When I pulled into Water Valley last July, my plan was to take a year to see if a retired woman use to the city life could settle in, find her way in a small southern town.
Fond of nature and baby girls, it was natural to wax and wane poetic about the fields, the sky and little Maggie Wood. But when troubles start and hurdles crop up, as they inevitably do, poetry disappears.
My bout of troubles came with the meanness of poison ivy and the death of the starter on my car.
Of course, these are not unsolvable situations nor even serious ones in the great scheme of life. But when you have lived in the same place for 50 years, solutions are known, they await your bidding on speed dial.
In New York a call to AAA and a ten-minute wait would bring help to my door. Although I still have its phone number, I would have to wait for a AAA truck to come down from Southhaven or up from Jackson. In New York I had a daughter to cook my dinner and offer comfort when my hands oozed poison ivy. Although I still have the daughter, she is a thousand miles away.
Recently I sat on the curb in my yellow pants in front of my dead car trying not to scratch. While I had every confidence that my car would again start and that the poison ivy would tire of making me miserable and move on, I wanted home and the familiar. But like my daughter, all of that was a thousand miles away.
Homesickness is a recurring part of starting over in a new place. It flares up over anything, from a missing flavor of ice cream or a missing child to a missing stretch of beach. Sitting in the sun wondering why I had ever left New York, I was missing a mechanic named Joe.
While considering what steps to take to deal with my plight, Water Valley’s own A-team pulled up. They popped the hood and listened to the car crank. Odie and Linda Shuffield hauled out jumper cables, tried this and that, then made a no-nonsense diagnosis.
“Need a wrecker. Got to get it up, see what’s going on. Think it’s the starter,” said Odie. “Call Randy Simmons. He’ll tow it. He’ll know what to do.” My car was soon sighted riding high over the rise on Blackmur Street on its way to Simmons Garage. Randy quickly had things sorted out and parts ordered; Gwen kindly called with updates.
As for the poison ivy, I am no stranger to its blisters and its wrath. In New York I often tangled with it and once even ended up at the doctor’s for shots and prescriptions. A wise old pharmacist at the chemist’s (that’s what we call small drugstores in New York) told me it would last two weeks with the shots, 14 days without them.
I accepted my current fate but did whine to anyone who would listen. While I paid for a small sage plant, Debbie Fly at O’Tuck’s told me to go to Turnage’s for an oatmeal soak. A neighbor, Carol Moser, sent me to Fred’s for Iverest. Virginia Wood provided a piece of poison ivy defying soap. And a woman whose name I don’t know heard my lament in line at Larson’s and recommended apple cider vinegar.
Water Valley people pitched in and saw me through my troubles. Although still itchy, I have a row of antidotes lined up in the bathroom. My car once again eagerly turns over, ready for the open road. Even my homesickness has faded for now.
As with most of my southern experiences, I learned something new. When I caught a glimpse of my dirty engine, I inquired about steam cleaning but found it wasn’t available in Water Valley.
“Oh,” I was told, “just get a can of Lemon Pledge and a soft rag. Your engine will look like new.”
And so it does.