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STRANGERS HAVE A WAY OF OPENING OUR EYES

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Sometimes I forget how good the living here really is. It's mighty easy to take the good stuff in stride and gripe like a son-of-a-gun about the rest.

Take this morning, for instance. I'm lying in the wicker porch swing with my little computer propped up on my stomach feeling pitiful because I've got a column to write and my house is only half spring-cleaned."Lady, is this house for sale?" comes a voice drifting into my already derailed train of thought. I look up to see two strangers standing on the front walk. They're not from around here, that's for sure. Their socks match their Bermuda shorts.

"If not," the lady smiles, "could we at least rent the front porch?" I invite them to sit and ask where they're from.

"Cleveland," the sixty-something man says. "Betty here is from California. We're driving around looking at small towns." He pats her hand resting on the arm of the rocker. "We're getting married."

"No fooling," Betty says, "Tom and I want to buy your house." She hints at what they might be willing to pay. The figure staggers me. It's bigger than my whole retirement fund.

"You ever been to California?" Tom asks. He's surprised when I tell him I used to live in Los Angeles . . . and Miami, and Atlanta, Cleveland, New York City, Washington, D.C., Chicago and probably a couple I've forgotten about.

"I like it here," I tell them. "It's peaceful. Kids can ride bikes to the dime store for candy without anybody having to worry about them. And," I add, "folks like you stumble across us every once in a while and make us realize how lucky we are."

Betty admires the old glass butter churn filled with peonies setting on the porch's stone rail. "Want to sell it with the house?" She grins, feeling me out, I guess.

"If I did, where would I put my peonies next year?" I answer lightly, hoping she'll accept my polite refusal.

As we talk, a white-haired lady stops her bicycle out front and calls to me. "Elizabeth, I loved the story about your father and the other sailors pushing the captain's piano overboard."

Betty doesn't seem to hear. She's busy eyeballing the porch, assessing its potential, I guess, but Tom has been listening. He seems puzzled.

"I write," I tell him. "Beryl Jean always lets me know when she likes my stuff."

Now a whole family on bikes peddles by with grandma bringing up the rear saying to the grandchild just ahead, "Careful, baby, there's a car coming."

Betty turns to Tom with that look in her eye, silently pleading with him to make it all happen. Apparently she is a lady used to having miracles work for her.

"We mean it," Tom says sincerely. "We'll pay your price. Name it."

I don't know how to tell them that it doesn't have a price.

That I'm having an upstairs porch screened so I can sleep out in the hammock.

That my cats love birdwatching from the breakfast room windows.

That my neighbor and I work in our gardens together while her little dog rolls around in my herbs.

That I'd miss Sunday suppers at Steve's and coffee at Smitty's every morning with my retired farmer friends.

But most of all, I think I'd miss living in a place where, just like they say on "Cheers" . . . a place where everybody knows my name.