I am lucky enough to show houses for a living. I am lucky in that while doing this, I get to know people from all walks of life by listening to their stories and we usually become friends in the process. At closing I usually give my new friends a small gift to thank them for doing business with me based on something I’ve learned about them. Last year I helped a young couple purchase a monster of a house courtesy of Microsoft’s obscenely high salaries. I helped another couple purchase an ancient farm house with 11 acres and a barn they couldn’t wait to paint red. A young man wisely invested his inheritance in a home with room for his pool table, and a single mom bought her first home with the solid wood floors she’d always dreamed of.
Last week I spent the day showing rural houses to a couple whose price range tops out at $40,000 – if they can find a family member who will co-sign. Nelly and Norman are in their 50s. They currently live in a trailer court where they and the other residents are being bullied out so the owner can clear the land and build condos. Norman is a Native American Viet Nam vet on disability. Nelly is a short, round diabetic with a mother complex and has not only adopted all of the animals in the trailer park, but also the various disabled and otherwise affected residents. Nelly adores Norman; it says so on her cell phone screen. Norman is tall, with a shambling gait, has few teeth, and tends to mutter with his deep low voice. They are, without much imagination at all, Maw and Paw Rugg of the 1965 Hillbilly Bears cartoon.
When we go on our tour of homes, it’s usually for most of the day. Maw Nelly sits in front and navigates, equipped with her travel mug and a steel thermos of black coffee, the screw-off cup of which she gives to Norman, who sits in the back. I have learned more than I need to know about the cast of characters who populate their trailer court from Nelly’s tales of woeful abuse, punctuated occasionally by Paw Norman’s wheezy laugh.
Sometimes Paw will be inspired to string together a few words, such as when a house is just too ridiculously small. He will continue to comment on the fatal flaw, his garbled comments apparently directed to the back of the seat or out the window, not requiring any response from me. But after a while he’ll return to his silence interrupted only by that raspy chuckle and an unintelligible word or two.
Somehow, a memory sparked in Norman and he began an epicurean expose’ worthy of the food channel. Since I did not have a schedule of Paw Norman’s train of thought, his sudden departure took me by surprise. I thought he was still commenting on the last house we’d been in and I had been nodding blankly into the rear view mirror for quite a while before I realized the subject of his impassioned account.
“…Better’n dat stuff from t’ grocery…. Harrup! Yup, could eat it all day,” Paw chortled. “Not too hard, y’ know? Heeeweeeweee!” He muttered to his coffee cup. “But not too soft neither!” he declared, directly to my eyes in the rear view mirror.
“Tasty too, Mmmm mmmm. Harrup! Kinda smooth-like, ya smooooooth. Mmm mmm.”
“You ain’t never had none? Ohhhh its gooooood. Heeweewee!”
“Dat gummintchee! Harrupp! Heeeweewee!”
“I beg your pardon?” I snapped, thinking for some reason he was cussing at me.
“Gummintcheese!” he carefully said leaning forward.
He was talking about Government Cheese. That unearthly orange brick of surplus pasteurized “cheese-product” doled out to welfare recipients. No I hadn’t ever had any, preferring instead its overpriced substitute, Velveeta.
“Oh” I bit my lip and tried hard to think of something nice to say about Government Cheese, but Nelly stepped in to save me from lying.
“We’re just about done looking for today Paw, when we get home I’ll make up some grilled cheese sandwiches.”
“Harrup! Harrup! Mmmm mmmm.” He mumbled happily. “Smoooooth.”
A smile crept over me as I drove silently on, planning how I would score a couple boxes of Government Cheese for their closing gift.