Shaking off the winter garb, I step into spring and my garden ritual begins. Just being in the garden brings back memories of our first Longbranch neighbor. I like the digging part, and when I am all alone, I like to sing. Few people like to listen. Even my mom said that I had Van Gogh’s ear for music. So, I am an unreliable vocal critic.

When moving into a new neighborhood, one should pay attention to early conversational exchanges with the residents. 

After the exchange of pleasantries, my new and ever-so friendly neighbor said, “I hope I don’t bother you.”

My response, “I doubt that you will. What do you do?”

She answered, “I sing.”

I’m thinking, big, full voice that carries well, probably soprano—I like opera and appreciate soaring high notes, but some people find such a voice annoying. 

So, I ask, “Opera?”

She declared, “Oh, no, show tunes mostly.”

Things you need to consider if you are ever engaged in a similar conversation:

If someone says, “I hope I don’t bother you,” it is a bankable fact that somebody has been bothered by that activity in the past.

If the annoying activity is singing, you should anticipate that the singer might not be one with those qualities that make the human voice a magnificent musical instrument.

Lastly (and I was right on this one), the voice will be big. And it will carry.

That is the background.

It was one of those glorious days in early spring. David, my husband, had the chainsaw and come-along and was clearing out a fallen tree by the pond just west of the house. I was on the east side of the property, on the downhill side, digging up a new planting area. All was at peace in my world.

I was then jolted out of my idyllic reverie by a blood-curdling wail, “O-o-o-h!” I dropped the shovel and took off running up the hill toward the swamp where I last saw David, yelling at the top of my lungs, “David, are you OK?” 

Rounding the south side of the house, I was fully expecting to find David’s crushed and mangled body when it dawned on me that the initial inhuman scream that had set me off in terror-filled panic had modulated into, “kla-hom-a, where the wind comes sweeping down the plain…!”

Once my heart stopped racing, I had a better appreciation of that initial conversation. On our next encounter, my new, ever-so friendly neighbor was less so. 

Suffice it to say, she seemed to take my initial reaction to the first note of that show-tune favorite as criticism. 

And there was a penalty to pay—any time I dared invite guests for luncheon on the deck or set out a wine bottle and some glasses, it only took a moment after guests were seated before the serenade would begin. 

Think Ethel Merman without the artistry, talent, good taste, manners and assorted other nuanced subtleties.

At those times, I always imagined that people in Argentina were not crying for her.

Carolyn Wiley lives quietly, for the most part, in Longbranch.

Devil's Head Diary
Devil's Head Diary