Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Two years ago yesterday...

We checked out of our room at the Hilton Garden Inn in Norwalk, drove down the Route 7 Connector, got onto the Merritt Parkway South and left the state of Connecticut behind, the state which we had called our home for the previous 11 years. We slowly made our way through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, and into Virginia where we and our two confused gerbils checked into a non-descript motel to spend the night. We woke up the following morning, loaded ourselves, our loot, and our ludicrously anxious gerbils back into the minivan, got back onto 81 South and continued our voyage towards our new home. As we pulled out of the motel parking lot that morning, Steve asked me to tell him when the traffic was clear enough for him to enter the road. I looked out my window and after a few seconds said, "After this next pick up truck, the coast is clear." His clever response was, "I imagine you'll be saying that many times in the years to come." So what has life been like for me since two years ago yesterday? In these two years, I have learned to play tennis, learned to make "creek water tea," which is a minty, lemony version of traditional Southern sweet tea, learned to pick out intelligible words from the drawl of new Southern friends and neighbors, and I have learned that there is far more international, multi-lingual, multi-cultural activity in the South than I'd ever imagined. I love my life here. The weather, with its heatstroke, hurricane, and tornado warnings suits me far better the endless weeks of snow and ice that chilled my body, mind, and spirit in New England. Sure, it's nearly impossible to enter our car in August after leaving it in a movie theater parking lot during a matinee. Sure, there are the disconcerting signs on the doors of many local businesses notifying the South's well-armed citizens that concealed weapons are not permitted in their establishments. Sure, we wouldn't pack our interracial family into our minivan and venture 20 miles in any direction from our beloved Charlotte at night and expect to be greeted as warmly as we have been within our city limits and in our neighborhood. There was a Halloween party on the cul-de-sac behind our house in 70 degree heat this past Saturday evening. It felt a little like being on a movie set where every effort had been made to represent all the "right" groups. Nearly 100 East Indian, Carribean, Jewish, Catholic, Baptist, non-denominational, black, white, Northern, Southern, Midwestern doctors, lawyers, bankers, teachers, retirees, salesmen, housewives, and their numerous offspring came out for pizza, salad, pulled pork (a truly Southern delicacy), cakes, pies, Halloween candy, fireworks, crafts, hay rides, and good old fashioned southern hospitality. Two police officers came to support us in our establishment of a neighborhood watch group and invited one and all to explore their well-outfitted and (even more) heavily armed vehicle. I met many people who live within yards of where I stood but whose names I'd never before learned. I introduced myself to people whose names I have heard dozens of times before, but because I am such a socially inept idiot and because they were not standing directly in front of their own doors, I didn't recognize them. I held babies, kissed friends, shook hands, listened to bad jokes, and worked the crowd like a seasoned Presidential candidate. Then I stepped away from the crowd, looked around at the children frolicking on lawns, adults drinking beer around the keg, admired the magnificent homes that grace Rosecliff (that's the name of our development), and I sent up a quick prayer of thanks. I would never have imagined that I could have this kind of life two years ago yesterday. I would never have imagined that my children would get to hang out with so many great kids, that my husband and I would be welcomed with such open arms into so many social settings and circles, and that we would like Charlotte as much as we do. I never would have imagined that I'd get the opportunity to meet, shake hands with, and get my journal and two books autographed by two best-selling authors in the same week. Speaking of which, Isabel Allende is a new favorite author of mine. Since two years ago yestday, life has presented me with many surprises, both pleasant and otherwise. In the past fourteen months, both my mother and my mother-in-law have moved to Charlotte. In the past six months, I have had two fairly significant health scares. Family members, friends, and acquaintances have lost their lives to debilitating illnesses, and the arduous journeys to funerals have proved relentless and painful. In September,I participated in the wedding of a dear friend in Madrid only days after hearing of the resignation of our church's Senior Pastor. I have fallen victim to the addictive pleasures of Caribou Coffee, The Mellow Mushroom, The Mint Museums of Art, Stein Mart, Dillards, and Hechts. I have learned how to send and receive text messages on my cell phone. I have crept perilously close to 39 years of age which I will celebrate just a few days before Christmas. I am a blessed woman. I am a happy woman. I am at peace. I am in good health, at least for the moment. I am part of an ever-changing and growing, sometimes exasperating and aggravating, always comforting and loving family. Two years ago yesterday, I bid farewell to a life I never imagined I'd ever leave and began a life I never imagined I'd ever have. On my last day in Norwalk, I sent a postcard to myself at my new address in Charlotte. Every now and then, I pull out that card, read what I wrote, and marvel at all that has transpired since I penned those words. The last words of that card are the same as the title of one of my favorite books: "Traveling Mercies." Those were the last words I whispered to my father on the morning of his death in March of 2001, and the last words I whispered to my dear friend, Leza, as I leaned over her deathbed almost exactly a year later as I bid her farewell. They have become something of a mantra for me, words I return to often during my correspondence with others and with myself. And as we began the unforeseen, unimaginable, uncertain Southern migration two years ago yesterday, I asked God for, received, and now daily rely on traveling mercies to lead me home. With unspeakable joy on the this leg of the journey, Gail

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