Miss Inez English lived on Pine Street, right around the corner from our house on 9th in my little rural Texas town. Her one-story wooden house, white with green shutters, was set far back from the road, and was obscured by a front and back lawn covered with overgrown bushes and low-hanging trees, which cast muted green shadows. She didn’t have a fence and she was rarely outside since she was close to ninety-years-old so her yard was the perfect haven for me, a five-year old girl who loved solitary and hidden places. I spent many an afternoon playing with doodlebugs in the warm soil underneath her bushes, just me and my dog, Bob.
Bob was a stout black dog with a stub of a tail, and he was my constant companion when I was a young child. No one ever mentioned his breed other than to refer to him as a Heinz 57 genuine mutt, but he was loyal, quiet and a good friend to take along on my daily adventures. I wonder now what I was doing underneath those bushes for so long on those long summer afternoons, but I had a penchant for imaginary friends and made-up exploits and I remember crawling through the underbrush on more than one occasion, playing games with Heidi and Tommy Wizzums, who were great – if not invisible – company. It was a different time than now. A time when mothers sent their children outside at 9 am and said, “No returning until lunch,” and then banished them again after lunch and said, “I’ll see you at suppertime.” No fear of strangers creeping up and whisking children away. No concern that a neighbor might prove untrustworthy. Such was life in the late 1950’s in a town of 7,000, sixty miles from the nearest city.
Miss Inez Inglish was thin, white-haired and wore cat-eyed glasses. She occasionally drove her big white sedan to the grocery store or downtown to shop. I sometimes witnessed her coming out of her house for one of these trips, spying on her from my hiding place underneath a thick bush. She always descended her front steps looking as if she was headed off for church. She wore a dress with a matching jacket, stockings, and low-heels the same color as her handbag. Her hair was always neatly coiffed and she often wore a hat that also matched her shoes and handbag. In summer, she favored pastels; in winter, she preferred reds and dark blues. Once behind the wheel of her big car, she appeared tiny, too small to handle such a large vehicle, but she backed out of her driveway carefully and smoothly, and drove off with a confident air.
I have no idea if Miss Inez ever knew that her yard was one of my childhood havens. I never saw her looking out the window and she never glanced in my direction when she came outside. I loved that I got to know her only through her comings and goings and through spending time behind her purple irises and underneath the red berries of her nandina bushes. We were friends, whether she knew it or not. I liked the way she dressed and how she handled her big car. And I appreciated that she gave me full reign in that wonderful overgrown yard – just me, my beloved Bob, and her doodlebugs.