I come out of a meeting this morning to find a voice mail from my crazy mama. She sounded a little worried, and urged me to call her as soon as possible. This generally means that some eighth cousin twice removed who I’ve never met has an infected toe nail that I ought to be praying over. Or it means that she needs money (which she hasn’t gotten from me in years, but she keeps trying). So I call her back and engage in the usual chit chat about what the weather is like here (it’s ALWAYS cold, raining, snowing, too hot, too windy, or too foggy there—I could be calling her from the eye of a hurricane and she would swear I had the better weather). Then she says, “Do y’all have restrictions on burning there?” I didn’t even know what she was asking. “You know, burning yard waste and trash and stuff.” I explained that, for very little money, people came and not only took care of my yard, but would come every week to cart off my trash, so I wasn’t at all sure what the regulations on burning were.
“Well, I was burning some of these empty dog food bags, and there was some other trash out there so I burned it too. It was under control so I came on in the house.”
“Oh, God, where’s this going?” I thought.
“A few minutes later, I look out there and the whole building is up in flames.” The “building” is a ramshackle tool shed in the back yard that’s probably filled with tools, broken lawn equipment, and rats. No one has sat foot in it in years.
“So then ya got the fire department and the police out here, and those damned Ratliffs.” The Ratliffs–not their real name–have been mom’s neighbors for 25 years. They are a family that lives “down the road” about six-deep in a couple of flea-infested mobile homes overrun with dogs, cats, and toothless wonky-eyed relatives. I suspect their family tree goes straight up. One in particular, Elvania, has no hobby other than gossip. And by gossip, I mean making up ridiculous (but JUST plausible enough) stories on everyone and everything. She’s been known to invent affairs based on nothing more than a car turning around in someone’s driveway, allege child abuse because she heard a scream while walking down the road, and has cast aspersions of fraud, sexual assault, battery, and wrongful death on practically everyone who has ever lived in the area.
Most of her tall tales are taken with a grain of salt because everyone knows this woman is a bit “touched”. But last year, following my sister’s death, I fully expected I would get a call to bail my mama out of jail, because Elvania was telling stories about my sister. I had to talk mama down more than once to keep her from driving down to the Ratliff’s flea bitten trailer and dragging Miss Ratliff out by her ponytail. I don’t even recall what the story was, but in runs in my mind that she was telling anyone who would listen that my sister was killed during a police chase. Of course it wasn’t true, and anyone who mattered at all would know that, but it was seriously only my calming words that kept mama from beating Elvania’s ass (or worse) last year. I’ve NEVER heard my mom so upset as she was then. EVER.
So, as the fire department put out the embers of Mom’s shed, “those damned Ratliffs” showed up and apparently Elvania reported to one of the firemen that she “seen her go in that shed and pour something all over everything” This story is ridiculous on a number of levels, and the firemen apparently realized this. Elvania fumed that she was going to lodge a complaint with the city, that my mama was crazy (there’s the pot calling the kettle black), and heads were going to roll. All of which just renewed mama’s anger.
“If I was gonna set a fire, I’d go down the street and burn her damn trailer to the ground as long as I knew she was in it!”
Let’s just hope there isn’t a headline tomorrow that reads “Local Family and Twelve Dogs Perish In Fire. Neighbor Arrested.”