Mostly, I like living in the country. It's quiet. It's spacious. There's room enough to mow a soccer field in our front yard and have an acre-sized garden (as I did at one time). And we have an ahhh-mazing view to the east and a spectacular view of the constellations.
There is the occasional disadvantage. We were confronted with one the other night.
Rob and I were watching a movie in the basement when the boys came running downstairs to tell us, in an agitated manner, there were people at the front door. Sign #1 that something was wrong - It was late evening, it was dark, and we weren't expecting anyone. And besides, any family that drop by use the garage to let themselves in, and any friends would've called first before traipsing out into the middle of nowhere. Too late for Jehovah's Witness visitors, too late for the Schwann's Man. Too late for UPS, the mailman, or those guys who always want to pave my driveway for "real cheap" with leftover tar.
I sent Rob upstairs, sure it was just my brother coming back for something he'd forgotten. We must've already locked the garage, I thought.
But a few seconds later, Rob was calling me to come upstairs, and his voice was sounding tense. My heart pounded as I took the stairs two at a time. Sign #2 that something was wrong - Rob hadn't let them in. We're hospitable folks, usually more than ready to be good samaritans. But Rob's black belt training in karate taught him reliable criteria for assessing danger. If he didn't want to let them in, there was a good reason.
At the front door was an older woman who rambled on about getting their truck stuck in the ditch. I asked her where it was and she started in on Vague-Answer-Number-One, "Oh, it's down on that road... you know, that one road... the one with the big farm with lots of barns..." Now first of all, this is cornfield country; we're surrounded by farms. She'd have to be more specific. "You know, the road that goes to... oh, what's it called... that one place... that gas station by the lake..."
She rambled on. Hmmm. The road that goes to "that gas station by the lake" is exactly one mile from our house. Not only that, there are no farms with "lots of barns" for 1/2 mile in either direction once you reach that road.
I pondered the legitimacy of her claim when I noticed the other person. At the end of our sidewalk was a boy, in his late teens or early twenties judging by his clothing, who had his hands in his pockets and a hood over his head, masking his face. He was pacing and shifting from one foot to the other. He mostly kept his back to us, and we couldn't see his face. Rob and I began communicating with our eyes as he grabbed the phone to call the tow truck.
A million things went through my head. They were casing the place for a future robbery; it is Christmas after all, and the number of break-ins increases when every house is full of holiday loot. There were others outside, waiting for a signal. Or, of course, they really needed help. Well, if they'd hiked over a mile to get to our house, they could handle a few more minutes out in the cold.
Still the woman was rambling. And then she gave Vague-Answer-Number-Two, a different location for her vehicle. "We walked on that busy road... that one over there..." and she pointed in the opposite direction from the road that goes to the lake.
At this conflicting information, the hooded boy still pacing ten feet away from the door, I went to Brady's room. While Rob kept them at the door, I calmly and firmly told Brady to get his brother and go out the back door and straight to the neighbors' house. I didn't want them here if things got dicey. "But what about you?" he asked. "I think it's ok, I'm just being safe." He grabbed Jonathan and within seconds they'd sneaked out the door and across the pasture.
Then I called my brother, who'd left our house not too long before, and asked him to come back over. Then I called my brother-in-law and asked him to come over. Better safe than sorry, I figured, and I wanted these folks to see that I have people. I didn't call 911 - though I really, really thought about it - because last time we called it took them 30 minutes to arrive. I wanted faster back-up.
All this time the woman never stopped talking. She talked about her cats, her mean husband, and her arthritis. She told me she isn't usually this fat but she has a sweater on. She told me she lives in a cabin in the woods and her son lives in the shed. She told me her son doesn't have a microwave and her brother's wife's in-laws' cousins' friend died. All this time I kept my eye and her and the boy, memorizing their clothing, her face.
As I waited for my back-up to arrive, the woman asked for a soda. Then she started on a new thread, saying, "We're not really stuck... I mean, we probably could've gotten out... but it is a little icy.... I tried a little, but my tires were spinning... but we're not really THAT stuck..."
And that's when she pointed in a third direction and gave Vague-Answer-Number-Three, saying her truck was over "on that busy road... by the farm with barns on both sides of the road..." This, incidentally, was finally some concrete information. I know which farm has barns on both sides of the road and is located on "that busy road over there." That farm is two miles from my house. And there are exactly ten houses between here and there. Ten potential stopping points. Ten options for help. Instead, they hiked two miles in the dark, in the cold, and stopped at my house?
"Did you stop anywhere else for help?" I asked.
"No... no, there were dogs, and we didn't want to scare that one boy..." More rambling. More nonsensical answers. I know every house they passed. I know there are very few dogs. I know most of the houses are lit up, advertised as perfectly good resting points for broken-down travelers.
My back-up posse arrived. We let them in. The tow truck came and took the woman and the hooded boy away. I finally got a small, quick glimpse of the boy's face - I burned it into my memory. Just in case.
My sister called and confirmed that a tow truck seemed to be stopped on a busy road near her house, just a short ways from the farm with barns on both sides of the road.
Best case scenario? The woman is a little "off" and the boy was embarrassed. But you can't ever be sure. We drove to the neighbors' to get the kids, knowing they'd be too spooked to walk home. The neighbors told us how their dog had been on high alert and even scratched his way back out of the barn after they'd penned him up thinking he was barking at a raccoon or something. When we left a short while later, the dog was still perched at the back step, in guard mode.
"He never does that," said the neighbor.
Sometimes I feel a little vulnerable living in the cornfields. We installed an alarm sensor the next day.