A milestone has been reached. A year has passed since my furniture, tired from travel and with chair skirts rumbled, slid into new arrangements in new rooms at a new address on Lafayette Street in Water Valley, Mississippi.
Disoriented and with a dazed expression, I began my trial year as a transplant from Long Island.
During my early days I met Mr. Charles Sharp over pancakes with the Lions Club and he told me what was needed to live in a small town in the South. First was the advice of his mother. If you want to have friends, be a friend. Second, if I needed something, I was to let people know. And, maybe most importantly, to get on here, Mr. Sharp said, I had to be able to take a joke.
I filed his advice away as I dug in my toes and hung on by my New York fingernails.
Now Northerners are calling. What’s the verdict? Yes, Mississippi. No, Mississippi. While the year has ended, the outcome remains unclear. As much as I had a well-thought-out plan, as in all of life, decisions are hardly cut and dried.
Every so often I have made an attempt to simplify things, like selling my house, giving away my snow shovel, discarding excess pots and pans. At my age, I believed that I needed to settle into a place of final destination. But as so often happens, over the long haul, these streamlining efforts lead to greater complications.
The gains and losses fill long columns, one day tipping north when I miss a child’s birthday and want a new dress, another day leaning south when I drive miles through the Delta and listen to Mike Redwine’s rapid-fire delivery telling me his fear of finding the deer bush-hogging his lovely impatient plants.
Meanwhile, I have grown comfortable in my old rented house with its long distances from here to there and its odd inconveniences. The owners of the big gardens bordering the yard allow me to walk up and down their rows to pick a ripe tomato and a handful of beans for my supper.
Saturday nights I sit with new friends at the Nativity Church; Sunday mornings many at the Everdale Baptist Church greet me by name. The Shuffield family took me in for their Fourth of July at the lake where next-door neighbor Toni Hill fed me homemade banana ice cream.
The solidarity and continuity of this small town has enriched my understanding of America. I feel fortunate that by chance I landed here and was told its ways by Mr. Sharp.
And I feel equally fortunate for the weeks I waken in the morning and slip off to sleep in the big town. New York with its high-strung disposition, its confusion and congestion, its noise and grit, fills my imagination, my awareness of continuing possibilities no matter how long I linger in this life.
So I tell my friends that I am not ready to return. The Watermelon Festival is coming, the dahlias are in bloom and my landlord just hung elegant black lantern lights on the front porch.
For now I will be an occasional commuter. I have figured out the parking at the Memphis airport, have a fistful of keys for my New York lodging and know the roads back to Water Valley.