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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.

 

 

 

 

If you ever feel compelled to examine your lifestyle in one rapid, unmerciful snapshot—a picture that unveils your purchasing habits, your eating patterns, your organizational skills, your housecleaning talents, your virtues or vices as a pet parent and neighbor—consider moving to a new home.  By the time you get out (or should we say get away?), there is nothing about your personal life that will escape full display for those involved in moving logistics.  One has to stiffen the backbone, and get ready, or face imminent collapse from embarrassment.

One small scene in the tragic comedy of my recent move was staged in the kitchen, a week or so before the trucks were coming.  I sought my wise daughter’s advice on what to pack and what to toss, and the kitchen loomed large in the pack/purge opportunity equation.  As the scene opens, she is diving into the spice cabinet.

In a kindly tone, she tries to divert my view from the initial evidence, as though gently turning the face of a small child from a doctor holding sterilized, steel implements used to stitch up that gashed lip.  “Don’t look, Mom, just toss it,” she instructs, passing me a bottle of slightly greenish/beige-ish oregano leaves, nudging me slightly and pointing to the trash can.

Right.  I reside among those tortured souls who are constitutionally incapable of accepting such instructions.  When told not to look, I immediately do. What do you mean, don’t look?  I ask, more curious than ever. Why wouldn’t I look?

She responds calmly, without judgment, to my query.  “That one expired a while back,” she says, keeping her eyes on task at hand, her back to me.  I laser in: How long is awhile?  “2010,” comes the steady answer, the speaker still avoiding my eyes, possibly laughing silently where I can’t see it.

Let’s pause here and nibble on this in for a moment.  That’s an entire, complete, recorded-in-the-books decade past expiration date.  Ten years since the tiny, (originally) green, fragrant leaves were deemed too old to do their job in soups, lasagna, or whatever culinary effort they might have adorned, when at their peak and ready to do their flavorful best.

Rocking at this revelation, I froze for a strange moment as those 10 years streaked precariously past the window of the mind’s eye.  For a decade, the oregano sat patiently in position on the spice rack, half-empty and technically retired, but still available to deliver its life’s mission should a middlin’ cook like me fail to notice the difference.  You’d win a bet if you wagered that I had used the contents much more recently. How long since I thought to check the spice cabinet?  Candidly, did I know spices actually expired?*  What transpired in that kitchen, in that house, in the lives that intersected there, in those vanished years?

I squinted, looking away and remembering.  A decade of blessing and tragedy, the bizarre and the humdrum.  Two deaths in my family, my beloved younger sister and my cherished father.  Joining memories of shattering heartbreak with those of indescribable joy, the two youngest lights of my life, a splendid grandson and his fabulous younger sister, arrived in that decade.  New career opportunities transpired, after other ones proved painful disappointments.  Dear friends gathered around my table, as often as I could manage it.  Surely, on balance, they were 10 years that shared the same human peaks and valleys lived by so many.

Still, it was a life that did not require enough oregano to finish one lonely little bottle.

Seeking a better understanding of this Aging Herb Question, I made my way to the website of the venerable McCormick & Company, the world’s largest purveyor of spices, the ones with the red labels we all know.  Behold, a section on How to Revive Old Spices!  Alas, never mind:  Its solutions revive those products that are “fading but not ancient.”

There was nothing for it but the trash can, and the thud of the containers hitting the side of the metal rings out with increasing speed as we pull out the remaining contents of the cabinet.  A contest develops as we check the dates on each. I am proud (or despairing, depending on your perspective) to prevail, if you can call it that, with a box of cinnamon sticks that expired in 2005.  Might have used those for holiday potpourri, I speculate as I fling the tiny red metal box toward its grave.  Must not have been worth the effort to make again the next holiday season; who knows, 15 years later?

The renowned McCormick experts are not above injecting a little relationship coaching into their spice advice.  Cleary, the challenge of “using up the spices” is global in scope, with many members in the family of us failures.

Honor the spices in your life, they advise, as if describing an unexpected inheritance or your grandmother’s precious china, by using them.  “Enjoy some spice love!  Don’t be shy when reaching for the curry powder or the allspice.”

Spice Love?  (And personally, I wouldn’t sprinkle allspice on the soup bowl of my worse enemy.) I will settle for avoiding further Spice Shame, while thanking my lucky stars that only my discreet daughter was there to witness it.  Many souls observed my other Moving Humiliations, like the charming young crew chief who encouraged me discreetly to vacuum the rug before he rolled it up, and the supportive friend who said nothing while wiping the detritus of a rotted green pepper out of the bottom of the vegetable drawer. But the Spice Shame is a secret my daughter and I can safeguard forever, a family secret to savor, you might say.

*Vanilla extract and salt, according to McCormick, are the only spices with indefinite life span.  If you knew that already, your culinary knowledge far exceeds many of us.  Would love an invitation to dinner at your convenience.