Ruth stopped and pointed a finger at me.

“That’s another thing. We don’t have a high crime rate. That’s a myth. People don’t do nothing here that they don’t do everywhere else.”


Farther along the road, Ruth began pointing out more trees—maples, butternuts, black walnuts, sycamores.

“When I first came here, Hilltop had all these magnificent Dutch elm trees forming this great canopy over us, over the parkways. It was like a fairyland it was so green and shaded. But we caught Dutch elm disease in the ‘70s, and they all had to come down. We planted these trees, trees with large leaves, to make up for them. They’re just now starting to get real size.”

As we admired the trees, Penelope Glass crossed in front of us, strolling along yet another narrow lane. Her head was down as if she were deep in thought. She walked with her hands behind her back clasping the black notebook. Her bag hung from her shoulder and bounced against her thigh with each step.

Ruth called, “Morning, sweetie.”

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Pen waved automatically, then saw me and waved with more enthusiasm.

“Good morning,” she called. “Hard at work, I see.”

“No rest for the wicked,” I told her, then instantly regretted it. What a stupid thing to say.

I paused with the hope of continuing the conversation, but both women kept walking in separate directions. As much as I wanted to remain with Pen, I jogged a few steps to catch Ruth.

“You like her,” she said when I reached her side.

“Ms. Glass? Yes. I suppose I do.”

“She has that effect on people. Men especially fall instantly in love with her. It’s because she has this kind of Audrey Hepburn charm. Or aura. I’m not sure what you’d call it. But Pen makes men feel like Humphrey Bogart playing one of those tough, romantic action guys, and they adore her for it. Ever see the movie Sabrina? The original, not the remake with Harrison Ford, although that was pretty good, too.”

“I’ve seen it.”

“Then you know what I’m talking about.”

Remembering how I had felt when I was with Pen the day before, I decided there might be something to Ruth’s theory, but I said, “It was only a movie,” just the same.

Ruth smiled. “If you say so.”

I continued to follow Ruth until we reached a small, squat structure made of decorative brick and ringed with bright orange flowers I couldn’t identify. A blue and gold City of Hilltop flag flew alongside the Stars and Stripes. Written in gold on the red canopy above the door were the words HILLTOP CITY HALL.

“It used to be just an old, beat-up trailer, but look at it now,” Ruth said proudly. “I was mayor of Hilltop, you know. Twice.”

And just like that I realized that Ruth Schramm wasn’t being defensive after all. She was a living, breathing infomercial touting trailer park life, and unlike most infomercial stars, she actually believed in the product she was hawking.

There were a couple of cramped offices and one large room inside the hall. The large room contained several cafeteria style tables arranged in a quarter circle and facing about a dozen metal folding chairs. One table was pushed against the near wall. On it was an assortment of brochures and forms and two fat blue scrapbooks. The scrapbooks contained the entire history of Hilltop in newspaper clippings, vintage photographs, minutes of council meetings, and the recorded proceedings of the now defunct Hilltop Village court. Ruth turned the pages for me one at a time.

A hundred years ago, Hilltop had been a dairy farm. Later it became the Oak Grove Riding Academy and Stables. The first trailer settled there in 1940. There were photographs in the book showing trees and hills, a tiny lake, a skating rink, and a drive-in theater that had once been across the road.

“You know,” Ruth said, “we’ve recorded the name of nearly every person who has ever lived in Hilltop. Do you know any other community that has such a grasp of its own history?

I told her that I didn’t.

“Do you want to see the pool?” she asked.

The pool had been built by Hilltop residents next to the city garage and was surrounded by a high Cyclone fence. It was about forty feet long and twenty-five feet wide, with a depth of three feet at one end and twelve feet at the other. Plastic tables with umbrellas, lounge chairs, and an oversized picnic table were scattered around it. The temperature was only about seventy-two degrees, but three kids were splashing at each other in the shallow end. Two others were attempting to inflate a rubber raft.

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