Our new house is being built in Perquimans (rhymes with “persimmon”) County.  Local lore tells us that “perquimans” means “the land of the beautiful women” in the language of the Yeopim Indians who once dominated this area.  These beautiful Yeopim women and their menfolk were part of the Algonquian nation.  Their name lives on in the name of the road on which we are currently living, not to mention one of the huge rivers that water this place.

Perquimans, with an area of 329 square miles, was accommodating 12,856 souls as of July, 2008.  Just for comparison’s sake, Arlington County, Va., from whence we uprooted ourselves, stuffed 210,000 people into its scant 26 square miles during the same month.  You see the sort of expectations we may have of county government.

Our garden shed needed a permit.  We thought it didn’t, but when the inspector came to look over the foundation of our new house, the shed, which by that time had two walls up, caught his eye.  We grimaced at the thought of the impending bureaucratic hassle and asked our builder to take care of it.  He punted it back to us, saying the shed would have a “lower profile” if we did it.  That made sense, so we bit the bullet and set off for the county seat, Hertford, to take care of business.

We first went to the inspections office, where we were greeted by the same guy who had informed us at the property of the need for the shed permit.  He’s a friendly type who remembered us and was prepared for our visit, whenever it may be.  We happened to arrive around lunch hour on a Friday, so he was alone in the office–the receptionist was out.  He looked at the paperwork he had at hand and told us it wasn’t enough; we needed something else from the zoning office, which is located in the 1852-vintage courthouse pictured above.

We strolled over to the courthouse, checked the building directory, and then headed up the creaky stairway to the zoning office.  On our way there, we passed and nearly knocked over a young man dressed in slacks and polo shirt.  He was engrossed in a document he was reading as he walked and we were barging along in our Arlington County way.  We apologized, had a friendly chuckle over our clumsiness, and continued on.

When we got to the zoning office, no one was there except an extremely friendly young woman who apologized up and down for her colleague’s absence.  “I wish I could help you,” she said, “but I’m the finance officer.”  That is, the county CFO.   She shares office space with the zoning commissioner.  She told us we could probably get everything we needed from the County Manager and directed us to that office, at the opposite end of the hall.  It seemed rather outlandish that the County Manager would bother him or herself with such minutiae–a permit for a garden shed–but figured the receptionist would be able to take care of it.

But there was no receptionist.  We walked through the open door directly into the County Manager’s office, and there at the big mahogany desk sat the same young guy in a polo shirt we’d nearly felled a few minutes earlier.  County Manager Bobby Darden looked up at us with a friendly smile and asked how he could help us.  We rather sheepishly told him we were directed to his office to take care of a permit for our garden shed.   Without further ado, he got up, walked down the hall to a file, extracted the appropriate papers, initialed them, xeroxed (!) them for our convenience, and sent us on our way.  In the course of about 30 minutes, which encompassed a block’s amble from the inspections office to the courthouse and back and talking to a total of three very friendly people (two of whom were top-tier county executives), we had our permit in hand.  It cost 25 bucks, and we learned yet another very pleasant lesson about small-town life.