Jack LaBloom attempts to write romance novels while his neighbors, an elderly psychic, a retired bank robber, and a young couple offer their encouragement, or not. They all live in the Hamptons Lake Estates, a less than prestigious community, where things go right, on occasion.
I waved at Eddy when he drove past my house and pulled into his driveway. His truck made a screeching sound before it came to a halt. When he jumped out and ran toward me waving his hands in the air, I thought he had an emergency. I let go of the handle so my lawnmower would stop running.
“Eddy, what’s wrong?”
He stopped short of my mower and stared at me. “Hey man, when’s the last time you sharpened the blade on that mower?”
I looked at the 21 inch Yard Dog I’d purchased at a flea market sale five years earlier. “The guy I bought it from told me he sharpened it.”
Eddy pointed to three or four hundred weeds sticking up all over my yard. “Your blade is so dull it can’t cut the weeds.”
That explained the strange phenomenon I had noticed this mowing season. I’d begun to think I had a fast growing variety in my yard. So fast they grew back right after I mowed over them. It was time to fess up. “Okay, you got me. How do I sharpen the blade, and where is it?”
“Hey, I’ll do it for you.”
He walked over to his truck and pulled a couple of tools out from behind the seat. He removed a long flat thing from my mower in less than 30 seconds. He used something called a bench grinder on his back porch to sharpen it. After he put it back on the mower, he started it up and made a round in my front yard. What a difference it made. There's nothing like the smell of fresh cut weeds in August, especially when someone else is doing the cutting.
He stopped the mower. “What do you think?”
“That’s great. Thanks, Eddy.”
He reached into his pocket, pulled out a card and handed to me.
I looked at it.
Eddy’s Lawn Mowing and Firewood Deliver Service
You grow it, we mow it.
We cut it, you burn it.
In an effort to pay down the debt he and Darla ran up by taking a Florida vacation on their credit cards, Eddy cuts firewood in the spring and sells it in the fall and winter. Now it appeared he had added a lawn service to make a little extra money during the summer months.
“That’s a pretty fancy business card.” I stuck it in my shirt pocket for reference, in case I ever sold a manuscript and made enough money to hire him to mow my yard.
“It’s was Darla’s idea. She said they’d make me look more professional.”
Eddy and Darla are both twenty-two years old. They got married two months after they graduated from high school. Darla is a teacher’s aid during the school year and a life guard at the city pool during the summer break. She’s taking classes to become a classroom teacher while Eddy works his butt off for his father-in-law down at the Co-Op, but to hear Eddy tell it, Darla’s father doesn’t think he’ll ever amount to much. Eddy’s plan is for Darla to get her college degree first, and then Eddy will go to college and get a degree in agriculture.
In an effort to give him moral support, I said, “You know, I bet Darla’s dad has changed his mind about you.”
He shrugged. “When I showed him my business cards, he said I was a regular entremanure.”
A good romance writer has to know the proper way to pronounce every word in the dictionary. Lucky for me, over the years, I had finally worked my way completely through the es.
“I think he meant entrepreneur.”
“Probably not,” Eddy said. “Darla’s dad thinks I’m full of it, and it’s looking like he always will, no matter how hard I try.”
My neighbor has a good heart and works hard. He deserved better treatment from his father-in-law. I needed to act quick before depression set in. "One day he'll surprise you and tell how lucky he is to have you as a son-in-law." He dusted some glass clippings off his leg. "I'm not getting my hopes up."
Eddy is one of my two beta readers. I had finished writing the first three chapters of my latest novel, Tumble Weeds and Dry Lips, my first attempt at writing a western romance novel. Maybe it would be a good time to ask him to read my first draft. I looked at my watch, and then pushed the mower under a tree. "It’s Friday and after five. What do you say we go hang out on my back deck and have a cold one."
Eddy nodded. “I thought you’d never ask.”
Right after we opened our first beers, I placed my hand on my young neighbor’s shoulder.
“For what’s it worth, I think you’re top notch.”
He smiled. “Thanks, but I still ain’t reading any of that mushy stuff you write.”
You can imagine my surprise when I received an invitation in the mail to speak at the Women’s Annual Floral and Tea Event. Being literally inundated with requests to speak publicly—in my lifetime, I’ve received a total of one and this was it—I jumped at the chance.
I was especially excited to read that four of the women attending had read my newspaper column. Assuming the other women, who would be there had never heard of me, my hope was to increase my fan base by reading an excerpt from my latest attempt at a romance novel, Shipwrecked In A Dry Dock.
In addition, the invitation specified formal attire. That stirred up visions of attractive women dressed in long beautiful flowing dresses with their eyes focused on me, so I decided to wear a tuxedo.
Then I read the postscript. The Women’s Club was offering to pay up to $50.00 to cover all of my traveling expenses. That changed my vision to one where I'd be speaking at a nursing home where none of the residents had purchased gasoline since 1964 when regular was 24 cents a gallon.
After driving two and half hours, asking for directions twice, I arrived at the address I had been given. The home of Mrs. Lillie Mae Cottingham could have been in the movie Gone With The Wind. When I was escorted to her back yard, I was shocked to see ten round tables draped with pressed white cotton linen table cloths. Eight chairs wrapped with green bows circled each table. Atop each table were fine China plates separated by silver place settings that had been polished so much the sunlight reflected off them like streaks spewing from from a super nova. A florist could have retired on Martha’s Vineyard from the proceeds he earned from all the flowers displayed on the tables, and around the cobble stone patio.
It didn’t take me long to realize I had not arrived at a nursing home. When I was announced by the young women, Lillie Mae's granddaughter, who escorted me to the back yard, I feared Lillie Mae might have a heart attack when she saw me dressed in a purple claw-hammer tuxedo I wore when I played the character Seefer Settlemyer at the local playhouse theatre, where the entire audience, comprised of eighteen people, gave us a sitting ovation. Instead, the women in her late seventies, welcomed me to her home with a youthful looking smile.
When the time came to give my speech, Lillie Mae introduced me as the young man who wrote the obituary column for The Langley County Weekly Newspaper. She was going way back. In those days, I was sixteen and one of three employees at the antiquated newspaper office. Since no one was dying in those days, at least not in Langley County, I made up fake obituaries. Mr. Morgan, the owner and editor of the weekly newspaper, read one of them and came up with the idea for a column under my name. After the first one was published, circulation of the four page newspaper went up twelve percent, an increase of thirty-eight subscribers. My newspaper career ended at the age of 17, when Mr. Morgan died peacefully in his sleep one night. My column and the only real obituary I ever wrote were buried along with him.
I wish I could say I received a standing ovation for my speech, but the truth is I didn’t. The ladies remained seated and clapped politely. What I did receive was far more meaningful. I was invited to come back, when my book is published, if I promised not to wear that atrocious outfit I had on.