Ever since I arrived on Saint Simons Island, off the coast of Georgia, I’ve been under the impression that the place is particularly hospitable towards women. Perhaps the number of women writers and artists who congregated here in the shadow of the popular Eugenia Price had something to do with it. And perhaps it was the contrarian in me that accounted for the preponderance of our tenants over the next fifteen years being men (some of whose women came and went). Or perhaps it was because, over time, men had always proved easier to get along with (albeit not as prompt with paying the rent) and not as demanding to have self-inflicted inconveniences fixed — demands that almost invariably served as an excuse for the rent being late. Guys, typically, just let the place go to hell (metaphorically speaking) and then they move out.

I say this as a prelude to yesterday’s virtual troop of males, punctuated by just one bimbo (with rings and studs in strange places), asking the amount of the rent and pronouncing it “cool,” who came to look at our rental house — a series capped by an about-to-be-divorcee who just “loves it” but found it much bigger than it looked from outside and who’s “not ready for a room-mate” yet. And maybe never was.

The first to arrive was a young man on a bike. He was actually looking for a couple of dogs who’d killed one of the kittens he and his girlfriend (who had just flown off in tears for a week of work in Canada) had been feeding. Though I hadn’t noticed any dogs running loose, he gave me all the particulars, until he noticed the FOR RENT sign and thought perhaps he and his girlfriend could move in together. Then, on second thought, she really liked a house nearer the beach that’s not for rent. So maybe the spa sales lady prefers her own space to relax in after an “exhausting” sales trip. John, who says he’s also in sales, as a salesman for Lowe’s providing estimates for home improvements, was home alone on a Monday to make up for working Saturdays and didn’t look much like a beach boy. So, perhaps the unattainable beach house was just an excuse.

I mention that John doesn’t look like a beach boy because the next to arrive identified himself as such — born on the island in 1954, he said his mama always told him he liked the beach too much and now, after living for 28 years in Atlanta, he was looking to move back since “helping out” his 21-year-old son over in Brunswick wasn’t really working out. Besides, his cream-colored 2000 Chrysler Le Baron convertible with real leather seats kept getting stained by the magnolia leaves falling in his son’s yard and he was tired of cleaning it up. But, he was looking for something smaller and cheaper and considering a little place a few blocks from where he was born that’s renting for $575, including utilities. So, I said he should definitely take that and didn’t even bother to take more time showing him the inside of a too-big place.

Then a fellow from the Water Department stopped on his lunch hour and left his official van parked out in the road. Jeff definitely wanted to see the inside and pronounced it “just like home” but his wife and daughter wouldn’t like it ’cause, until their house over near the Alabama border sells, they really prefer the house they’re renting for a third more money. Some people, when they move to an upscale locale also have to have an upscale house. Especially the wives seem to think that way. At least, the fellow from Atlanta who pestered me for two days before the last tenants were even out, eventually came up with that excuse. The wife and his auntie were looking for a “better location.”

It was the fellow from the water company who noticed the great blue heron standing in the front pond swallowing a giant tadpole. You can’t tell if a heron is a male or female, but this one had made himself right at home, after i chased him from the side pond where the five pound koi are too big for him to swallow anyway. Later on one of the neighbors reported the heron spat out what he swallowed, perhaps one of the crayfish that don’t feel too good going down the gullet whole. He flew off a couple of times but always returned. The eight-inch koi have been hiding in the reeds and barely come out for a feeding, so it’s likely this wasn’t a first time visit. The tadpoles are definitely ready for thinning. Three noisy bullfrogs are probably plenty for that little pond.

Soon after Jeff went back to work (I didn’t bother to tell him that his water department never has caught on to the fact that the house was connected to the sewer 15 years ago), Steve the plumber, whom I waited for all morning on Friday to bring another toilet seat and present his bill, arrived and announced he’d “caught” me “sitting down.” Which was accurate in the sense that I was sitting on the carport floor inserting a new spline into the screen door for the deck. Guys do that — try to put you on the defensive, when they’re guilty about something they’ve done, or not. Steve also made sure to note the heron in the pond to see if I’d get excited and distracted. Then, when I challenged his bill, still certain that I was irked with him, it took a while for him to comprehend that, as usual, I didn’t think he was charging enough. I reminded him that the former owner who’d sold out to him always said plumbers are supposed to get rich. But Steve just wants to be “fair” — a conservative fellow whose wife left him, as did the former owner’s, to raise their sons on their own.

What is it about plumbers? Remember the father in "Moonstruck"?

There’s a lot of that going around. Next up at the rental window were brothers, one short and round and older, and one tall and slender and younger, and both divorced. The older recounted that his wife left him with three young children to raise on his own and then came back to claim their affection when they were grown (youngest is now 18). The younger has just one five-year-old daughter who visits on the weekends. He’s good friends with his former wife and is looking for a place to rent for himself and his brother where people won’t complain about friends arriving late at night, like they do at the condo. Although the elder used to be in “construction” and “house painting” and the younger used to be in “real estate” and is now selling insurance, which “everybody needs” — unlike more houses — two months’ rent in advance (one as a deposit) seemed to present a problem and an offer to paint the interior walls was suggested as a substitute. They departed with a promise to call later, but didn’t.

As I said, the parade was rounded out by “love it” lady who’s in the process of ditching her husband. If she’d got children, she’s leaving them behind. Maybe, as a nurse by profession, she’s got enough care-taking at work. The divorced brothers explained that women, having got their own jobs, want to party and have fun and the men are having to step up to raise families. They don’t seem to mind, but their resource management skills seem deficient. Maybe it’s because they spend too much time on social interactions. It was hard for me to get anything done, what with all the yakking. The bimbo hardly registered and the nurse took all of five minutes.

To be fair, I left out the neighbor who stopped by to inquire what was going on next door. He reported on the heron too, but he wasn’t there “on business,” so to speak. Seeing how women react to predators seems to be a staple of the social repertoire. The shorter brother made sure to point out the spider on the porch. That I keep spiders as bug catchers is always a disappointment. Maybe little Miss Muffet makes little boys feel brave.

P.S. I’ve always loved the John Prine song which starts with the “Bells of St. Mary’s”
There’s a lovely video to go with it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ejuv3Lq9rZ0


Monica Smith

Monica Smith writes Hannah's Blog. Born in Germany, she came to the United States as a child, living first in California, then after an interval in Chile, in New York. Married to a retired professor at the University of Florida, where she lived for 17 years, she moved to St. Simons Island, Georgia, in 1993 and now divides her time between Georgia and New Hampshire. (New Hampshire, she says, is always interesting during a presidential election.) She and her husband have three children and five grandchildren. Ms. Smith says she "learned long ago that I am not a good team player when I got hired at the Library of Congress, fresh out of college with a degree in political science and proficiency in four foreign languages, to 'edit' library cards and informed my supervisor that if she was going to insist I punch the clock exactly on time, my productivity was going to fall from being the highest to being the same as everyone else's. The supervisor opted to assign me to another building where there was no time-clock. After I had the first of our three children, I decided a paycheck wasn't worth the hassle."