With all of the questions about our mysterious new neighbor, I was reminded of the importance of paying attention to my existing ones. Just two doors down from our home lives one Zettie Louise Taylor. Judy Anne, my expert on all things southern, described Zettie Louise as “a little extra.” I never really knew what that meant, but Zettie Louise stopped by this morning to see me, so I had some time to give it some thought.
Zettie Louise was definitely southern. She peppered her conversations with honey, sweetie and bless your heart a lot. A colorful dresser, she prefered dresses with large printed flowers and topped them with aprons with contrasting colors. I’ve seen her hanging wash to dry on her rotary drying line in the backyard. This is how I found out about the boxers. Yes, she wears them. I was puzzled when I first saw them on the line along with brightly colored ladies’ panties and thought that Zettie Louise was taking in laundry to wash, but they were up there every Monday and there were no other men’s clothes out to dry. The boxers are probably very comfortable. I never thought about trying out Steve’s undies but it was an interesting idea. I stopped wondering and got used to seeing them. And then there were the boots.
Zettie Louise sometimes wears army boots. It’s usually when she is working outside. She maintains a great lawn with a push mower so she is out there a fair amount. In fact, her yard looks better than some of the ones kept by younger men in the neighborhood. I am personally jealous of her hydrangeas because the bushes are huge and she manipulates their color with some magic powder she puts on the soil underneath them.
Zettie Louise was a WAC in the war and is a little older than my group of girls. She is sometimes referred to as a spinster but it’s Mrs. Taylor to those who know she lost the love of her life in the war. Oh, she also drives an army surplus motorcycle-thing. She tinkers on it in the driveway and has a basket attached to the back and straps her purchases to it when she shops. There are rumors, of course, that she was a spy for our side during the war and she sprinkles her language with Italian, German and mild profanity when she speaks.
When I answered the knock on the door this morning, Zettie Louise asked me if I had time to talk. I invited her in and we sat at the kitchenette since she led the way and sat down there to talk. I offered her a cup of coffee but she requested a glass into which she poured something from the canteen she wore cross-body style. To each their own. Zettie Louise asked about the family and commented on how tall “Steven” was getting. She always called my baby son by his formal name. Zettie Louise wanted to know if “Steven” was ready to start doing some small odd jobs for a little cash. I hadn’t thought about Stevie Junior getting a job; I thought maybe he could get out of grade school first. I drew out a cigarette and offered Zettie Louise one but she declined and pulled a pack of “Camels” out of her cleavage. This would involve a question of trust. I didn’t want to ask Zettie Louise what kind of odd jobs she thought Stevie could actually do, so I offered a solution. I called “Steven” into the kitchen.
I never thought much about what kind of relationships my children had with the neighbors. Everyone watched everybody so closely in this neighborhood that nothing seemed to go unseen. I knew that if Stevie fell off his bike in front of a house down the street, he would be returned with proper first aid already applied. Stevie Junior came into the room and Zettie Louise made her offer. He embarrassed me by asking how much he would be paid. Zettie Louise quieted my discomfort by remarking on his good sense for asking. She told him that they could negotiate by the job; I wasn’t sure that he understood the word negotiate, but he agreed.
Just like that, Stevie, or “Steven,” was employed.