There are some challenges and peculiarities to moving back to your wife’s hometown, especially when her family has been here for over 140 years. I quickly realized that she can trump me hard on recognizing places and people.
For the first six months after we moved into the new house it was a regular experience to go out — anywhere, anytime — and she would talk to, or at least point out, three people she recognized. Some were her school friends, others had business, church or social connections to her parents and a few were descendants of families linked to her grandparents or great-grandparents.
On a subconscious level that may be why I went out and joined the band and found some new circles of friends so fast. That really wasn’t necessary when I was in the Army. Connecting with a large group of people with common interests and experiences was almost automatic, or, if you will, on order.
Now that I’m near the three-year point in town it’s fun to turn the tables and introduce the settlers’ descendant to my new friends and show her new driving short-cuts. One new habit has been announcing familiar-sounding names of people that either of us reads in the newspaper.
A few days ago this taught me a new lesson. For the first time one of the names and faces on the obituary page was someone whom I had met, and who was not connected to the in-laws.
I had to re-read this lady’s story several times. The details were enlightening and obliterated some of the unspoken assumptions that I had made following only casual introductions. Her careers, family details and volunteer distinctions from 79 years of life were all encapsulated into less than 200 words.
She often sat next to me in a handful of community meetings over these past few years. I guess we were mischievous and whispered questions and answers to each other when someone else had the floor. She would tug on my sleeve, I would lean towards her, carefully listen and then either nod in agreement or offer a reply.
Usually, she shook my hand walking towards the door and thanked me for talking with her. Maybe, and it pains me that I can’t remember for sure, at that last public forum in October she gave me a hug and a grandmotherly peck on the cheek. Certainly these are not substantial memories, nor are they connected to momentous events. But I think they speak to the realities of friendships and the building of a sense of belonging to a community.
Without my interest in community activities and the pursuit of the answers to questions of how my tax dollars are being spent, I doubt that I would have otherwise crossed paths with this lady. In retrospect I see that she set an example of volunteerism and community activity that we are all encouraged to follow. It’s a good thing that I have several more good decades ahead of me because considering the details of her resume, it may take that long to catch-up.