Wednesday, December 1, 2010


December 1, 2010

It’s the snakes that seek to stop them coming back. See, here in Walton County we know about sidewinders and their partners-in-crime the venomous spiders but our visitors abhor the idea of encountering a deadly serpent. Back in Britain these killers are animalia non grata. Not outlawed, just totally absent.

The mere mention of such creatures makes my former countrymen shudder. Guy, a big enough guy, refused to even look at one curled up in an arborvitae, even after my trusty Mossberg had converted that copperhead into a no-head. One year earlier we’d almost stepped on a six-footer just a few feet from the house.

Last week our neighbor JD Shumpert sent us a picture of a diamondback enjoying a lazy day amidst the autumn leaves. Without heat-seeking optics the blighter was impossible to spot.

So when our London city slickers arrive in Monroe and marvel at the pastoral setting in which we live we’re always sure to warn them about Nature’s local villains.

It’s not something they like to hear at the end of a grueling flight. You spend nine hours in the fetal position, and when you’re finally disgorged from the airplane the only difference between that and actually being born is that the pilot doesn’t smack your bottom. Unless he’s Italian and you’re female, but that’s another story.

But then you have face the Walton County predators.

Sheila set foot on our doorstep after her cramped journey in zoo class. It was all coo-ee and hugs and squeals of delight. And then this dear 75-year-old lady broke into an impromptu dance – one with the wildest steps and much too fast for a demure Englishwoman of advanced years. She’d been standing on a mound of fire ants.

These fiendish insects have killed human beings as well as animals; they’re included in our axis of evil, along with the Black Widows, Brown Recluses, Coral Snakes and Cottonmouths. And you don’t see any of them in Britain either. Or the poison plants.

What you do find Over There are the same kind of cheerful folks you get here, eager to please. Most of our guests have already done New York and Los Angeles and until they actually get to Monroe they expect to experience the same levels of rudeness and craziness.

A quick aside here about British friends doing New York. One entered a Fifth Avenue electronics shop, the kind with no labels on any of the merchandise, and inquired the price of a camera. The answer: “How much is it? You tell me how much it is. You go to Macys. You get a price. You come back. You tell me.”

Another, who had the temerity to ask for a receipt for his purchase, was told: “Receipt’s in the bag, blind man.”

It’s different here. Stuart drove out to Jersey and seated himself at Buckeye’s. No, he didn’t order baked possum, barbecued ‘coon or fried squirlies – probably because these country delicacies were not on the menu. But he did keep going back to continue his most agreeable discourse with staff and regular customers.

From Buckeye’s to Buckles, where our pal Annette was charmed by the antics of Craig and his cutup cohorts. The same for Cally, who, with her husband Pat, loved the leisurely quaintness of the downtown area. Their daughter Josephine spent a fun day at George Walton Academy, care of our good neighbor Peggy Jordan.

Ray and Dawn were astounded when the gentlemen at Napa Auto Parts took half an hour patiently tutoring me on the art of welding. Dave traded jokes with our mailman, Randy Malcom, and our dentist, Kenneth Grubbs.

And so it went. And so it still goes. The British are coming, the British are coming... still.

Nine-year-old Rose drove her dad Nigel around the neighborhood in our golf cart to watch the abundant wildlife. And also, after viewing the multitude of fauna virtually ambling up to be hand-fed, guests Tim and Wendy labeled this here “Disney County”.

Like all our transatlantic chums, they have an affinity for Dixie. But they’re bemused by the local dress code: they see half the population clad in camouflage. Why? I tell them that at first it baffled me too. I thought our enemy was Al Qaeda. Turns out it’s the deer.

Yes, the bambis. And arrivals from the Mother Country have a hard time understanding that there are those who need to zap Disney characters to feed their families. It’s part of the frontier way of life that’s still a romantic notion, and therein lies the dilemma.

However they all want to come back despite this and the nine hours as a flying embryo. Some have already returned more than once. They forget about the venomous nasties lurking in the undergrowth and instead remember the friendly folk in this neck of the woods who ask them: “Where y’all from?”

So if you happen upon anyone prowling around the county with a “funny” accent it’s one of our British visitors. Or it’s me.

© 2010 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.