Sometimes it feels like I’ve tumbled through the looking-glass into my life. It seems like I’ve traveled eons from my childhood to end up here, and at times I scratch my head and wonder what on earth happened. But even though I couldn’t picture myself in these surroundings, I seem to have bumbled my way into a life that actually feels like home.
I grew up a navy brat. (I got jumped on in a chat room once for this. If you’re not military, that’s a term of endearment among us military kids. No disrespect intended.) I was born overseas but was back in the states before I started school; almost all of my memories are from after we settled on the east coast. The average stay in one place is two to three years so I moved around a lot, though not as much as a lot of military kids do. My dad had two postings that allowed him back-to-back rotations, and this let us stay in those places longer. My parents like to describe how we’d move into a new neighborhood and I’d start knocking on doors, asking if they had anyone “my size” to play with. I don’t remember this myself; actually, the thought makes me feel a bit nauseated now so I must have been much more adventurous as a tot, but when you have to build a new set of friends every time you move then I guess you do what you have to do.
Anyway, for obvious reasons we always lived in large cities. Not “city” as in New York city, but large military communities where people were constantly moving in and out according to their orders. These were big, anonymous places where everybody went about their lives with whatever group of friends they made while they lived there. My entire life was like this, right up until the move my senior year of high school when we relocated to a small New England town south of Boston. Now that was a shock to the system, but it’s for another post. Even the college I chose was huge: given the choice between William and Mary (a wonderful school, but I kept thinking “it’s so small!”) and the University of Virginia, I naturally gravitated toward the large university. This was another enormous community, one where you found a niche of friends and settled in.
It was during college that life took a sharp turn. I’ve already mentioned I met BrightSide in school. At his core he’s just a really good person and I was drawn to that, despite the fact that we were from such different backgrounds. He grew up in a very small town (of about 5,000 people) and had family roots in rural North Carolina. His grandparents were farmers and had made their living off the land all their lives. I had no frame of reference for this, but it didn’t matter once I fell in love with the guy. Whenever we’d run across some crazy difference between us we’d just laugh, and I’d think how boring my life would be if I was with someone who was exactly like me.
I worked for a year out of college before we got married, and right after the honeymoon we moved to St. Louis so he could work at his company’s headquarters. THIS was someplace I could relate to — huge, anonymous, and nobody knows your business unless you bring them into your circle of trust. I grew up kind of big on the whole circle of trust concept. Maybe it’s a military instinct to keep things private, I don’t know, but let’s just say I was more comfortable knowing I could go to the grocery store without necessarily running into five people who wanted to talk. We always knew this would be temporary, though…eventually BS wanted to open his own office, and his company places those in small towns or cities.
Before I knew it, we found ourselves talking locations. And when I mean “location,” I actually mean “place you would like to live for the rest of your life, forever and ever, amen.” Gee, no pressure there, especially for a girl who’d bounced around her entire life. The thought of picking a place and actually setting down roots was somewhat terrifying, but the time had come.
And with decision time came the dance of negotiation and compromise that makes a marriage work. There were options available in towns like the one BS grew up in, but no matter how hard I tried to imagine it I simply couldn’t picture myself living in a town so small that everybody knew who I was. BS couldn’t wrap his brain around what was wrong with this concept; I couldn’t process what it would be like to always have my life be so, well, public. Conversely, BS had no interest in choosing a larger city for our permanent home. We’d spent our time in St. Louis and that was great, but he’d had his fill of the traffic and people and noise. So we met in the middle — looking for a moderately sized town with access to larger cities nearby. Coincidentally, an office came open in North Carolina, a location where his extended relatives live today and is only 30 minutes from where his grandparents’ farm had been. It was a perfect fit.
I won’t say there wasn’t an adjustment period. People know BrightSide (or his family) here. They remember your name after they meet you — I realize normal people actually look for this quality in a place to live, but it’s hard to stop wanting to be anonymous when you have so many years of practice under your belt. I found that sometimes I did run into people I knew at the store, but sometimes I didn’t so eventually I got used to it. Probably the hardest part was handling a feeling that was so reminiscent of my childhood: being the new kid. There’s no avoiding the feeling of being an outsider, and it’s harder as an adult in a nonmilitary community where staying put is the norm. The only thing that will fix that is time, though, and it has indeed gotten better over the years.
So here I am…a navy brat from everywhere, experienced in frequent moves and being as invisible as possible, living in what my younger self would have described as a fish bowl. I actually know people and (gasp) they know me. I have friendships that have lasted longer than five years now, and getting involved in a church or community cause means a long-term commitment. Cows and horses have become an everyday part of my life. My house backs up to a field and woods, with nary a house in sight, and I drive past farmhouses and pastures on the way to…well…everywhere. It’s lots of nature. And what people around here call “good folks.”
It’s a great place to call home.