My previous post was about physical aspects of settling into our new home. This post is about finding connections as we make this town our home.
After living in Austin for 35 years, I was burned out on the big city and looked forward to small-town life. We chose Kerrville because it met our needs in many ways–geography, scenery, affordability, schools, health care, the arts (theater for husband, art and music for me), a Unitarian Universalist congregation. We knew it would be more socially and politically conservative than Austin–almost anywhere in Texas would be–but we also knew there are people who share our views and we would find them.
The connections made so far (some of them overlap, as do many of the people):
- UU Church of the Hill Country. Good minister, friendly people, small, attractive space, many activities in addition to Sunday services. Choir practice starts this week and I’m giving it a try. Like so many activities in this older community, rehearsals are in the afternoon. As long as Gary is here at 3:15 when granddaughter comes home, I can do it. She also likes the RE program because it’s small and not overwhelming.
- Chicks with Sticks Knitting group: this is at the Baptist Church, and though I probably don’t share the religious views of some of these ladies, they have welcomed me and I’ve enjoyed the conversations, with lots of laughter, monthly lunches at a restaurant, and two hours a week of dedicated knitting time. They do charity knitting, so I’ve been making winter hats for an organization that fills backpacks for school kids.
- Hill Country Chorale: after years of singing with the First UU choir and Panoramic Voices in Austin, and mostly giving it up the last two years because of late rehearsals on school nights, I really needed to get back to serious singing. After a reception and two rehearsals, I am happy.
- Now that school has started I will try to participate in some small way–probably just through PTO or helping in the classroom. Last year I got a little overwhelmed with being on the PTA board, but I also made some wonderful friends. School involvement is so important.
- Even though I haven’t participated much yet, I’ve joined the Kerrville Arts and Cultural Center, the Riverside Nature Center, and have attended some Democratic women’s events.
- Next week I’m going to the Women2Women fundraiser for the Hill Country Crisis Center, where Lara Logan will be the speaker.
- We’ve attended a couple of theater productions. A woman in our church is very involved with the Hill Country Arts Center, which includes theater and art. Yesterday she gave him a tour of their facility. Now that he’s feeling better he is curious about the theater community here.
- I’ve attended one session of the Hill Country Poets. Although the critiquing aspect isn’t as rigorous as I’m accustomed to, they are friendly and welcoming, and I like the leader very much. They meet in the Unity Church, another community I’m interested in learning more about.
- Neighbors:one brought me some irises when she split her bulbs. The guy next door lent us a ladder and trimmed some branches.* The other next-door neighbor shares his lawn guy with us. I met an across-the-street neighbor at a yoga class, and she brought us brownies the other day. After we moved in, a man across the street helped us connect the washer. Walking the dog has allowed us to meet some interesting folks, including theater people. The owner of the house behind us came over to apologize when they were doing some roofing over the summer, and his mom, who occupies the house, visited us soon after. A woman on another street, whose daughter is the same age as our granddaughter, is becoming a good friend. I’ve made several friends via people I know in Austin. We feel so welcome, and nobody asks if/where we go to church or for whom we voted.
- In every activity, there is a connection to something else. Yoga/neighbor. Church/nature center/chorale/theater. Acupuncturist/yoga/chiropractor/computer guy. I ran into a knitting friend in a thrift store the other day. We’ve been here less than four months. I’m going to have to start wearing makeup to the grocery store!
Because of Gary’s back and hip issues we have done less exploring of the area than we would like, but we’ve visited some of the surrounding communities. We look forward to seeing more of the Guadalupe River. We’re close enough to San Antonio to take advantage of museums and culture there, if we can tear ourselves away from everything going on here. We’ll take granddaughter to the S.A. Zoo and museums when it gets cooler.
I had planned on only parts 1 and 2, but this is long, so Part 3 will be about my personal journey in this new place.
* A few days later I made a big batch of soup and took some over to him. He flat would not take it. He’s been friendly and a good neighbor, but he would not accept my small offering to thank him for his help. This still puzzles me.
My political and religious views are no secret. Politically, I’m a liberal and a Democrat, and I’m a Unitarian Universalist, about as liberal as you can get and still go to church.
Someone whose political views I share recently said he wouldn’t patronize a certain restaurant because “He’s an R.” He said he’d go to another restaurant because “He’s a D.”
On the day Barack Obama was inaugurated as President, some wag in our agency’s IT department went around and put “no” stickers on the W key on the computers of those they knew would enjoy the joke. We had our little circle of liberals and Dems and we knew who we were.
But I never worried about co-workers’ political beliefs. We did our jobs, we fulfilled the agency’s mission as well as we could, and we treated each other with respect. There were jerks, of course, but I have no idea what their political or religious views were.
If I go to the emergency room I don’t ask how the ER doc voted. I don’t care if the pharmacist is a Presbyterian or a Wiccan as long as she fills my prescription correctly. The grocery store clerks ring up my order and bag my groceries without knowing I’m a UU. Most of the people I’ve met since we moved here are polite, kind and courteous almost to a fault. The guy who hands off a grocery basket to me may be a gun-totin’ Tea Partier, but I smile and thank him. Several neighbors whose religious views (I already know) are very different from mine have been friendly and generous, and I appreciate that.
We live in a relatively small town that bends much more conservatively than our previous “blueberry in the tomato soup,”* Austin. If I did business only with those stores and providers whose views I shared, I’d seriously limit my choices for shopping, medical care and places to eat.
My response to the comment about not eating at the restaurant because “he’s an R”? “I happen to know he’s also big in [a very conservative church here in town]. I don’t care. If I’m going to live here I’m going to get along with the neighbors.”
It helps that there are many arty, creative, tattooed old hippies here. I’m finding my tribe. But I also hang out with the knitting ladies at the Baptist church and laugh a lot while knitting for charity.
Sometimes you push through. Sometimes you pull back. I’m doing a little of both to get through this slump.
I want to make it clear I recognize the difference between clinical and situational depression, and this is the latter. It’s not unusual to have a letdown after a major life change, even a happy one.
Four months of adrenalin-fueled hard work take a toll. I feel like I’ve aged a couple of years through this move.
But I’m English–stiff upper lip, pull up your socks and carry on. Here’s my plan:
- Self-care! Acupuncture. Chiropractor. Naps. I have to stop dinging myself–small cuts, burns and bruises. No falls.
- Stop giving myself artificial deadlines. Unpacked boxes, annoying and unsightly as they are, will eventually be gone. We are gradually sorting and hanging art. (Half-awake one night, I imagined the bedroom was full of dark boxes closing in on me.)
- Get out: a river walk, a play, a visit to the library or art center, a browse through a thrift shop.
- Plant things. I’ve never been much of a gardener. After leaving most of the container plants at the condo, I’m rebuilding–herbs and other container plants for now, but I’m eyeing a spot for a meditation garden, and I’m going to look in thrift and antique shops for a bench.
- Read. I don’t remember the title of the last book I read. I keep up with periodicals: the New York Times (online), the New Yorker, the local daily, and now that we have cable TV for the first time in 20 years there are overwhelming choices of news and movies. Books are unpacked and I’ve started a fascinating biography of a pioneering Texas women doctor who reminds me of Anne of Green Gables, except her story is true.
- Make friends. This is a big challenge. We’ve met a few neighbors and dog-walkers, and I have some connections through Austin friends. I attended a Democratic women’s mixer. I have joined the Arts Center and plan on checking out a knitting group and a poetry group. When the Hill Country Chorale starts rehearsals in September I plan to join. We will soon start attending the local UU church. I must remember it takes time to establish friendships.
- Create art, knit. Art is satisfying, knitting is meditative and calming.
Most important of all is gratitude. I am so grateful for the good life we are able to have, that we have the resources (physical, financial, emotional) to care for the granddaughter. When I check out of the grocery story with a full basket, it’s such a relief to pop in the debit card and not worry about whether there’s enough money in the account to cover it.
Gratitude, patience, knowing when to push ahead and when to pull back. There are no deadlines.
It was inevitable. We decided to move in March and found our dream home on March 18. Since then it’s been an adrenalin-fueled four months of selling the condo, financing the new house so we didn’t have to wait to sell the condo, booking movers, packing, finishing the school year, and Gary doing a one-man show on Clarence Darrow. Then, after June 2, it was unpack, find services, find our way around and try to get settled.
Lest you think there are second thoughts, there are not. No regrets. I love our new home and I know we will find out communities here.
But Sunday morning I woke up so depressed I could hardly get out of bed. That’s why I wrote the rodeo piece, to focus my mind on something good and positive.
Being the self-analytical person I am, I think I’ve figured out the reasons for the funk. I lay awake Sunday night, and here are my conclusions:
- Before we moved, my problems were time over energy. There was never enough time regardless of my energy levels, which were pretty good. Now the equation is reversed: there is plenty of time–the days are long, there’s no school and few deadlines. But I’m exhausted. I just don’t have enough energy and stamina.
- Heat. One of the reasons I’m flagging is that it’s Texas and it’s hot. It’s less humid up here and if there’s a breeze it’s not too bad. But I try to do errands early in the day, and even walking the dog before sunset can be uncomfortable.
- No matter how hard I work I can’t seem to finish unpacking. It goes in fits and starts, and some days feel like we’ve made enormous progress, then there’ll be days when it seems like nothing happens. We’re spending time shopping for things we need–a bed and desk for the granddaughter’s room, patio furniture, a composting system, items that need to be assembled. That stresses the three of us, trying to figure out which allen wrench and which bolt goes where.
- Speaking of the three of us: that’s it. There are three people, a dog and two guinea pigs in this house, and for the most part that’s our daily contact. We’re getting on each others’ nerves. I would love to get Chloe to a day camp, a class, or something. Even a neighbor’s house. But she balks at any suggestions. I may have to just register for a class or a camp and insist that she go.
- And I’ m lonely. Other than husband, granddaughter and dog, the only other people I talk to are my acupuncturist and random checkout clerks and neighbors. I miss my communities: my dog-walking friends, Travis Heights Elementary friends, condo neighbors, church friends, poetry friends and singing friends. I did appreciate them but I don’t think I realized how much I’d miss them.
I’m not complaining. I know it takes time to find new communities. And I will be proactive. I am not bashful and I already have some contacts here to get me started.
Next: getting out of the valley.
Knowing my political views, some of my friends might be surprised that I had such a good time at the Kerrville Open Rodeo. I posted photos on Facebook last night, but overnight I’ve thought about all the things I liked about it:
- I’m usually early for everything, but we got a late start (my fault–I insisted on walking the dog first), but it was a quick ride and, after paying ($10 each for us, granddaughter free), we easily parked, walked a short distance to the bleachers, and still got there in time for the opening parade, which is my favorite part. I am also weird enough to enjoy singing the Star Spangled Banner (even though I have to change octaves when it jumps up or down).
- The aforementioned opening parade–elegant horses, women bearing flags sitting tall in the saddle.
- It was a beautiful evening, with the sunset tinting the clouds and a full moon rising. There was a breeze and it wasn’t too hot.
- The judges (all on horseback) wore bright pink shirts.
- Participants were mostly local or from surrounding communities. People in the bleachers rooted for people they knew. Chloe noticed a pretty young woman sitting near us, and later she was in the barrel race. Her horse balked and she had a bad ride. When she came back to her family people around them offered encouraging comments.
- The young contestants have wonderful names: girls named Jody, Morgan, Riley, Tana, Charlie, Shelby, Whitley and Teva (whose mother, Melissa, was also a rider). Boys: Jessie, Landon, Brett, Blake, Tyler, Tanner, Hawk, Chase, Cody, Stralen (last name Cowdus!). The announcer seemed to know these kids’ back stories. One bronco rider was blind.
- Despite the clown’s lame (and dated) jokes, there were genuinely funny moments. “Mutton busting,” in which young volunteers ride sheep, was hilarious. The calf scramble is also fun (Chloe actually considered joining in.)
- People are so polite. When we needed to go up and down the bleachers they made way and offered hands. I needed to slide off my seat at one point, and I had Gary on one side offering a hand and a stranger on the other (whose hand I accepted, not to offend) when I didn’t need help at all!
- It’s dog-friendly. A guy had an adorable toy Australian shepherd puppy. And a small dog was loose in the arena during the bull-riding. (It survived.) We may take Junior next time.
- This is not a white-only redneck town. There were as many tattoos as you’d see at any event in Austin. There were old folks and babies, couples, women having a girls’ night, people of color.
- Vendors were few and nice, and it was easy and pleasant to wander around the grounds. Sno-cones were cheap and do-it-yourself, so Chloe restrained herself on the syrup–she said she mainly wanted the ice anyway.
- The nicely weird part of the evening: a guy in front of me had a shirt with a poem on the back. I recognized it when I read the first two lines, and it’s one of my favorite poems. So when he left his seat I asked him about the shirt. He said it was from Rogue American Apparel. Norton tells me it’s a dangerous site, and the merchandise is W-A-Y more macho than most people in my life would wear, but I found the shirt. Gary was surprised I talked to the guy, but I think he got a kick out of someone knowing an obscure Stephen Crane poem. (What a terribly short life Crane had.)
If you can’t read the back of the shirt, here’s the Stephen Crane poem:
In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said, “Is it good, friend?”
“It is bitter—bitter,” he answered;
“But I like it
“Because it is bitter,
“And because it is my heart.”
At least we were laughing by the time we got home. It was nobody’s fault. (As Nixon would say, “Mistakes were made.”
After a month of singing the praises of our new hometown, I found some flies in the ointment. Or rather fire ants. And that was the least of our Fourth from Hell.
Not knowing exactly what the setup was or what to expect, we got to the Robert Earl Keen Kerrville Fourth of July celebration early enough to park fairly close, west (upstream) from the event. Fireworks at 9:30; arrival a bit after 6. That’s a lot of time to kill in high 90s heat. And we had the dog.
Chloe, Junior and I took a walk to the river below the dam, where it’s easy to wade and Junior could plunk himself down to cool off. Not having suits, Chloe and I sat on a little ledge near some rapids. I assured her we’d dry off quickly, and anyway having wet shorts would be cooler.
This killed maybe 30 minutes. There were musical acts during this time, but the setup was such that, unless you were within the actual audience seating area, you couldn’t see the stage. There were vendor trucks, beer tents, sound trucks, trailers, amp towers totally blocking views to people outside that small perimeter (and this was a free event in a huge park).
I took a very long time walking to the rest room (rather than using a portapotty) and filled the water bottles, during which I heard the National Anthem. I missed Keen’s intro and had no idea who was performing when I got back to our blanket.
I hadn’t heard Robert Earl Keen for at least 30 years–my late friend Sunny was a big fan and she took me to see him in the late ’80s. I don’t know if he’s deteriorated with age, but I kept wondering who this guy with the awful voice was. His vocal delivery is flat, bordering on musically flat, and his range is tiny. The band–mandolin, fiddle, steel guitar etc.–was fabulous, and he should just shut up and let them play.
Finally, after an encore/singalong of “This Land is Your Land,” every verse, at half-tempo (Woody Guthrie was spinning in his grave), it was time for the fireworks–9:35.
We took Junior because he gets hysterical when he’s left alone too long, and I thought he’d be ok if we held him tight during the fireworks. And he was, for a couple of minutes. Then he just wanted out. Chloe and I hugged him and held onto the leash for dear life. In addition to hurting all over from being on the hard ground, I was besieged by fire ants up my right arm.
We decided to head out after about 15 minutes of this torture. Got yelled at by a cop for crossing the street in front of traffic (the light changed quickly). I said to him, “Please don’t make my day any worse than it already is.” We found the way to the car and pressed on, realizing that we were going directly toward the fireworks (upstream, remember?), with Junior pulling as hard as he could in the opposite direction.
It was like being in a war zone, with an audience along the sidewalk watching us. I felt like Wonder Woman crossing No Man’s Land, but without a shield.
We reached the car before the fireworks ended and hightailed it home. Gary and I were laughing by the time we reached Goat Creek Rd. (a great place to laugh) and he missed a turn and nearly put us in a ditch.
Chloe had a bowl of cereal and Gary and I each had an adult beverage. Junior slurped up a bowl of water (we had been giving him water all evening) and went under a table.
Gary insisted on what I called a “post-mortem.” I insisted there was nothing to discuss. He needs to make friends between now and July 2018. Until Congress moves July 4th to October, when it’s cooler and gets dark early, I’m done with the Fourth.
* David Foster Wallace, “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” an essay collection.