Moving to another part of the country has, so far, proved to be a beneficial thing for my family.
But it hasn’t happened seamlessly. It has been a conscious process of reevaluating our expectations, habits, and priorities. Like not crying over the chip in my late grandmother’s side table that the movers did not pack carefully enough. Or swimming around the really big and hairy spider in the pool. And remembering that the drawbridge (we live on an island) only takes 5 minutes from open to close, because really, it is not like you can be late to buy groceries.
Life is slower here. Illustrated perfectly by the grocery shopping experience.
First of all, let me explain how we used to shop in Boston. Before we discovered the ease and simplicity of grocery shopping online, we dreaded the errand. Even going to our local Whole Foods (which was once a more visceral food shop for me) was an exercise in patience, from selecting the celery to exiting the parking lot. Going at convenient times (after work, Saturday afternoons) was harrowing, no matter what store we picked. Crowds, carts, strollers, traffic…it hardly seemed worth it to be buying less than average peaches or blueberries. We eventually discovered Boston Organics which delivered fresh produce to our door each week, around the time we decided to start using Peapod. Forget the crowds, forget the schlepping of heavy canvas bags halfway around the block; but too: forget discovering that fresh figs are on sale and in season.
Its been an entirely different experience in Charleston. Admittedly, the variables are not all even: I often go in the middle of the day now, and I only shop for a few days at a time. However, the Southern grocery shopping experience is quite pleasant, and I look forward to taking my son to the grocery store to talk about food, and see new things.
It seems expected here to engage in conversation with everyone from the stock boy to the cashier–however, if you’re in a hurry, or the baby is cranky, it also feels acceptable to smile and press on through the aisles. There is a strong awareness of manners and gentility not found in New England. It is standard practice to help you out to your car with groceries, whether you have 2 bags or 20. There is a kindness that to us thick skinned New Englanders can seem almost…aggressive. For example: baby dropped his pacifier in the aisle, and I kid you not, another customer jogged from where he was browsing ten feet away to pick it up for us. Others hold the doors open for you, offer up their discount card if you don’t have one yet, and no one uses their car horn in the parking lots.
The trade off is convenience–its never easy to go get food for dinner in the midday heat that hovers in the mid 90s. Yesterday we went out, and as soon as we got onto the main road we found ourselves ensconced in a torrential rainstorm. Still, I drove to the store, and we sat in the car for 20 minutes hoping it would abate. It did not, so we drove home, and shared a box of Annies macaroni and cheese for dinner. I’m embracing the different forms of convenience: I haven’t eaten a bad peach since we’ve been here, and every store sells washed and chopped kale. Grocery delivery is a remnant of city life, and we’re almost completely weaned off those little luxuries.
But, my ears still ring with tinnitus in the absence of sound Boston used to easily fill. White noise here is not a steady traffic rumble, but a living forest outside our windows. At night we fall asleep to the crickets, or the speckling of raindrops on the window glass. I thought I’d miss my weekly Indian, Thai, and Sushi dinners from foodler. But no: I’m happy to eat simple meals at the table with the baby. Plain noodles and cheese, peaches. I drink my coffee with brown sugar now, because that is all we had when we moved in, and now that’s how I like it. We indulge ourselves with the expensive bottles of wine we’d been “saving” in Massachusetts—-they made it over 1,000 miles! I think we have plenty to appreciate and celebrate. Life is good.
What do you do when you cannot sleep? When it is too dark out to run, but your mind is buzzing with thoughts that will not be told “no more tonight.”
The answer to that question, and so many others I have this year seems to be: write. I write because my armor is crumbling away; because I finally mean what I say. I write because I am no longer afraid of terrible memories, and I write because I no longer want to go back to the days of youth when I was served life on a silver platter.
When running feels like crying, like it did this morning, it is time to write. So I grit my teeth (for the time I use cliches I hate, hoping one of my beloved editing sessions will lead me to a better description) and let my words loose, hoping they tie a true knot (not a tangle) as they leave my fingers.
We were in Maine for a modified summer vacation. The original plan to spend a week on the island has been superseded by a cross-country move. Although I am a bit sad there are not days and days of unstructured summer idylls ahead, I am rolling with the change like a true New England girl. I hope this ability to hold fast to my dreams but lightly to the present conditions does not change when my zip code does. This afternoon we had a playful romp in the cool lake waters, which was abruptly ended by the booms of thunder rolling in off of Baxter.
Before we even realized a storm was brewing, lightning struck across the lake. Everyone scrambled out of the water and tucked in for some quaint indoor summer activities–guitar strumming, strawberry shortcake eating, salamander petting–but I lingered on the porch until the torrent let loose. It was really powerful watching the curtain of rain close in from across the lake. If I’d been alone I might have sat on the porch in contemplative observance of the extreme weather that so suddenly displaced the ideal summer day. Then, as unexpectedly as the thunder storm overtook the day, it retreated and gave us back the blue skies, taking with it the languid humidity of the last week.
Any New Englander will agree with me that the first breaths after a summer rain shower contain a kind of electric energy. Air like this is why we put up with all the frenetic weather. Its a shot of life injected into the lungs. Its right up there with the scent inhaled on a snow capped mountain, or the first inhalation of salty ocean air after being trapped in a car for 4 hours on a drive up from the city.
New England is where I was born. It is where I have formed my identity, and it is my standard to which I measure all other locations. New England can be difficult–fickle, cold, unfriendly, extreme, and inconsistent (me too!). But New England is also breathtakingly beautiful, rich with poetic landscapes, overflowing with intoxicating natural scents, and the place I hope I’ll always return to…if only for 4.5 days at a time.
I recently congratulated myself on my new found patience. When I used to get annoyed waiting in the doctor’s office 10 minutes past my appointment, I now revel in the unexpected luxury of some uninterrupted time to delve into the latest Library Journal. Walking the dog in the rain was an exercise in futility, since we both prefer to spend rainy mornings cuddling. These are all things that we have to do in order to live successfully. I’m still trying to understand the difference between the simple and the fundamental, but I have at least discovered that time is not something to be carelessly tossed around, wasted, or even endured. Time is SO precious, and it seems that quite suddenly, I’ve become aware of it just as it flees away.
When the pug and I used to see grey clouds and rain hitting the window, we’d groan and desperately try to hold on until a more pleasant walk could happen. This time of year, a walk through Boston Commons just after the rain has washed all the grime away is one my most nostalgic past times. Buds and lilac blossoms replace smog for a brief moment. The air even looks beautiful, a glistening only possible in the post-rain haze.
When I’m caught up on wishing to stay comfortable and warm, I easily forget that there is beauty everywhere, all the time. Probably most of the world’s loveliness wrought in poor weather conditions remain undiscovered. Falling rain softens the landscape. Even the part of the world I currently inhabit that lies between train tracks and a highway. Neponset river laps at the edge of our walk. I wait as it rains, I’ll be fine.
And we will always & eventually return to our preferred state of cozy.