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Moving To A New Place Is Like Opening A Giant Jigsaw Puzzle

Being a newcomer is like opening a giant jigsaw puzzle with no picture on its box. One dumps it out, feeling overwhelmed by the confusion of the helter-skelter mountain of disconnected shapes.

But with a bit of patient searching, after a few false starts, one begins to fit together pieces until gradually a partial image emerges. Confidence grows that eventually enough straight edges can be found to construct a border that will hold together all that is revealed. 

After a year in Water Valley, I have snapped together a number of floating images and see part of that border as I continue to look for the crucial corners that anchor the whole undertaking of living in a new land. 

Of course, puzzle construction begins easily enough: the blues matching for an arc of sky, a few whiskers of orange shaping a naked lady flower, a scatter of white steeples mapping a town of churches. Before long people start to appear.

There is Mr. Michael Redwine cutting hair and rolling a permanent wave, Miss Linda Shuffield selling car tags and tallying property taxes, Mr. Bill Warren painting murals and a new restaurant sign, Ms. Kira Rutherford cooking red beans and rice for Monday lunch and Mr. Randy Simmons checking under the hood and getting a car back on the road.

Mr. Binnie Turnage stands on his platform counting prescription pills. Mr. David Howell reports the actions of elected officials. Mrs. Andi Epes insures trucks and a renter’s belongings. Doctor G adjusts spines and eases necks back in line. Mrs. Virginia Wood orders feed for cattle and carries Muck Boots to keep feet dry in wet weather. 

But what is the rest of the puzzle? What fills the remaining empty spaces? All transplants require time to adjust in a new environment, to test the waters before putting down roots. With my decision to stay on here for a second year, the adjustment period is well underway.

However, the lack of a picture on the puzzle box, the opportunity to form something as yet unseen, remains both exciting and frightening. Maybe I won’t like what’s shaping up. What if it doesn’t suit me?

After all, I am still a seasoned New Yorker who can take you uptown or downtown, from the East Side to the West Side of Manhattan, all on subway lines. I know how to order dim sum in Chinatown, paper-thin prosciutto on Mott Street, a bagel with a schmear from Barney Greengrass. 

Yes, I now know how to drive a tractor, identify cotton growing in the fields and eat pink-eyed-purple-hulled peas. I have learned to kill mice and dodge snakes, pump gas and drive myself through the carwash, recognize both a rat rod and a ripe watermelon.

Such skills are interesting enough standing alone but will the shrinking pile of puzzle pieces come together to fill the still remaining spaces with a full life in this new place?

A newcomer needs a few firm beliefs for support during this time of ongoing construction and fortunately, I have a few: I always land on my feet, always find people who interest me, always discover something I didn’t know the day before. 

These beliefs hold me upright as I continue to fit together the puzzle pieces of a life in Water Valley, Mississippi. 

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