In 2004 I traveled to Phoenix to help my brother John move into a safer place to live. When I arrived, I learned that he had been murdered a few hours before I arrived. My sister and I had a very strange dinner that night. This is from What’s My Zip Code?, my ebook about my brother:
Dinner on Thursday night had the surreal quality of many of our experiences in Phoenix. We drove around looking for a suitable place to eat, finally settling on a neighborhood sports bar and burger place featuring Mexican food. There Candy and I talked about home, which seemed much farther than 2,000 miles away. We discussed what was going on with our kids – her ongoing divorce maneuvers and the health and marriages of my sons and stepkids. All very normal. We did not say much about John. On one television screen above the bar basketball players ran up and down the floor. On another, people sat behind a desk and reported the news. The waitress was pleasant and cheerful. Life was going on. Except it wasn’t.
I was reminded of the “two Americas” that is so much a part of political conversation: the world of the middle class (and up) to which our family belongs, and the world of poverty, schizophrenia, street people, druggies, convicts and ex-convicts into which my brother John had descended. But those are not the two worlds that mattered. There is the world of the living and the world of the dead.
Lots of talk these days about how we are a divided nation. True, I suppose, but we’ll see how it plays out.
I am recently experiencing another version of “two Americas”: the north and the south. Kim and I were shopping in Michigan shortly after moving from Florida. I wandered off into the aisle that featured international food, conveniently flagged with signs that read “Middle Eastern,” “Mexican,” “German,” “Asian” and the like. I was surprised to discover a section labeled “Southern,” where I found such exotic items as grits, coffee with chicory in it, and jambalaya in a can. When you are in Michigan, the South is foreign.
I never really became a Southerner. Florida is not part of the South the way Georgia or Mississippi are, and Gainesville, as a university town, even less so. I made a few adjustments, including getting used to a somewhat slower pace – though my retirement might be part of that – waitresses calling me “darlin,’” and seeing dogs riding around in the back of pickup trucks. And while I was working in Starbucks in Gainesville, I frequently caught myself asking customers, “Where y’all from?”
And now we are moving further north, and I have to make more adjustments to my new America.
· Traverse City, we were told, averages between 150 and 200 inches of snow each winter. (I trust it does not all come on the same day.) For those of you who are mathematically challenged, that’s about 15 feet of the white stuff. I may have to get some boots and some serious mittens. Of course, our condo complex has some great restaurants we can reach without going outdoors.
· Hunting is big in Northern Michigan. I know it’s big lots of places, North and South, but people go Up North specifically to hunt. I’ve done a bit of hunting on my own, but when I hunt, I use google or amazon.com. In an effort to adjust, I now wear orange when on the internet.
· I never did like grits. I do like pasties. (Look it up.) This will be an easy adjustment.
· As I boasted in a previous post, I successfully said “bear” as the plural of “bear.” I’m not sure this is a northern thing, but I still feel pretty good about it.
· I am contemplating the toys I will need up here:
o an axe for splitting firewood
o definitely a snow blower
o perhaps a plow and a vehicle to put it on
o no snowmobile
o possibly some snowshoes (as an antique dealer bought my cross country skis at our garage sale)
o a warmer coat, as “layering” gets ridiculous after certain level
o a funny-looking winter hat (not a toy, I know)
o chain saw (got one!)
o fabric to clip on over my car’s windshield to eliminate ice scraping (got it!).
Despite all these changes, I think people will always be able to tell that I grew up in the Connecticut suburbs and then taught high school English and wrote poetry in a university town. I come from a different America.
I have long recognized that Kim is a one-of-a-kind. As are my kids, stepkids and grandkids. All of which suggests that there are more than two or three Americas, and what’s most important is not how we differ but rather than we are all in the world of the living, so let’s get on with it.
Please excuse the mental drift in this post. We are moving into our new home, and we have boxes to unpack.
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