You Can Take the Boy out of the Country, but. . .

It looks like the measurements of a very odd-sized beauty queen: 21-10-35. In truth, it the scorecard on where I’ve lived and for how long. Twenty-one years in a Perry, a town of 400, ten years in Jacksonville as a college student and beginning teacher, then 35 years in Arenzville, the population of which depends upon whether the Trojans are playing football that night. And so now I’ve landed back in town, and although Jacksonville would hardly describe itself as a metropolis, its been enough of a sea change to throw me off my bearings a bit.

Honestly, I had my qualms. Leaving one of the most wonderful little villages in our area plus moving some distance from a lifetime of friendships was no easy decision. I was afraid that I’d forgotten how to live in town where the tornado warning didn’t consist of the fire department tearing down the street and shouting the alarm to the residents and where thousands of gallons of Burgoo makes a bigger stir than Christmas.

I wondered whether I’d have my town legs about me so on my third day in Jacksonville I met the trash collection fellows to apologize for the oversized load of moving refuse I’d piled in the front yard. A guy from Buster Sanitation hopped out of the truck with a broad smile and said, “Welcome to Jacksonville! Nice house!” Hey, this was a good start. We’d had a downpour the night before and I’m sure the guy had spent the morning manhandling soggy boxes, but still . . .that broad smile and a welcome.

I had no idea the amount of things I’d need to move into a new abode so the U.P.S. man became a regular. His greeting: “I wonder who bought this house! I live right over there!” and he pointed down the street. I was beginning to feel at home. My friend Marcy from Arenzville said that it will truly become your new home when you can walk through your house at night with the lights off. So far I’ve flunked this test. Someone has been moving my furniture while I’m sleeping. Note to self: wear slippers when rounding corners.

Although both Arenzville and Jacksonville are rife with wildlife, I’ll not much miss the possum that kept taking up residence under my porch without paying a dime of rent, and it’s nice to be in a place where the dogs are on leashes. I know that my former home had a leash law, but apparently Cass County dogs can’t read.

For the first week I kept getting places early, forgetting that I no longer had to drive twenty minutes to get there and made a promise to myself to not be like so many folks who show up late simply because they live nearby. I’m still enough of a country boy whereby the term “fashionably late” means “I’m a jerk.”

My brother has lived longer in the big town than I have so his first bit of advice was, “You need to put on pants when you’re in town.” I reminded him that I always make it a habit of being clothed, so he refined the suggestion a bit: “I mean around the house.” He had a point. Houses in Jacksonville tend to be a bit closer together. Of course this ran afoul of my earlier advice about walking through the house at night with the lights off. Do have to get dressed to go to the bathroom? “Pull the shades,” he said. Keith is so smart.

And I’ve heard it rumored that people in Jacksonville often lock their houses. When I bought my house in Arenzville it came with no key and it was only twenty years later that a tersely written letter from my insurance company advised me to install locks. I did so, and then threw the keys into my desk drawer. It seems an awful inconvenience to be locking and unlocking a house all the time so I was curious as to what my Jacksonville neighbors did. I was then advised that sitting in my car in front of their houses, watching to see whether they locked their house was not a good idea and in fact an awkward way to become ingratiated to the neighborhood.

It’s been an interesting transition and I know that in time I’ll get used to living in a town of over 500 people since I’m surrounded by around 19,000 people doing the same thing and they seem to doing just fine.

My friend down the street gave me a great idea. She told me that when she moved into our neighborhood she went a few doors in each direction and put a note in each of her new neighbor’s mailboxes simply saying that she’d be hosting an open house that Sunday at 2 p.m. and she’d love to meet everyone so please come. She suggested I do the same, so this morning I rose early, wrote the notes, and dropped them in each house on our block, inviting them to her house at 2 p.m. and I’d be there.

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