Nearly two years have gone by since I wrote on my old blog about not fitting in up in Beantown. Looking back on those words, I can happily report some things have changed, like this: “They way they chat with each other, their sociability, everything is slightly altered. I often feel as though I’m missing some kind of non-verbal cue during conversations with strangers. Interesting but exhausting too.”
After living here four years, I am fluent in Mass-speak. I don’t quite think like a local but I at least get them, and I can even dish out the ‘tude on occasion. I can’t adequately express how comforting that can be. An intriguing side effect of this knowledge is that I now relate to my grandfather, who’s from up here, on another level. When I was visiting them in Florida last week, I made soup for my grandparents. Carrying the jars out to the garage freezer with me, he says, “What am I supposed to do with all this soup?” and without skipping a beat, I snap back, “Eat it,” in a way I never would have before. He laughed! Who knew?
My tolerance for snow is remarkable, if I do say so myself, which is good because it appears we are getting MORE this weekend, Lawdy be. When the first big snow dump came two weeks ago, I took the kids sledding by myself, something I couldn’t have imagined doing three years ago. Back then I remember watching a dad at the top of the hill let his tiny kids go down on their own and thinking, I will never do that. But now I do it too, and I find myself cracking jokes with the other parents, laughing as we “bowl for teens” who are so busy chatting at the bottom that they can’t seem to be bothered to look up.
On the other hand, I will never adjust to some aspects of life here, like this: “People are pugnacious in an almost laughable way—picture Mark Wahlberg talking to animals, and you get it. Sometimes I LOL at how it seems like they are all looking to have their next fight.”
I could have written that today, y’all. Here’s a story I am always telling. I encounter one stop sign five days a week; it’s at a busy intersection where I need to take a left and usually have to wait a bit. I’d say roughly a third of the time I get honked at, and I mean cars can be whizzing by in both directions, or traffic can be at a dead stop, but someone will still lay on the horn. It is all I can do, Reader, not to jump out of my car and say, “WHAT?!” Of course I won’t, but…
Back when Nate and I graduated college, we left behind the close-mindedness, zealotry, and stubborn clinging to the past that we thought were prevalent in the antiquated south. Together we fled for the progressive great beyond of anywhere but there. I missed my family but not my roots. I didn’t identify myself as a southerner, and I longed to find out whether I belonged somewhere else.
When I left town, a central conflict of my life melted away; the mortification I felt about southerners’ attitudes about race and class gradually lifted to reveal the warm and loving embrace of no-nonsense Midwestern ideals. Over the next decade, we moved to Washington, DC, to England and back, and on to Massachusetts. Rather than formulating a new identity, I discovered that by leaving the south, I became more southerner than ever. I hadn’t fit in down south, but I didn’t exactly blend in with the north either.
These days, while I’m not exactly the Prodigal Daughter, I can see myself returning home again. I surprise even myself by loving southern charms I had once forsaken: humility, patience, charity, preservation of history (& food!), and frugality. And somehow, even with the roughly 4 feet of packed snow out my back window, I can see myself staying here too. Maybe to get along anywhere, all I need to do is persevere with humor and (awkward) grace. What I’ve learned in this experience of attempted transfiguration is that I shouldn’t to try to make them love me. If I accept even the troubled parts of myself, I’ll love wherever I live.