The key is serendipity

I knew the key to my truck was looking a little wavy and could probably snap in two any minute. But I’ve always believed, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Mistake No. 1. (Mistake No. 1A: If your steering wheel locks, twisting the key as hard as you can does not help.)

And another thing. Common sense says never load manure into a truck while parked in a bog of muck after the heaviest rain in a year. But life’s a gamble. It’s spring; I need the stuff. I’ve driven in snow; I know what to do.

Mistake No. 2. At least it wasn’t 6 degrees.

And because bad things happen in three’s, how could I be surprised when, after calling Bradley Lock and Key to come and get the two parts of the key to make it whole again (Hey, the man is not named Houdini Bradley for nothing), we return to my car to find both front doors

locked. In their excitement, the two enclosed dogs stepped on the buttons.

One window was open slightly but not enough for my hefty arm to bend

through -- or the even heftier arm of the man-from-Bradley. But like an angel from above, Twyla Royal, the trim and agreeable owner of Victory Feed and Seed, had just pulled up to feed her two horses, Velvet and Jessie, the Primarin-baby she rescued from Canada.

We opened the car, relieved the broken key could be retrieved from the ignition. Victory No. 1.

Then everyone left -- the man-from-Bradley; the other woman feeding her horse, and Twyla, but not before trying three times to pull my truck.

All alone. On 20 acres of pasture, gardens, barns, chickens, piles of manure and five or six pieces of earth-moving equipment poised to work on the Truman Parkway. Before when we visited to get manure for our gardens we heard the sound of guns from the Forest City Gun Club; now it’s the sound of trucks grinding in reverse.

All alone. With two agitated dogs, one blind pony, one billy goat named Charlotte sitting on a scrap of tin, six horses, five peacocks (crying what sounds like “help, help, help, help”) and a pesky and slightly disturbing wind that wouldn’t quit.

All alone. Except for Jean Crumrine, 87, owner of the property, the stables, the pastures and one of the best gardens in town.

Crumrine appeared suddenly, squeezing through the fence, her glasses dangling from a shirt button -- not around her neck (“they get in my way weeding the other way”) -- asking if I happen to see her grandchildren to say she’d gone off to get groceries.

Crumrine, wearing blue Keds, bought the property some 40 years ago -- before The Landings, before Weatherwood, before the Truman gouged through the trees, the creeks, the open land.

“It’s a high wind, isn’t it?” she said. “When you stand here, you can

hear the soughing of the pine trees.”

Soughing? I asked.

“It’s poetic. It means the wind through the pine needles,” she explained. “Looks like winter’s over. Once the pecan trees leaf out, the cold’s past. Those trees are plagued with mistletoe. Mistletoe won’t move in on a healthy tree. They were old 40 years ago.”

Crumrine learned about nature from her father, a railroad mechanic (“but he hated it; he was a gardener. I’d go ahead of him and turn the potato vines so he could cut the weeds”). She continues to learn about nature by reading.

“But I read novels when growing up,” she said. “I’d wait for daddy to pick me up in front of the library after I got out of the 38th Street school.”

She was raised in the Ogeechee area. Every fall they’d go chinquapin hunting (“It’s kin to the chestnut, has the same burr”).

“Look at that peacock,” she said as he hopped on her picnic table. “He knows he’s beautiful. Isn’t that the most beautiful blue ever invented? He thinks my front deck is a parade ground. When he sits on the fence, his tails barely touch the ground. But I can’t stand the white feathered peacock. I’d like to lock him up so he can’t breathe.”

She got her first peacock when he wandered up from the woods. Then one

Christmas, “the boys and girls who kept their horses here” bought her a hen. At one time she had 25.

Once a county sheriff complained, “Ms. Crumrine, your peacocks are stopping traffic on Ferguson Avenue.”

For the next 30 minutes, Ms. Crumrine showed me her double flowering peach trees, a variety of Indian spinach growing in her quonset hut/greenhouse with leaves bigger than my hand, the sprigs of her golden raintree that has pink seed pods and yellow blooms, the 15-year-old Valencia orange tree, her Lacy Lucy English peas, her herb garden of oregano, sage and thyme grown in the ends of drain pipes so she doesn’t have to bend down.

But then she was off to get groceries. She and her grandchildren were going to make Challah, a traditional Jewish egg bread, she read about once.

Before I could even find a peacock feather, the man-from-Bradley returned with a new and sturdy key. With several pieces of 2-by-4 under my tires, I gunned the motor and emerged from the muck.

Let the day begin.


Jane Fishman can be reached at


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