One of our forest neighbors was such an interesting person I’ve often said that if she were a character in a book, no one would believe her. It’s impossible to think up anyone as fascinating as Dorothy Green actually was. A recovering alcoholic, Mrs. Green was a faithful church member who always sat on the second row on the left side. She usually entered the sanctuary from the front door just behind the piano. Everybody saw her come in because she usually arrived a few minutes late—just as the announcements were being made or during the first hymn. Before she sat down she asked whoever happened to be seated behind her to finish zipping her dress up the back. After she sat down, she put on her earrings and lipstick or took the last few curlers out of her hair. Then she pulled her dress just above her knees and pulled up her stockings, discreetly securing the garters to her girdle.
Tall, round, and bottle blonde with skinny arms and legs, Dorothy Green was a handsome woman in a 1960s beehive, red lipstick sort of way. She lived with her husband, Sam, who was a successful accountant in a downtown Ocala firm. Mr. Green was attractive and always well dressed. He was a deacon and gave generously of his time and business acumen in the church’s administrative affairs. He also served faithfully as an usher. In fulfilling his usher duties he was always on time—thus he was not home to zip Dorothy’s dress on Sunday mornings.
Their home was not so much a house as a family compound. The front part of the house was a small log cabin in which Dorothy ran an antiques store. First-time customers were often shocked to find such high quality antiques in such an out-of-the-way location. The back door of the tiny log cabin opened into a large, rustic living area with exposed beams. It was furnished with comfy wicker rocking chairs, armoires, antique rugs, massive china cabinets, display cases and bookshelves full of fine china, Indian pottery, jewelry, bric-a-brac, and antique books with hand-tinted engravings. Chairs and tables were draped with antique quilts, handmade lace tablecloths and other antique linens. Every item in the room had a tiny white cardboard price tag attached with a string.
A 1960s concrete block addition to the log house was accessed by a door the passage through which felt like a time machine. The bright galley kitchen, luxurious modern living room with deep shag carpeting and feminine bedrooms with graceful beds covered by frilly coverlets were a shocking contrast to the warm, old-fashioned feel of the other part of the house. But again, every piece of furniture—every canopy bed, every antique dressing table, every chest, every rug, every bedspread, and every sterling silver hairbrush carried a price tag. Even the canisters in the kitchen and items in the bathroom!
But the fascinating property did not end with the house. When I first became acquainted with the Greens there was a trailer (a.k.a. mobile home) where Dorothy’s daughter, Delores, lived with her husband and three daughters. The oldest daughter was my age. I have a memory of going down to visit one day when there was a real-live monkey in a tall pine tree beside the trailer. The monkey was a refugee from a colony of wild monkeys that lived near Silver Springs. The trailer was later moved after the Greens built a new home for Delores and family on the back of their property just across the fence from the church cemetery. Two other trailers remained, however. One trailer was for Dorothy’s parents and another for her grandparents.
But wait! There’s more! Right behind the main house was a long, narrow, carport-like shelter that housed several concrete reservoirs, each about eight feet square and about 3 and a half to four feet deep. These each held a different type of live bait which Mrs. Green sold as a supplement to the antiques business. In the rafters of the structure she stored various dippers and nets. Customers would drive around the dirt driveway behind the house, running over a hose connected to a bell and Dorothy would come out of the house in her curlers and Daniel Greene house slippers to scoop minnows into a Styrofoam cooler or put crickets or worms into a cardboard container with air holes in the top.
Behind the bait shop was an above-ground swimming pool and behind that a small pond that usually had at least one alligator living in it. Beside the bait shop was a rustic enclosure that included a bathroom and was furnished with daybeds and all the chairs, mirrors, and sinks necessary for a fully functioning beauty salon. It was in that room that Dorothy hosted birthday parties for her granddaughters and where we waited out afternoon thunderstorms until we could get back into the pool.
The pool was rather small and only five feet deep, but since I was not allowed to swim in the lake without my brothers and they were busy with summer jobs, I accepted every invitation to swim with Mrs. Green’s granddaughters. There was a price to be paid, however. No one was allowed in the pool without a stretchy rubber swim cap. I was mortified by having to wear a swim cap. But Dorothy was steadfast—everybody had to wear one and she had many to choose from. They were all garish colors accented with gaudy rubber flowers and ridiculous rubber fringe. Maybe she was a fan of those 1940s Esther Williams water ballet musicals or maybe she admired the Weeki Wachee mermaids, but Dorothy Green thought she looked lovely in her bathing suit and swim cap. On days when she was planning an afternoon swim, she didn’t “do” her hair. Instead she put on her swim outfit early in the morning and wore it all day. She cleaned house, sold antiques, and dipped bait dressed as a 1940s bathing beauty.
At some point Delores and her husband and the granddaughters moved out of state for a while and Mrs. Green was lonely. She liked to talk and I liked listening to her stories and she was always kind to me so I rode my bike down to visit her even when the grandchildren weren’t there. She told me about buying bargain diamonds at pawn shops and she let me read Uncle Wiggly and other stories from priceless first editions. She gave me a small silver turquoise ring and an antique gold bracelet that are still in my jewelry box today.
Slightly eccentric and with a checkered past, she frequently spoke of the evils of alcohol and how thankful she was to have become a Christian and given up the high society lifestyle. If I had read her in a novel I’d say the writer’s character was unrealistic. But I actually knew Dot Green. She was unrealistic! And she was one of the characters who made growing up in the forest the experience of a lifetime.