There were many reasons, some of them deeply understood by those who honored the restrictions of the COVID era but squirmed with restless desire for change. Whatever those reasons were, the day arrived some months back when the face looking back at me in the mirror piped up and said: It’s time to move on.
But move on to where? Adding comedy to the tragedy and uncertainty of the times, the memorable line from Monty Python floated up: And now for Something Completely Different.
So, to Something Completely Different I went. Determined not to forfeit the opportunity to share easily in the lives of my nearby daughter and grandchildren, I defined a certain geographic radius as the map of my best options. Ultimately, I chose to leapfrog across the metro region to a new county, with a new city address on the mail, even a new dwelling, built just for me, in a new neighborhood, in an unfinished section where the surrounding canvas is still being painted. None of those descriptors would have drawn me in the past, so I was as surprised as anyone.
After I had spent a quarter-century with a rewarding life built in a very small geographic area, the choice of Something Complete Different inspired some kind but surprised inquiries in my cherished circle of friends. “You’re going…where?” one asked, incredulous. It’s not the other side of the planet, I replied. “I don’t think you’ll like being that far away,” said another. (I asked for her opinion, and she gave it, so that was fair enough.). A third wondered if my politics would fit comfortably in my proposed new surroundings, historically known for a majority with leanings she knew were different than my own. “People are moving there from all over the place,” I answered, perhaps trying to convince myself. “Surely they can’t all think the same thing.” On the lighter side, my daughter, with a keen sensitivity to my retail habits, asked, “Mom, are you sure you want to be that far from Trader Joe’s?” (That one caught me for a second, I admit.)
Still, onward to new environs I went. And as I strolled with the dog in my early weeks here, up and down the rolling hills of the new neighborhood in the early mornings or late evening breezes of the hot Tennessee summer, the quiet streets and unfamiliar sights were more than a bit surreal. Where is everyone, I wondered? Do the neighbors know each other? Does anyone come out of these houses?
Gradually, small connections emerged. Leaving the pool one day, I stopped to admire a newborn, introducing myself to the young mother as new to the neighborhood. “Welcome!” she answered warmly. “You should come to the Fourth of July event and meet more neighbors. It’s a great party.” A couple of weeks later I waved at a young woman unloading boxes at the newest completed home across the street. She approached and told me about her mother, the property owner, who was working at the time. “They have margaritas at the pool most Tuesdays,” she said. “If you’re looking for a group, my mom’s definitely got a group.”
As these encounters continued, I began to breathe a little more easily into Something Completely Different. My next-door neighbor, who grew up in the county, is the ultimate referral source on essentials, from shoe repair to carpentry to fresh vegetables, cheerfully pointing me here or there. On my own, I found my way to the post office, the Goodwill drop-off, Lowe’s, and the closest coffee shop. Even my dog began to relax, finally realizing he didn’t have to trot after me everywhere I went around the house, unpacking. From his post six inches above ground level, he shouts dark threats at the deer who emerge in late evening from the woods on the lovely peak of the hill up the street, but otherwise continues to charm the human neighbors he encounters on our twice-daily strolls.
Encouraged by these encounters, I was still surprised to discover an active channel of neighborly communication flowing amicably and often where I never expected to see it: on Facebook.
The neighborhood’s group page is a remarkable broadcast of daily life and proof positive that people who live in close proximity have not lost the desire to enjoy and care for each other. Who knew? Many of us have recoiled from social media and its vituperative culture in the last couple of years, sickened by misinformation or mean-spirited trolls. I watch, fascinated, a regular patter of questions and answers that recently has included things like this:
- An industrious youngster is making a new variety of jam, having apparently done a roaring trade with his canning in the neighborhood in the past. His mother seeks customer insights on the new flavor option before he begins: Who would order a jar? (I said I would, natch.)
- Another neighbor, enthusiastically decorating her new home, has purchased a piece of art too big to bring home in her own car. Can someone with a larger vehicle give her a ride to transport it? (Two offers emerged immediately.)
- A treasure trove of unneeded items is offered free to the first takers in a rolling river of recycling: Pet food (someone’s picky cat wouldn’t eat it), children’s clothes (outgrown by the child of the offering party), an office chair, and on it goes. One has to move quickly to score on these offerings.
- On the more poignant side, touching my animal-loving heart deeply, one desperate neighbor urgently pleaded for help to get her 120-pound dog into the car for an emergency run to the veterinary clinic. By the time I read that one it had been resolved, helpers apparently arriving within minutes.
- Perhaps my favorite, for its time-honored status, was the neighbor who asked for three eggs. Baking for a big event, she had already been out once for additional supplies and hoped not to go back out again. Another neighbor responded promptly; his wife was on the way home from the grocery right then with eggs they could certainly share. The frantic cook graciously offered to pay, which he waved (virtually) off: “For heaven’s sake. It’s eggs.”
There is no illusion of Utopia here, and the occasional complaints flare up, with grousing about the property management company or the failing irrigation system, or one neighbor reporting another for parking on the sidewalk. One author identified as an administrator of the page recently announced that complaint posts would heretofore be banned, an interesting position to adopt for one who appeared to be a frequent past complainer. Ah, well. There are no requirements for logic.
And why, I wonder, take the time to thumb-type these requests on the ubiquitous phone, instead of walking across the street to knock and ask for eggs? Wouldn’t that be quicker? The answer comes to me faster than I can type the question; of course, the social network request reaches a much larger pool of potential egg suppliers. We are not Mayberry, after all, and one cannot assume that Aunt Bee resides just across the street with her fully-stocked larder.
As a newcomer to the city, the neighborhood, and its pattern of daily life, I’m sure I will wonder again, perhaps several times, if it really made sense at my stage in life to uproot for Something Completely Different. It’s always hard to be the new person, and surely in our latter years we understandably crave that which is known and reliable. So, I watch virtually while help is given and received, and commerce flows down the street and around the corner, taking comfort in the realization that the mechanism of expression may be new, but the spirit of neighborliness remains.
And eggs may be found, next time I run out. Because I nearly always do.