“Run”, Polly shouted as she ran past me. Out of the corner of my eye I could see an unnatural glow coming from the bottom of the lane. When I turned to look, I noticed that the dried brush we passed earlier was on fire. A truck drove by while we were running up the hill and Polly turned herself around so that the driver couldn’t see her face, while I remained fully exposed. “I set the brush on fire in those people’s yard”, she said, “They get on my nerves by not cleaning it up, so, I thought that I would help them out.” I was angry that she would put me in this kind of situation. “If you are going to set something on fire, then do it with someone who is not too fat to run up the hill”, I breathlessly shouted. “Besides, arson is a crime and I don’t want to go to jail while on vacation.”
In the 1990’s, I worked at a van lines. My position at the time was an Agent Coordinator for the Household Division. In short, I was a glorified data entry clerk who called agents from all over the country to pick up their customers household goods. Then bring the shipments back to the warehouse until the van lines was able to find a driver. I was assigned to the southern agents at the time that I got to know Polly. She was very friendly on the phone and we chatted about all kinds of things after the official business part of the phone call was complete. Polly gave estimates for potential customers. Daily, Polly would make her way from home to home providing the customer with a cost for moving their belongings from one state to another. Polly invited me to Knoxville, Tennessee for a visit. I had never been to the city and was anxious to see it. I accepted her invitation and made plans to visit.
It was April of 1999 when I arrived in Knoxville. The apple blossom trees were in bloom when I arrived. Their tiny white flowers decorated the trees which lined each side of the streets downtown. The air was still cool in the morning, but warmed up greatly towards mid-day so much so that we didn’t have to wear jackets. Polly’s small family lived in a large brick house located in the middle of a small forest like area. The driveway was gravel and it winded its way down to the front of the house. Being surrounded by greenery was enchanting for me. Their little forest was perfectly manicured with lots of flowers and bushes scattered throughout the property. The house was decorated in a comfortable style. The living room was beige with green ivy vining its way around the top of the walls. From the living room window there was a picturesque view of the Appalachian Mountains. Even though it was still too early for the leaves of the trees to shoot forth, the mountains were still beautiful in their barrenness, each one a copy of the next. Situated in the middle of the room were a purple leather sofa and a matching chair. The kitchen was large and would be considered a cooks dream, but rendered unusable because all of the cabinets had been torn out and there were no appliances either. New cabinets were ordered months before and still had not been built. Our meals were taken outside, which was okay with me. The final room was the place where I was to sleep. Polly’s daughter willingly gave up her bed so that I would have a place to myself. The walls were navy blue with stars glued to the ceiling, which glowed in the dark. The light from the stars kept me awake that night for I am used to sleeping in a completely dark room.
Groggily, I woke up early the next morning. Polly and I went over to the office so that she could get her itinerary for the day. She introduced me to her co-workers and then we headed out to meet her first customer. I was excited to job shadow someone. At each appointment, I was introduced as someone from corporate, which I was, and I silently followed while Polly did her job. After about the third appointment of the day, the wind began to blow very hard. Tumbleweeds blew across the street in front of us as we drove to the next appointment. This was the first time I had seen tumbleweed, and didn’t know that the weed existed in this area of the country. Polly stopped the car, pulled some matches from her purse, and tried to set one of the weeds on fire. Luckily, the gale was too strong and the fire blew out each time she tried to light a match. After about three tries she gave up. I was shocked that she would attempt to do something like that in front of me, since this is the first time that we have met. I kept silent as I watched her attempt to do a very foolish act.
For lunch, we drove to a small country city called Dandridge. Dandridge is the oldest city in the state of Tennessee. Many of my relatives came through there as they made their way further down south. I was thrilled to see this quaint little place. Polly wanted to check on how the packing was going on a job for which she gave an estimate. We stopped at a little café. As we walked inside, I wondered what it would be like to live in a small city where everyone knew everyone else. I saw an elderly couple sitting at a table chatting with each other as they had for 40 years or more. The waitress hurriedly came to our table and took our order. As I looked around, I saw old men dressed in overalls and the women were well coiffed with lots of makeup. I felt at home here. These were my people.
After lunch, we drove to an old mansion located in a secluded part of the city. I cannot remember the color of the house now. But I do remember that it had huge white pillars in the front and a massive front door. It was a grand place that Scarlet O’Hara wouldn’t hesitate to reside in with or without Rhett Butler. The circle drive was littered with vans, furniture and people. We went in the back door and more people were inside. Boxes were everywhere the eye could see. I admired the vastness of the rooms and the antique furniture as I wandered around the house; Dreamily, I imagined myself living in such a magnificent house. The master bedroom on the second floor had a four-poster bed. All of my life I wanted one. The packers were still in the room when we came to check on them. Apparently, the owner left a video in the VCR. It was porn. Polly wanted to watch a bit of the video, but I stepped out of the room as they turned on the video player. Afterwards, we went back to Polly’s house to pick up her daughter and husband, and then out for dinner.
We ate at an Italian place for dinner. I had rolls stuffed with pepperoni and cheese. They were delicious. We ate until we were full. Once home, Polly and I decided to go for a walk. It was a nice evening and the walk would do us some good. We wandered all over the neighborhood. Our journey took us up and down the small hills. We gazed at the stars in the sky, taking in the beauty of the place, at least I did. While walking we went past a house that had dried brush at the edge of the yard near the street. Polly made a comment that the dried branches had been in the yard for a long time. She went on to say that she called the city on the property owners several times but nothing was done. This time Polly took matters into her own hands and set fire to the brush. We watched from the top of the hill as the fire fighters put out the flaming branches. I told myself that I was leaving in the morning. This is too much drama for me. The next day, I packed my things and said goodbye, never intending to visit again. What a story I had for my co-workers when I returned on Monday.
A few weeks later, Polly called in to the van lines. She apologized for her behavior. Her husband told her that the both of us could have went to jail for what she did. But by this time it was too late for apologies. She made a lasting first impression on me that I didn’t want to revisit ever again, even if it was a funny story to tell.