Drizzle sprinkled the windshield as we drove down some new-to-us roads in our new town. Farms and fields were left and right peppered with Carolina pines and the occasional remnants of old, persistent barns. Small mobile homes and large brick houses, all with well-manicured lawns and straight mailboxes appeared once in a while, and churches stood short and tall while they welcomed and invited.
I woke up this morning and felt the cool air come through the window into my bedroom, a nice break from the heavy thickness that has been lingering around town lately. I breathed it in and allowed it to turn into the feelings of autumn. My eyes remained closed as it speared its way through my mind with images of pumpkins and sweaters, until it found my basket of reasoning right next to my closet of rationale. At that, my eyes snapped open and panic set in. Again. Still.
These next few months will be quite full. I am merely expelling my growing inner concern and simple nervousness about wanting it all to fall into place. I’d love to sleep at night.
(Wow this feels good.)
I don’t hate it in Massachusetts. We simply don’t fit in and that’s OK. So, we’re off to North Carolina, where we belong. Where my Tyler is. Home.
I own a house in Southampton, MA. It’s a gorgeous 1800’s farmhouse that needs love. It will need to be cleaned and sold and I don’t see how that will even work with us living here. Have you met us? Have you met David? He’s loud.
Also, as I look at the place from a different perspective like from a mother of a darling little lacy girl, or the cleanest queen of Pinterest, I worry. I begin to notice, more, the hand prints on the ceiling from when Baylee finally could touch it with a spry jump. He keeps testing that theory, and so do the others (maybe me, too). Also, apparently when one walks up or down the stairs, the white walls are irresistible to the smear. If you have boys, you know what smear is.
I also see the gobs of dog hair that were missed by Max’s daily big-brooming. There are the most charming slants here or there in the house, a marble’s delight, possibly from being here for about 150 years. Also, our forsythia bush is overgrown because in the winter “the animals in there will be cold” and in the summer “but what if they have babies in there” so now it’s a giant mass of green waving vegetation. I realize this will be quite the job.
I love this house and its quirky angles and very wild wildlife. It’s eccentric with its whimsical creaking doors and out-of-place scent of lilac in the winter. I listen at night to the packs of coyotes traveling along the game trail, and I will miss locking eyes with a bear or young deer while I hang towels on the line. But, it’s time, and we need to work.
Sammy is going to finish his degree in a hybrid environment as an environmental science major. I am overwhelmed with pride for this kid, and I know he can push through it, all while he maintains his position as my sweet listener.
Max will enter into his sophomore year of college which will be remote and is also learning to drive, and (oh yeah) he still has to decide where he wants to go next semester in NC.
Baylee, the youngest who just turned fourteen will be learning remotely if it’s allowed. Otherwise, we will find the right program for him to enter into homeschooling.
I will also enter into my last semester at Westfield State, and have tacked an internship on to that. During that time I will also be looking for a job. A job. I’ve stayed home with the boys all these years, so, yikes to the second power.
Why not wait until next spring? Because we already did that once and here we are. We are ready now and we want to leave as soon as we can. Baylee will be schooling from home so that part won’t matter. I am hoping to work remotely, and Sammy has that option as well.
Palms sweating again.
I dip deeply into my brain’s little knock-off purse with sequined hunter holly leaves and shiny red berries. In it are what Christmas could look like if we pull this all off. I go there when I need some supplemental energy. It tastes like peppermint and smells like a deep green Frasier fir that’s littered with tinsel and Popsicle sticks with dried Elmer’s. Roger’s village will be up no matter where we are, in a camper or cabin, on a mantel or the floor. I keep those hopes tucked away in the sequined purse because they can’t roam freely. It’s mine to look at when I allow myself to. My own little syrupy pill that helps me sleep.
I don’t care what the house we’re in looks like. We may rent until this place sells or buy something cheap in the mountains that we will live in temporarily. All we need is a place that has no cockroaches, no neighbors or ones who love roosters, and room enough for each of us to have our own little space.
I see us wearing brand new pajamas from Old Navy with prints like snowflakes or Superman. We will feast on something with white gravy or chocolate sauce, and soak in our brandnewness. I almost can’t handle that day already, but it’s all I want. It’s what we need.
When I moved from Massachusetts to North Carolina in 1995, I worked at Helen’s Kitchen, a country restaurant in Jacksonville, where I learned about the different foods offered in my new military town. I also was taught how to speak the Southern food language, and to appreciate the culinary differences between my two home states.
If you say, “I’ll have tea,” in MA, you will be served with a steaming cup of hot tea. Sometimes it will come with a tiny metal pitcher of hot water with the little thumb tab. Tink. Other times, it will come in a large Styrofoam cup with a lid, tea bag dangling off to the side displaying your preference. Green?
In NC if you say, “tea, please,” you will get a large glass of iced tea, sweetened with a syrup made on the stove with sugar, water, and love. A request for hot tea in NC must be specified, and unsweet tea should be asked for quietly. Sweet tea can be quite the cure for too much Jack Daniels the night before, and will repair wooziness from low blood sugar or heartbreak. People drink sweet tea daily with their country ham, chicken and pastry, or even while they nibble on a pig’s thinker.
“What are brains and eggs?” I asked my friend, Opal. Only once.
“Honey, they’re brains and eggs,” she answered, amused.
“Like real brains?” I asked.
“Yes, hog brains,” she laughed.
Brains were the most delicate pink, as expected, and came in a small can. The cooks would mound them up high on a plate next to a heaping gob of bright yellow scrambled eggs. Usually, the consumer would mix the eggs and brains, and the soft mixture didn’t require much chewing, unlike the empty hot dogs that were served, also known as chitlins.
Chitlins, or chitterlings, is another food I had to get used to the scent of. They are made with hog intestines and when they were on special, their pungent scent would dance around the restaurant all day long. They were usually dressed with red pepper flakes and people would put extra vinegar on top of the heap. I remember holding the plate steady so the jiggly, brown chunks wouldn’t slide off onto the floor. If one piece wanted to jump off the plate, a quick flick-of-the-wrist would place it gently back with the rest.
Let’s fix our grossed-out brains:
Helen’s also turned us on to biscuits, sausage-gravy, tangy, vinegar-based pulled pork, and hush puppies. After many failures, and burnt biscuits, I learned.
There are many foods from North Carolina I practiced then added to my mind’s cookbook that are considered favorites of me and my sons. I now make skillet corn bread, the creamiest macaroni and cheese with a spicy topping, and one of our favorite foods from NC, banana pudding.
The following recipe is for a dessert that is requested quite often for special occasions or by the most cherished visitors, like my niece, Shyla. It is always in a very large, heavy bowl, surrounded by happy people and sometimes colored eggs or decorated winter pine. It has served well as a weapon in a food fight, and tastes the best in the middle of the night with only the fridge light to illuminate the delicious sweetness. After many attempts at making it perfect, I finally came up with the most decadent recipe.
Recipes for banana pudding can vary, and I have perfected mine through years of observing and trying different ingredients. Simple is best.
My Banana Pudding
(You will want to at least double this.)
1 block of cream cheese, 8 ounces, softened
I large container of frozen whipped topping, thawed *
I small can sweetened condensed milk, 8 ounces
1 box of instant banana pudding mix (or vanilla then add 1 tsp. of banana extract)
2 cups whole milk
1 box of vanilla wafer cookies
A few bananas
Beat cream cheese, sweetened condensed milk, pudding mix, and milk until the lumps are mostly gone. Fold in half of the whipped topping. Once that is incorporated, add half the box of wafers, not crushed. (The wafers will absorb the flavors.) Once mixed, carefully place the rest of the whipped topping neatly on top of the rest. Layer with the remaining wafers. The bananas can be added to the main mixture or the top, but any leftover (I laugh) pudding will turn brown quickly if bananas are in it. I usually add them right before serving, or sometimes not at all.
*Normally, I would say to use homemade (or even canned) whipped cream, but in this case, tradition dictates the use of whipped topping.