When the shock and awe of relocation comes full circle, you know you’ve found your way home.
Last month, my husband, whom I call Mr. Beasley (long story), was pulled over for speeding. At least, this is what the officer told him. In reality, my husband was driving with the flow of traffic—in a station wagon with New York plates. Amidst the teeny backwoods hamlet we were traveling through, that’s an offense far more grave than suffering a lead foot.
“You’re lucky you didn’t end up in jail!” local friends gasped when apprised of the stop.
Though we relocated to the South a year ago, Mr. Beasley has maintained his New York residency. This has less to do with vehicular technicalities than the fact that he is stuck in stage three of the “four stages of moving” paradigm. The stages, for those unacquainted, are much like those for grief or marriage, the last of course being acceptance. My husband—California bred and New York educated—has of late been struggling to find himself in an “acceptance” space.
This is not to say he doesn’t care for the South. He does. His kin hailed from Texas, and many still reside in Houston and Amarillo, cities they love, as Texans do, with shattering devotion. He has logged short stints in Louisiana and North Florida. And it was his idea to move to East Tennessee, a region he found creatively inspiring and bracing in its natural beauty. It didn’t hurt that Mr. Beasley has been in love with local icon Dolly Parton for nearly four decades and is convinced that one day he will spot her in the grocery, picking out cheese. Of course, this was all during stage one of moving: “This place is so awesomely different!” (It should be noted that stage one applies to the South more than any other location outside of Mumbai, especially for folks used to things like taxis, nor’easters, and Barneys sample sales.)
Stage two hit eight months into the relocation: “Back home, we do it this other way.” For my spouse, “this other way” could be boiled down to anything having to do with speed.
Folks in Tennessee are not in what one would ever mistake for a hurry. They walk slowly. They drive slowly. They talk slowly. During stage one, this was charming.
“Did you know the bank teller’s daughter is majoring in criminal psychology and that her sister is totally the bonkers one, just like her aunt Sylvia, who shot that guy for breaking her mailbox?” Mr. Beasley would say after running three errands in four hours.
The allure of the leisurely tempo faded, replaced by a chorus of “Why?”s familiar to anyone with a toddler.
“Why is this dude driving in the left lane?”
“Why can’t she just ring up my eggs without telling me about her Weight Watchers points?”
“Why is this taking so long?”
“Why did we move here at all?”
And thus was born stage three: the reckoning, aka, “This sucks.”
To be fair, moving does. Starting over is hard in any place (never mind one that is literally making you slow down via law enforcement). You have to find childcare. And fresh medical practitioners, which may or may not include a shrink after you can’t secure reliable childcare. Add the tricky social web that is the Southern pecking order and the oft-capricious regional communication wherein “Don’t you just love her?” really means “Don’t you just wish she would trip into the river?” and what’s a poor, straightforward, California sunbucket to do?
“I am starting to feel like I don’t know what is going on, ever,” Mr. Beasley lamented not long ago of his Dixie-induced, Matrix-like fugue. He was feeling like Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole, surrounded by peculiar, oddly speaking characters in a tea party that never ended.
Which is about right, really.
“We embrace nonsense here,” I explained. “Southerners take no issue with absurdity. We don’t pretend the world is logical or fair. If there were a signature regional gesture it would be a shrug. For us, crazy happens. Better to sit back, enjoy the show, and drink the tea.”
Recently, my spouse said that while walking home he’d seen “a pit bull with a parrot on its head, a teenager picking banjo, and an amateur wrestling match in the dry cleaner’s parking lot.”
“One guy was wearing a sequined mask!” he marveled, clearly pleased.
And there it was. The commencement of the last stage: “I think I could live here.” He was on his way to becoming the best sort of Southerner there is—a Southerner by choice.
Allison Glock misses biscuits, banjos, and pickles any time she leaves the South. Especially the pickles.