Twenty Miles From Somewhere

FtMorganStar“DO YOU LIVE HERE??” were the words yelled in my direction the day I met Leon Null (N-U-L-L as he spelled it out for me). Leon was making his way over to the house where I was descending the back stairs as I began to explain that I was sent by my realtor to look around.

“Well they’s lots of people stealin’ stuff ‘round here all the time,” Leon sneers, still making me up and down, deciding if I’m a good or bad guy, as I stand there in my running shorts with my dog on her leash. He clearly already knew I didn’t live there.

The temperatures fell precipitously yesterday as massive storms pushed a cold front through the island so although it’s a gorgeous sunny day it’s cooler and Leon has donned his winter best for today’s excursion.

Wearing a flannel cap with ear muffs resembling something Elmer Fudd might wear on his “wabbit hunting” expedition, Leon decides I pose no threat and seizes the opportunity at a captive audience for as long as I last.

When asked if people are stealing stuff recently he replies “Yeah, last summer!” ignoring the fact that it’s February now. We’re standing less than a mile from the famous Fort Morgan, widely regarded as one of the most impressive architectural designs in military history (it’s fashioned after a masonry star and was a focal point during the Battle of Mobile Bay).

We’re at the very end of the last road in the state of Alabama and Leon has lived here 37 years. If you’re standing on the Gulf of Mexico side you could throw a rock and hit the north side of the island, facing Mobile Bay. At its busiest Fort Morgan doesn’t get that busy because it’s 20 miles to the nearest… anything.

Leon is 84, though he could pass for 68 easily. He and his 83 year old wife bought their lot and moved here in a travel trailer because back then there was no water access. As the infrastructure expanded he built a home and watched the tiny island expand around him as others discovered it.

He sneers at the homes that have turned rental because these all used to be vacation homes or primary residences. But he knows every detail about the owner of every home in eyesight.

Take for instance this one newly on the market at which he caught me sneaking onto the back deck to check the view. It’s for sale now because the young guy who owns it wants to move. His wife ran off on him and his new girlfriend wants to live closer to town. It’s not worth the $300k the guy’s asking because “Ain’t nothin’ sold out here since the oil spill ‘less it was a foreclosure, ‘cept that house over there… squat down and see… that doctor an’ ‘is wife from Meridian sold that ‘un for $150k.”

Leon’s not happy today because he can’t eat. Tomorrow he’s got to have a “coloscopy,” to remove his “pollucks,” something they do every couple years now. Leon certainly knows the importance of such checks because he had “the colon cancer,” the location of which he signifies by reaching around and grabbing his behind as he talks.

“The colon don’t have no nerves!” he announces, which is why you have to be diligent about testing. “Neither does the brain – you could have brain cancer and have no idea because you don’t have nerves there… the same for the lungs, and the breasts!” At this point he grabs his left breast and begins to explain how he had “one of them mammo… whatchacallem’s?” Apparently they told him it was benign but Leon isn’t convinced. He was happy to recount the mammography process when he said the tech announced she’d never seen a hair so long coming out of a breast! He got a little twinkle in his eye at making a funny and proceeded to say he didn’t care because his nipple hurts and that spot that sent him for a test is hard as a rock and it hurts too so he’s going to have them take it out!

While scanning the street it occurred to him to share that the house just over there belonged to two women from Mobile who visit on weekends and the house across from it belongs to a woman from Birmingham. He held up two crossed fingers as he announced “Those women like THIS… you know what THAT means? They LEZ-BEE-ANS” he drawled out waiting for a reaction.

“And that pink house yonder? That woman’s been in rehab twice for gamblin’ but she still does it every week. She done lost two-hunnerd thousan’ dollars – her sister in law told me!” The pink house was moved here from Point Clear after she lost the $400k home she had there. Her daddy gave her the pink house, had it moved and put up on stilts, hoping it, and she, would stay safe and out of trouble here at the end of the road.

“I shouldn’t be tellin’ ya all this,” Leon suddenly seems to remember himself and his verbosity before deciding instead to impart his wisdom to a long life. “Don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t overeat and don’t lie! Well okay, don’t drink EVERY night and don’t get falling down off your stool drunk and you’ll be okay. And when you’re fifty, get your coloscopies!!”

Words to live by. Uttered by an 84 year old man, at the end of the last road in Alabama.

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