Homeward bound.

Dear friends,

I was digging through the archive last night for today’s encore presentation and I tripped across a post I wrote three years ago about home.

It’s a sweet post, full of my particular brand of nostalgia, but what stopped me in my tracks was a comment from my reader and bloggy friend Sizzle. She wrote: Neighbors can become like family in that way. I can’t wait to own a home and settle in and have a neighborhood that is mine.

Well guess what? She did it! Just last weekend. Click here to read “Tales from the Big Move.”

Dontcha just love happy endings?

With gratitude {for dreams come true},

Joan,who wishes her longtime reader Sizzle (and her fiance, Mr. Darcy) a very happy homecoming

Homeward bound.

First published August 19, 2009

And every stranger’s face I see
reminds me that I long to be
homeward bound.
                     — Paul Simon

Three years ago next month I moved back to my hometown after more than 20 years of adult life spent in cities that — while sometimes enjoyable, fascinating, affordable, charming, or convenient — never felt like home.

I moved back to Mayberry not sure what to expect after so many years away, but certain of one thing: I’d know my neighbors.

I didn’t expect to like them all — who does? — but I expected to feel connected.  And life in my little town hasn’t disappointed, even when individuals have.  Despite one moment of uncertainty the first week we moved back when I experienced a what-have-I-done? panic attack at — of all places — the grocery store, I’ve done my best to savor and cultivate what it means to be a part of a community.

I’ve dropped in to check on friends who are having a rough time; I’ve offered meals to anybody I thought needed or would enjoy the hospitality; I’ve hosted a variety of gatherings in my home; I’ve welcomed kids of all stripes through our doors in the hope they’d find something welcoming and nurturing here.

This is nothing special, of course.  It’s what neighbors do.  I remark on it only because I lived for so many years in anonymous urban and suburban environments where sprawl and fear and privacy fences inhibited eye contact, much less meaningful connections.

And so now I live here and — despite my nostalgia and tendency to romanticize everything — I admit life isn’t perfect in Mayberry and neither are its citizens.  We’re human.  We draw judgments when we should refrain from an expedient conclusion, turn a cold shoulder when we should offer a warm embrace, share gossip when we should point out the honorable, forget to give the benefit of the doubt, and occasionally throw the baby out with the bath water.

But we also mow each others’ lawns, watch out for each others’ children, extend kindness and civility to those across the sidewalk or the counter, share the bounty of our gardens, and try to remember that community means our common destiny extends to the fellow next door as well as the fellow across town, to the fellow of privilege as well as the fellow on the margin.

We are neighbors.  We infuriate each other and we adore each other.  It’s a glorious tussle of virtue and frailty that defines our community and binds us, home to home, soul to soul.

I can breathe in a small town.

Dear friends,

Our downtown at night.

A year ago I left the sweet small town of some 4,000 souls I call home. The town where I grew up. The town where my grandparents made their home all their lives and where my father grew up. The town I left when I was 19, then returned to 25 years later in search of “small town life” after a long stint in an unremarkable, wholly unsatisfying, small-city-turned-metro-suburb saturated with convenience stores, strip centers, and chain restaurants.

My hometown, both when I grew up there and when I moved my family back, was imperfect in so many ways. Yet I idolized it, romanticized its brick streets and charming old homes, held it up on a pedestal of native allegiance that never tarnished with time.

And when I left my hometown, I said I was excited about my family’s prospects in our new place (a small community by most standards but still five times the size of my hometown). But if asked, I also would have said our new place could never match the town-ness of my hometown — the “Mayberry” of my youth that became my standard for neighborliness.

I think I was wrong.

A couple of weeks ago, I left my office in the middle of the workday to run a quick errand. (That kind of thing is possible, I might mention, in a small town where the post office, bank and dry cleaner — among other things — are all a few blocks away.) As I pulled away from a stop sign near our bank, a woman darted in front of me and I had to brake quickly. We were both startled, but in the process we recognized each other.

“Hi Joan!” the woman said as she waved wildly. Deb is married to a colleague of mine and lives a few blocks from me in a house on my running route. I don’t know what it was, exactly, about that particular moment that made me feel at home, but it surely did. It wasn’t the first time since we moved here that I’ve run into people I know on the street. It happens often, actually. But something about Deb’s wave in our small downtown on a quiet spring afternoon made me feel the town-ness of our home for the first time and made me want to drop the words “our new place” from my vocabulary.

A few days later, I came home from work to eat lunch (another luxury of a small town) and Mr. Mom was nowhere to be found even though his truck was in the garage. “Where are you?” I texted him. “Checking on Dan” he replied.

Dan is an elderly man who lives across the street. We take him an occasional plate of supper and he gives us okra from his garden. Not long ago, he came over in the middle of the day and asked Mr. Mom for a ride to the emergency room. Turns out, he has pneumonia. Dan’s daughter takes good care of him, but she lives a couple of towns away, so Mr. Mom checks on him frequently. Yesterday, Mr. Mom repaired his riding lawn mower and Dan allowed him to mow our large yard with it in return (saving Parker a few hours with our push mower).  Town-ness, I thought.

Also this week, Mr. Mom discovered water in our basement. At the root of the leak was a faulty valve, so he set out to fix the problem Thursday night after dinner so he could turn our water back on in time for bedtime showers. In the mean time, a neighbor couple stopped by. (I told you about them in this post.) The man, Tim, ended up spending a couple of hours helping Mr. Mom solve the problem, including making two trips to his garage for spare plumbing fixtures. More town-ness.

I realized town-ness has nothing to do with the town and everything to do with the people. There are good and neighborly people everywhere if you allow yourself to connect with them. A year ago, I knew we were moving to a “great community,” but I didn’t know how well we would connect, how comfortable we’d feel, whether or not homesickness would mark my entire life here.

When we moved, a friend in Tulsa told me “Give it two years. It’ll take that long to make friends and fit in.” I remember being aghast at the time, nestled as I was in the midst of people I had known and loved my entire life. But now, I know two years sounds about right.  Still, at the one-year mark, I’ve concluded we’re fitting in nicely. We have friends. And neighbors. And a social life. And I’m not sure we could ask for anything more.

With gratitude {for neighbors — in the best sense of the word — in a place filled with town-ness},

Joan, who thinks it’s a very good sign that she spent Saturday afternoon shopping for two graduation gifts and a baby gift, and has three parties to attend in the next three weeks with no-longer-new friends

Got nothing against a big town,
Still hayseed enough to say look who’s in the big town,
But my bed is in a small town,
And that’s good enough for me.

— John Mellencamp

An unexpected Easter blessing.

Dear friends,

So many of you reached out to me yesterday, both on this blog and my Facebook page, with kind words and expressions of sympathy for our family’s loss. I can’t thank you enough. Your loving messages buoyed me so much, especially those of you who knew and remembered Frito and shared your memories with me. I deeply appreciate  your support.

Many of our neighbors are as shocked as saddened as we are. The beautiful plant is from a young family a few doors down. I adore gerber daisies and pink is my favorite color, so I am cheered by this very thoughtful gesture. The warm embrace from those near us and from all of you has been an unexpected Easter blessing for which I am most grateful.

Easter is a tough holiday for me in the best of times because it is the last holiday I spent with my mother. So even before Frito passed, I was feeling more than a little melancholy. Our last Easter together was in 2010. Mom was frail, but happy as could be to share the day with us.

I’ll never forget the incredible meal I made — salmon en croute with lemon cream sauce, steamed asparagus, and lemon meringue pie. Mom always thought I was a good cook (that’s sort of like the pot calling the kettle black, but in a good way), but on what ended up being our last Easter together, she was  absolutely wowed. I had made the pie — her favorite — just for her and she called it “outrageous,” as in outrageously good. I thought I had let the meringue get a little too brown, but Mom thought it was perfect.

I am reminded of something my friend Deb said in a comment on this post a few days ago. She talked about “living in the warm reflection of (her mother’s) loving gaze,” and I never felt it more strongly than on that precious Easter with my mother.

I searched through my computer archive and couldn’t find a photo of Mom from that day, but I found the pie that knocked her socks off and it surely made me smile.

So, dear readers, happy Easter. And thank you. I hope you have something wonderfully, marvelously outrageous to enjoy on your Easter Sunday.

With gratitude {for all those who have lifted some of the weight from my heavy heart},

Joan, who gathered up her family and dined out today as both a distraction and a much-needed day off