Above: Beautiful roads in rural Virginia
After a long day in the saddle, I started looking for a place to set up camp for the night. When I passed a trailer buffered from the road by a wall of rusted cars and random odds and ends, its owner gave me a friendly wave and a smile. I pulled into his driveway and asked if he knew of any parks in the area where I could set up my tent for the night.
The man laughed and revealed a top set of dentures that, instead of consisting of a perfect, unnatural line of white teeth, contained a row of short, stubby teeth bisected by a noticeable gap. As he spoke, his dentures bounced up and down within his mouth.
“Hell, you can set up yer tent righ hee ya. Or righ over yonna dare where da grass is all mowed up and soft.”
The man had the thickest southern drawl I had ever heard. Unless I watched his mouth and focused intently on what he said, it was difficult to understand his speech. He wore a baseball hat with a bent brim that sat on a healthy patch of white hair. His eyes were so stunningly bright blue they looked as if they were made of glass and gemstone.
Above: Raymond, 62
I thanked him for his offer of hospitality and double checked to make sure he didn’t mind if I camped on his property.
“Naw, no problem. Where ya from anyhow?”
I told him.
“Oh Jersey! I delivered units up there, righ over cross that blue bridge inna Philadelphia. Lots a units around Philadelphia back in the day.”
“These here homes,” the man said as he motioned to the trailer home behind him. “For twentaseven years I drove units all over da place. Maine to Floreeda. All ova. But I’ll tell ya more bout that afta ya getcha yaself set up with yer tent. How bout this spot ova heeya, the grass is reel sof.”
I followed the man to a part of the yard that had soft grass and lacked the piles of radiators, spools of wire, and spark plugs found elsewhere on the property.
“Yeah, this will be fine. Thanks so much, really appreciate it,” I said.
“Nodda problem. Just come on ova and say ‘ello when ya ready.”
Above: One of Raymond’s rides
I set up my tent, laid out my bag, and made my way over to the picnic table where the man was sitting.
“Name’s Raymond Edmund, by the way. Whatchyours?”
“Andrew Morgan, nice to meet you.”
We shook. His shake was firm and his hands were thick and calloused.
“I been here on dis spread since 72. Long time. I usedda live her with ma wife, god rest her soul, but I lost ha when she got inna car accident long time ago. Damn nearly killed me too from da sadniss, but I kept pushin on, kep workin. Done all sorts a work ova the yeers. All sorts. Carpentree, plumbin, truckin, sellin scrap. Lots a stuff. Now I dhon gedda work much cause I got this bum leg.” Raymond knocked on his knee.
“Don’t get upta much deese days. I get a disability check each month, but only so far $623 goes, ya know? So I bin forced to git ma nose innda otha stuff. Sellin fiyawood, sellin scrap metal. You name it. Hey, you wanna drink?” Raymond held out his plastic cup in its worn cooler wrap and nodded toward it. He held the cup so naturally, like it was a growth extending from the center of his palm, that I hadn’t noticed it much until he held it out for me to see. I couldn’t tell what he was drinking.
“No thanks, I have my water here. But thanks anyway.”
“Sootchaself. Oh, hey, this here’s my old fren Norman. Norman say ‘hi’.”
A man winding a tangle of thin wire around a spool nodded and smiled from a cluttered picnic table behind us.
Raymond was a talker and loved telling me stories about the good ol’ days. He told me about the time he was called up to Pennsylvania ‘bout 30 some odd years go’ to help deliver FEMA trailers to a small town after a devastating flood. Moving trailers night and day from the drop off point to different emergency housing areas, he was paid anywhere from $100—500 per trailer. He claimed to have made $5,000 in a week and said it was the best pay he ever received.
Coffins hung open in the trees after the flood waters receded. The smell of the rot and the debris, he said, was ‘nuff ta make ya wanna die yerself.’
When Raymond moved his trailer home to its current spot way back in 1972, nothing else was around. He was surrounded by soybean and corn fields and little else. Now he’s on a street lined with trailer homes that is slowly being swallowed up by the ever-expanding town of South Hill. His son David, 32, lives in a dilapidated green trailer next to Raymond’s. Soon after I shook Raymond’s hand, he proudly handed me his son’s business card (David is a carpenter) and told me how he ‘made somethin of hisself’ even though he dropped out of high school sophomore year.
The sun splattered its innards across the clouds and I started getting hungry. I told Raymond I was off to my tent to cook up some dinner. He seemed offended.
“Oh no ya don’t! We’s bout ta run to the store to git grill stuff. We fiya up that grill ever night almost, don’t we Norman?” Norman nodded silently without looking up from his spool of wire. “We’ll get some chops and heat ya up somethin fine if ya want. Your house is my house. Feel free to anythin inside too if ya want. Ya wanna watch TV wit us later, no problem. Nothin’s a problem here in South Hill at Raymond’s place! Ain’t that righ Norman?!”
I thanked him and assured him I didn’t mind cooking on my stove. I told him I was trying to eat specific types of meals to keep meat on my bones while riding. I needed a big bowl of lentils and pasta to give me energy for the next day.
“Sootchaself. But if ya want some lata, no problem.”
Raymond cooked slabs of meat and hot dogs on an enormous grill heated by hickory wood. He only grills with hickory because he thinks it makes meat taste the best. I cooked up my meal and we sat to eat together.
Norman finally started speaking after we began eating. Once he started, he didn’t keep quiet. I learned that Norman had done just about every type of work known to man—plumbing, carpentry, roofing, waiting tables, dishwashing, landscaping, bricklaying, logging, tile work, cashier work, farming, fishing, trucking, mobile home assembly, and a few other things—and that he thought the number one problem afflicting America today is the fact that Americans don’t like to work.
“Sure we got lots a Mexicans here, but we need em cause we dhon like ta work fa ourselves. We scared to get our hands dirty.”
Above: Norman, 50
Later in the night, Norman told me about a car accident he’d been in 20 years ago that leaves him in constant pain when he tries to walk long distances. He’s trying to figure out a way to get on disability and welfare, but ‘all them offices’ he needs to get to to file paperwork are too far away.
“All I want is three meals a day. That’s it. I dhon need much. And considerin I served my time in the Navy back in the day, I figure that’s the least the gov’ment can give me.”
Throughout the night, Norman talked to himself, sometimes loudly, while Raymond and I were talking to each other. When Raymond told him to shut up at one point, Norman explained his strange habit.
“Eva since I was a little boy, I neva had many friends. I used ta be real quiet. I mean real quiet. More quiet than this fork here. So I’d talk to my imaginary friend. Back then, I didn’t know he was the Lord, but now I know it’s really Jesus I talk to when I talk like this. People think I’m talkin to maself, or I’m crazy or somethin, but I’m really talkin to Lord Jesus when I talk.”
Not sure how to take this, I said, “Wow. Yeah, well that makes sense. I could see how people would think you were talking to yourself. I guess most people don’t expect to see other people talking to the Lord openly over dinner or anything. But that makes sense.”
Raymond lightened the atmosphere. “Oh shut up Norman, you crazy, tell tha man tha truth!”
Norman told me how his ex-wife got him to open up and be more social. When they broke up, after he had changed his ‘individuality’ to be more socially open, he wished he could change himself back to the quiet man he was before. But he couldn’t. He feels like his ex-wife has cursed him and left him more talkative than he once was. Being more talkative makes life harder. He didn’t elaborate.
I hit the hay at about 9:30 p.m. and as I walked off, Raymond said, “Sleep well. And don’t cha worry a bit, you’ll be fine sleepin ova yonna. Nobody messes bout’ with anythin on Raymond Edmund’s property.”
Sure enough, no one messed with me and I slept soundly.
Above: View of Raymond’s yard as seen from my tent
Raymond’s roosters woke me up at 4:30 a.m. and then again at 5:00 and 5:45. I said goodbye to Raymond and Norman after they finished feeding the pig, cats, and chickens and rode off down the road.