Small Town, Georgia, Girl

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           I have a new baseball cap that labels me as exactly who I am. It says “Small Town Girl”. It has a map of Georgia embroidered on it with a star designating my approximate location in the state. It was a gift, and I love it!

I guess I’ve always been a small town girl, even though I was born in Piedmont Hospital in downtown Atlanta, Georgia, in 1948. But even though I was born in a large hospital in Georgia’s capital city, I never claimed Atlanta as my own.

I grew up in Decatur, Georgia, which during the 50s and 60s was indeed a small town. We were six miles from downtown Atlanta, which to the child that I was seemed like an awfully long way from home. It was too far to walk, so we had to take the trolley if we wanted to go downtown to go shopping at Rich’s. My mother didn’t drive a car, meaning that most of our shopping was done right there in Decatur. It was when Mama needed patterns and fabric to make clothes for my sister and me that we dressed up like we were going to Sunday School, hopped on the trolley near the Decatur train station three blocks from our house, and spent the entire day downtown, getting off the trolley back home in Decatur late in the afternoon, just in time for Mama to prepare our family supper. Sometime in my adolescent years, Decatur lost her small town status to become part of Metropolitan Atlanta. But she remained a small town for me until long after I moved away at the age of sixteen. Today, even though Decatur retains much of her small town charm, the traffic congestion and difficulty in finding a place to park that doesn’t cost me an arm and a leg, along with the variety of pricey restaurants, remind me that she really doesn’t qualify for “small town” status in my mind anymore. Even the houses on the street where I grew up are now priced so far out of my reach when they go on the market to be sold, I could never afford to live there these days!

Enter Monroe, Georgia, the small town I have called home for the past five years. Now, this little town reminds me more of the Decatur where I grew up than any place I know. Yes, we have our traffic snarls on Broad Street, especially when the big trucks are trying to get through town on their way from one of the interstates to the other, and when I am trying to come out of the Walmart parking lot during rush hour or on Saturday. It’s a lovely little town, with friendly people, welcoming churches, a terrific little community theater, a Saturday farmer’s market, lots of small shops for browsing and purchasing interesting items of all kinds, safe places to walk my little dog Sunshine, a strong medical community, and the warm touch of Georgia hospitality. People here wave as they drive by, and they pause on the sidewalk to say hello to my dog. They don’t ignore me as I walk past and will look at me and greet me with a smile.

If you had told me ten years ago that I would be living in Monroe, Georgia, I probably would have shaken my head, pondered in my mind just where Monroe is on the Georgia map, furrowed my brow, and asked, “Where? Why?” It isn’t important why or how I landed in Monroe, but I am happy that I did. I was even able to purchase a small home – one that I could afford – to set down a root or two. I am making this my home for awhile and claim this little town as my own, even though I am a transplant.

Small Town, Georgia, is a good place for someone like me. I live a simple life, enjoy listening to the birds singing in the trees around my home and watching the deer in the park, appreciate that nothing that I need is further than 10 minutes away by car (and I could walk if I had to!), and have made some very good friends. All this, and more, are what make me a true blue “Small Town Girl.”

In the novel that I wrote, “Fishbowls and Birdcages,” the main character was someone like me, a person who moved around from town to town, never quite belonging, and never sure just where Home was. She finally found her place, and it, too, was in Small Town, Georgia, although hers was a fictional town. She learned that the saying, “bloom where you are planted,” had a positive meaning for her as she developed her own identity and strength through her faith in God. Fran found her place, and I have found mine.

Yes, I am now officially a Small Town Georgia Girl. My new hat is proof of it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“I Can Do It Myself,” said the Little Red Hen — Again

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“I can do it myself,” said the Little Red Hen. And she did.

I wrote these words last summer as I held my newly published novel, Fishbowls and Birdcages, in my hand, bursting with pride, and hardly believing that I had actually brought a lifelong desire to fruition. I felt like I Had Arrived. What else could I ever wish for in my life?

As I sit in the one space left in the living room of my little apartment that isn’t covered with various items symbolizing my life and all that is me and mine, surrounded by packed boxes and a rolled up rug, I look around me and again I can say, “I can do it myself.” And I can, and I am.

I never dreamed that I would ever live anywhere besides this little apartment, or one like it, for the rest of my life. The thought of living in a real house again was as far off my radar screen as the nearest star in the universe. A mere twinkle in the night sky, not worthy of my focusing on it for any more time than it takes to make a wish upon it.

But then, one day a couple of months ago, a thought popped into my head. Maybe I could buy a house. Or maybe the thought didn’t just pop in; perhaps it was planted. It so happened that in the prayer group I joined last winter included a real estate agent and a mortgage banker, who I know were put in my path to play a pivotal role in this crazy idea of mine. I began praying to God to light a path for me if this was something that I should do. My new friend, the real estate agent, volunteered to carry the lantern for me along this new path, and we began looking for houses I could afford. They were few and far between, and among those we visited were homes I couldn’t imagine actually living in. Who would have a small house for sale, one in my price range, and one that had been someone’s beloved home, and one that was looking for me?

Besides, could I do this on my own, all by myself? If the Little Red Hen could do it, then maybe I could, too!

One by one, things started happening – strange and wonderful things. The light on my path remained bright, in spite of bumps in the road and many hoops to jump through. Encouragement greeted me everywhere, even when I felt like I needed to forget about this venture and stay put where I am. I found a house I really liked – it seemed to draw me in and call me by name – but the asking price was $15,000 more than my budget allowed. My agent encouraged me to make an offer, and I did. A week later, I had a contract on the house, not at the price I felt was my upper limit, but at one close enough that I felt I could handle it.

It hasn’t been easy. I’ve been on the verge of throwing up my hands and proclaiming “I quit!” a few times in the process. But the light on the path has remained constant, and the promise, “I will take care of you,” has been a daily reminder to me, evidenced through the encouragement from my friends and family, my daily devotionals, and my inner desire to have a home of my own.

Yesterday morning, I was awakened by my phone chirping and announcing I had a text. The words from my mortgage banker friend were, “File is clear to close.” I cried, I jumped out of bed and twirled. I thanked God.

And then I took my dog, Sunshine, for a walk, and took a photo of my lighted path.

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I move into my new home next weekend.

A Circle In The Sand

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In her book, Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert has this quote, “But I was always coming here. I thought about one of my favorite Sufi poems, which says that God long ago drew a circle in the sand exactly around the spot where you are standing right now. I was never not coming here. This was never not going to happen. ”

There have been a few times in my life when I felt very strongly that I was standing in my very own circle of sand, being where I was meant to be and believing that I would be there forever. Then, the wind would begin to blow across my life, picking up the sand and redistributing it. The result was that my circle in the sand would fade away, and I would become lost, not knowing where I was or where I should be, at least for awhile.

Four years ago I found myself in a situation where I was standing in a vast desert of sand, without a circle to surround me or define me, or a horizon to guide me. I had lost my sense of home, and the future looked very bleak from where I was standing in the desert, with the hot, dry winds of fear, doubt, and failure swirling around me. I didn’t know where to go, or where I belonged. I was physically and emotionally homeless. Thank God, I was not spiritually homeless, even though at times I felt as if I were.

It turns out that I wasn’t alone or homeless, at all. God was in the wind that blew; God was the wind that found me wandering in my personal desert, promised to deliver me, and led me to Monroe, Georgia. With the help of my family and some very special friends sent my way by God, I was lifted from the violent sandstorm that raged around me and engulfed me, and was gently set down on a quiet street in Monroe, where the storms of my life settled down, and God once more drew a circle in the sand for me, and caressed me with gentle, healing breezes.

I can identify with Elizabeth Gilbert’s feeling. I was never not coming here. This was never not going to happen. If you had asked me 10 years ago if I thought Monroe might be a nice place to live, I probably would have given you a blank expression of “Where?” written all over my face. Monroe was not a city in Georgia that I yearned to live in, nor was it even a spot on a mental road map of favorable Georgia towns. But here I am! And I can clearly see the circle drawn in the sand where I am standing. I feel as if I belong here, that Monroe was waiting for me to arrive, and that I really had no say in the matter, after all.

I have found sanctuary here. My little apartment is my nest and safe place, where I can pray and meditate, write and dream, laugh, sing, dance, and cry. The sidewalks of Monroe have become my friends as Sunshine and I walk them daily, observing the changes from day to day and season to season along our path. My neighbors have my back, as I have theirs in my little community of apartment homes. People wave to me from their cars as they pass when I am out walking or sitting on my front porch, and speak to me on the sidewalks or from their porches as we stroll through town. The owner of my favorite restaurant knows me by name and gives me a hug whenever I go there for a meal. Monroe police are a visible reminder as they patrol the town that I am protected from danger here. My newfound friends in a weekly Bible study are my new prayer warriors, as my spiritual life is enriched and expanded with each day.

God, indeed, has drawn a new circle in the sand for me, and even though it was through some very unfortunate events in my life that sent me here, this is the place where I am supposed to be. I was never meant not to be here. I pray that my breezes will be gentle and light, and that my circle won’t shift for a long, long time.

Monroe, Georgia. Who’d have thought?

I am home.

There’s No Place Like Home

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I am sitting in the living room of my little apartment, looking around the room, taking it all in, and feeling downright cozy and a bit nostalgic. As my eyes move from my red sofa to my new ivory and turquoise armchair to my rocking chair that was a 30th birthday gift, down to the floral rug with the cedar chest from my childhood resting on it and now serving as a coffee table, I am overwhelmed with a feeling I haven’t had in a long, long time. And what exactly is this feeling? It is that of being home!

When I was a child growing up, the house I lived in was home. Even when we moved when I was 16 from the house I was brought home to as a newborn, I always felt like I was home, because the furniture was familiar, the same pictures were on the walls, and the dishes my mother set the table with at each meal were old friends. And, of course, my mama and daddy were there.

Somewhere along the way, I lost the feeling of home. I think it was from moving so often after I married – from one apartment to the next – and then from parsonage to parsonage.  For a short period of time, less than a year, we owned a small home, and bought a few pieces of furniture. But once we began parsonage life, our homes were always furnished by someone else. Granted, I took familiar things with me from house to house – dishes, linens, children’s toys, books, and things like that. These things helped me to feel comfortable and surrounded by some familiar things, but I never had the sense of being AT HOME.  My children grew up moving every few years, leaving familiar furnishings behind, and having to get used to a new town and church, as well as a different house to live in. I always did my best to add a personal touch our parsonage homes, but for me, something was always missing.

Later, when I married for the second time, my husband and I bought, and later, built a home. I was feeling more at home, but most of our furniture came from his life before me, and I offered very little in the way of adding my personality to each house. We never bought anything together to make the place where we lived OURS. After my parents died, I was given some of the old furniture from my childhood home, which helped fill the emptiness of needing the sense of home. I now was surrounded by a few familiar things, which helped fill the home-i-ness void.

And now, here I am, writing at my dining room table, with the furniture from my parents’ home, and with things that I have collected, bought, and been given as gifts for my own nest filling my view of this room. It is a conglomeration of old, new, yard sale, discount store, handmade, thrift store, and more.  And photos are everywhere, reminding me of who I am, where I came from, and who is special to me. As I look around me, everything fits together like puzzle pieces into a wonderful picture of wholeness – my home.

Yes, I am at home. I am alone now, without a husband beside me or children running through the house. It is very quiet and serene. Even little Miss Sunshine has abandoned me for her bed, which was once my doll’s bed, where she is sleeping peacefully and perhaps dreaming of her fun-filled day.

It is so good to be home.

Two Years – What a Journey!

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Two years ago, over the Labor Day week-end, I left my safe harbor nest of two months at the home of my friends, Lynne and Terry Mays, and moved into my little in-town apartment in Monroe, Georgia. I couldn’t afford the $500 per month rent, but I was determined it just had to work, and I knew that this was a step I must take. I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it, I was scared to death, and I feared the future. I was a mess, on a new journey on an untraveled path, but I knew it was a much better one than the one I had been on.

Everything I had in my possession fit into my Honda Civic as I drove away from the Mays’ home. I unloaded the car at my new place, unlocked the door to the apartment, and after a few trips back and forth from car to new home, I was in. I didn’t have much. Almost all of my personal belongings were still at my house in Social Circle that I had left in July. The only furnishings that first night in my new home were a canvas lawn chair and an air mattress. Before I moved in, I had purchased a few necessities- a shower curtain, a small frying pan and spatula, a cheap set of dishes, and a toaster oven. My brother and sister-in-law had given me some sheets, and I borrowed a couple of towels from the kennel where I work. I was ready for my first night in my new home.

I lived this way until later in September, when I was able to go back to my previous home and retrieve some of my things. Even with what I was able to get, the apartment was still pretty bare. I continued sleeping on the air mattress on the floor for another couple of months, when my cousin, Laura, gave me a lovely bedroom suite, and nephew Steve brought it to my new home for me.

Friends and family circled my wagon to support me and to help me furnish my new home, and thanks to some very special ladies from my church, it wasn’t long before I had a pretty adequately stocked kitchen and linen closet. They were wonderful! Somehow, they knew exactly what I needed, and unselfishly gave me more than I would have ever dreamed of getting. Another friend kept me updated on yard sales in the area, and I was able to pick up some very nice additions to my home from things other people were discarding. He also gave me an old sofa that he no longer needed.

Almost a year later, I was back in my former home, going through the last things remaining after an estate sale pretty much emptied the house, and found a few more of my personal treasures. Both happy and sad, I brought them home, where they added to the coziness of my little apartment and made me feel good and bordering on whole again.

As I look at my home today, two years later, I still don’t have a lot of furnishings, and what is here I have dubbed “contemporary divorce.” But my home is filled with family photographs, special books and photograph albums, and other treasures that hold sentimental value to me. It is a warm and welcoming home, and with my little dog, Sunshine, we are a family.

My collection of days over the past two years have included days of fear and uncertainty, loneliness and heartache, and introspection and soul-searching. But as I write this and look back over this time in my life, I see myself in a way I never could before, and I have a sense of contentment and serenity about my life that at one time I doubted could ever exist for me. I continue to live frugally, as my financial situation nudges me to keep me on edge if I let it. But I have regained my sense of purpose, I can feel the raveled edges of my life getting trimmed and smoothed out, and I am adapting to my new life.

I don’t know what my life would be like if I had chosen another path to travel. I only know that the scenery on the one I am now on is very nice, the vistas stretch my imagination and invite creativity, and the quietness that I now experience allows me to have time for meditation and for discovering the spirit of God that surrounds me and nourishes me.

Two years. It seems like a lifetime. In a way, it is.