This time last year, Cindy and Richard Murphy exemplified the American Dream, straight from 1950s television, except in their version she brought home the bacon and he cooked it. Raising two pony-tailed daughters in a picturesque Cape Cod home on a shady, tree-lined street in Montclair, N.J., they gave appearances of a charmed life fronted by an immaculately manicured lawn.
Their girls were honor students at the local elementary school and popular amongst their peers. They played hopscotch and drank milk and ate cookies shaped like the statue of liberty, made with love by mom. Richard, like every American dad depicted in commercials advertising the good life, spent weekends tackling home-improvement projects, drinking a couple of Bud Lights, and grilling burgers and hot dogs. Cindy and Richard went about their reprehensible activities having no idea how conspicuous excelling at suburban standards made them.
Before they knew they needed to self-correct their Leave it to Beaver lifestyle, the FBI and Montclair police turned their American Dream upside down and inside out while neighbors gawked and videotaped. Everyone was shocked and pleased to hear that their flag-waving, apple pie-baking, flawless neighbors were actually fearless Russian spies who, it appears, Americanized themselves by watching Nick at Night reruns and reading Modern Parent magazine.
To assuage personal guilt over mingling with obvious threats to national security, one Marquette Road resident reportedly said, "With a name like Murphy, who's going to think they're Russian spies?" In my mind, that's the Yankee equivalent of a Southern trailer park inhabitant on the evening news, saying, "It come outta nowhere. We didn't know what it wuz until it got right up on Bubba and we seen it lift him off the ground."
A teenager who lives next door observed that the Murphys' Eastern Europe accents didn't match their Irish surname, but added, "You wondered but you didn't pry. That's rude."
Well, no, darlin', that's what we call friendly down here. Getting all up in one another's business is good manners. It's how we show we care. Ten minutes with the Murphys and we would have broken that spy ring wide open, plus learned the names of Richard's third cousin's wife and Cindy's silver and china patterns. Prying is why we have calling cards. It's probably also why secret agents never settle in the South, unless we count church lady gossips taking notes for God. Still, even that isn't quite the same as espionage since God isn't an enemy of the state in these parts.
But what got me thinking about Cindy and Richard again are my hydrangeas, which are of late in flatteringly high demand. I'm nervous, now. An onlooker watching the FBI and Montclair police removing the contents of the Murphy home soberly told the press, "They couldn't have been spies. Look what she did with the hydrangeas."
While the general public may be easy to fool, the FBI is on to folks who over achieve in domestics. And this week, not one, but two women of note have requested cuttings of my hydrangeas for social occasion flower arrangements. I worry that the FBI might, under these complimentary circumstances, peg me as suspiciously pulled together.
They'll send agents to see what I'm hiding behind those beautiful blue blossoms.
Once those ladies tell the authorities, "We saw everything. The weeds, banana peels, dead moles. All of it crammed up in the hydrangeas like the county dump. Her mama would be ashamed," the charges will be dropped. I don't mind if the feds take some of that stuff as evidence, though.
Lucy Adams is the author of Tuck Your Skirt in Your Panties and Run. She lives in Thomson. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org and go to www.IfMama.com.