute” puppy. Does anyone want it, I asked. Someone took it. The veterinary establishment were not pleased. They had hoped to get a healthy nest egg by selling a purebred basset hound puppy for a comfortable sum.
After five months we got an opportunity to move closer to Eric’s work. We were sad to go. Clover from over the back fence summed it up: “You’re going to miss the mellifluous voice of my wife.”