Back in 2012 during a road trip to the East Coast, I came upon a unique art installation along the side of Highway 171 just south of Pittsburgh, Kansas. As I pulled the car over and got out to take a few pictures, a lady approached from the shadowed porch of a small white house. The first thing I noticed was her billowing orange hair, wild and free, and a pair of questioning eyes staring virtually right through me. Then I saw the blue toenails, lime green fingernails and her heavily frayed denim shirt.
“Hey. I’m Mary,” she stated as we shook hands. “I built that.”
Mary’s hands were as soft as her handshake, but as soon as she started talking I could tell she was more intense than her gentle grip let on. “You can call me Zoomer, though, and that’s my husband, Ken, up there. I call him a professional arsonist ‘cause he tries burnin’ all my shit before I can get to it.” I loved her immediately. Painted blue toenails, big hair and all.
“I had to put my name on the thing ‘cause every damn person that would come by thought Ken did it,” she continued without pausing. “Nobody thought a woman could. Took me four afternoons to do it.”
“Only four? That thing is huge.”
“Yup,” she replied, still eyeballing me. “I was sittin’ over there on my porch after I had surgery on my neck and just felt like building something. So, there it is. Named it Big Bertha. Yup, I’m Mary. Or, as they all call me around here, the bitch who lives on the highway.”
My head snapped from Bertha back to Mary. What did she say? I went to ask but she had already moved on laughing loudly and telling me to bring my car inside the gate. “Pull in the lot. I want to show you somethin’.”
Want to know more about Mary and what I found? Feel free to pick up I Said Hello and give it a read.