Select Page


“Not that anyone lived far from anyone else on the frontier. Each settler was required to build his home within a half-mile radius of the meeting-house and then as close to others as possible. Living too far out made you an automatic target for Indian attacks. Also, proximity helped keep up spirits and allowed neighbors to keep an eye on each other. In fact, too much time alone occasioned suspicions of nefarious behaviors… It was against the law to walk more than a mile away from the settlement by yourself.”

from Mistress Bradstreet by Charlotte Gordon


Duchess Hills was built on sand, literally. The dunes were bare, no one had the guts to build on them. But the sandy flats between them were dotted with ranchers and split-level homes. Pine trees, pine needles, Spanish moss, yellow brackish water. This was the flora of Duchess Hills.

As for the fauna, Duchess Hills was teeming with only one kind of animal: human children. Some stayed briefly, until their dad got transferred or their parents got a divorce. Others, like me, stayed for what seemed like forever, their entire childhood, from birth to the end of high school.

The boy across the street from me, Whitey Tinker, was adopted. That was the first and most important thing I ever knew about him. He swam fast, like a fish, he had buck teeth, and he exaggerated his accomplishments. When he got older, he had braces, and he also became strangely horny. He literally licked my face once, without permission.

Stacey Simpson was my best friend in the third grade. She moved away the next year and I heard later that she had died, when were all in junior high. But we had lost touch so completely. This was easy to do in the eighties. Anyone could have said anything about anyone who moved away. It might or might not be true. I was too scared to look into it.

My cousin Ricky used to spend summers with us. He fell in the lake, once, off the bulkhead. He tried to scramble up the wall, which was covered with barnacles. You know how that turned out.

One time he shot a BB gun across the lake and hit a man’s sailboat. The man got into a dinghy and rowed across the lake. He was furious; you could tell by the way he was slapping the water with the oars. We just stood there frozen and watched him inch his way toward us through the glassy water. The man climbed out and took Ricky’s BB gun and broke it over his knee. He hurled it out over the lake and it sank to the bottom. Then Ricky admitted it wasn’t his gun.

The kid whose BB gun it was lived a few streets over. He said he was going to cut Ricky with a razor blade, which was ridiculous talk for Duchess Hills. But the kid stood and waited at the end of our street for hours. My grandmother smuggled Ricky out in the trunk of her Plymouth Duster.