Was it really a whole year ago? It still doesn't seem possible.
On June 19, 2009, after nearly two years of preparation and seemingly unending months of anxiety brought on by an unfriendly national economy, Steve and I closed on the sale of our signature house in hyper-urban Arlington, Va., the one we'd spent 27 years re-creating into something that was ours alone. We picked up the cats, the fish, and the plants, and drove six hours straight south into a completely new life in deeply rural North Carolina. All we knew was that we were headed for a rental house and that our landlord would be the builder in whose hands we'd decided to trust the plans for our dream home by the water. Would we feel dislocated? Would we be accepted? Would the Klan burn a cross on our lawn? All of those questions crossed our minds. But we had each other, and we had the knowledge that up to then we'd been able to fit in anywhere. Heck, I'd spent two years of my life in Ghana, West Africa, the equivalent of another planet. If that dislocation didn't do me in, a move to the sticks would be more like re-locating to another house in the same neighborhood. Never did we feel we were making an unwise move. And a year later, we are all the more confident in the wisdom of our decision, and happy about it.
Oh, there have been changes in attitude. In my urban life you wouldn't have caught me dead or alive in a Wal-Mart, unless there was some bargain that simply couldn't go unheeded. Here, the Wal-Mart is the only big-box store for 60 miles in any direction. (There is a Lowe's nearby, thank goodness!) It stands in lonely grandeur on the outskirts of Elizabeth City, awaiting the mixed-use housing planned for its surrounds. It stands shining in the distance along with the strip mall that came with it, which includes a good pet store. Since this is the only such store for miles around, it must be many things to many types of people. It succeeds more than it fails.
Also in my previous life, I used to shop for food à l'européenne, making a daily trip to my beloved Harris-Teeter to be inspired by its gorgeous produce and wonderful meat selection for the day's dinner. Here, you can't go around any corner without running into a Food Lion--truly the Starbucks of the rural North Carolina, making up in utter ubiquity for it's complete lack of corporate style. I admit to an irrational prejudice against the chain, probably because of its name, which I find just stupid, thinking of it as an overgrown country store. (Capers are in the foreign food section, when you can get them. Fresh thyme was an unknown in the produce aisle until I asked for it.) But I shop there because the prices of this most base of basic selection can't be beat. There's a very nice store, a Harris-Teeter ripoff, called Farm Fresh in E. City. I go there for things like copper polish, Swiss chard or fennel bulbs, great cheeses, and my beloved Batampte pickles. I can even pick up kimchee there when my tastebuds so dictate. (And when it comes to produce, in the summer we are abundantly blessed with several farm stands to choose from.)
We do sorely miss a few things about the big city. Bed, Bath and Beyond is a marvelous place that seems downright miraculous upon entering one after a long absence. The occasional foray into Target. A Thai restaurant. (Mexican and Chinese are well represented, and there's even a Caribbean chop bar in Elizabeth City.) A selection of first-run movie theaters--we have to go all the way to the Outer Banks for a multiplex. Netflix has never been so welcome or necessary.
And we miss the proximity of our friends in Washington, but we don't miss the city itself. (Our best friends tend to be scattered all over the country, anyway, so being here doesn't make such big difference.) We miss the funky diversity of our Arlington neighborhood, but little by little we are learning where the weird people are down here--which is most certainly not among our lovely, well-meaning but totally homogeneous neighbors--we are the diversity in this little enclave, and they actually seem grateful for our presence. We are on a search for fellow-travelers and know they are out there. Meanwhile, our pink flamingos and the rainbow flag speak for themselves. What they may say to the literal-minded, camp-challenged locals is another story entirely--("all those flamingos...you guys really like the tropics, huh?") but we are making our statement.
We love looking at "our" creek every day, through the forest of cattails and bog flowers whose lives we made possible through the sweat of our backs. We love the starry nights, where the spilled-milk inspiration for the name of our galaxy is still visible. We love that through the good offices of a couple of very modest but pivotal people in our life here--our real estate agent and our builder--we have access to a network of first-rate craftspeople whose word is so good they don't even require contracts. When they say they will do something, they do it. It's a very high moral standard to live up to, and one reason the recent troubles with the home equity loan (finally resolved) were so distressing--it's not fair to make these good people wait so long for their due, since they have shown you such good faith. Where else could we be honored with such a tender obligation?
Most of all, even though we have not said it in so many words, Steve and I love that we have each other. Each of us made this life-changing adventure possible for the other. Without me, Steve would still be sitting in Arlington, stressing impotently over lost property values. Without Steve, his genius for design and his hands-on skills, my life would be far poorer and less filled with beauty. When it comes right down to it, that might be the best thing of all about this new life. With each other, we've seen without any doubt that we can do just about anything we set our minds to. We're coming up to 31 years next month. May the next 31 be half as good.