Friday, December 30, 2011
Thoughts: Neither fish nor fowl
I have been in Virginia for the past few days, visiting with my son and traveling around to various family members. catching up, visiting friends.
Friends and long time readers know that I spent the first 54 years of my life in Virginia. Born there, raised there, had my children there. My parents were from there. I worked in Virginia all my life and through my work, I had traveled most of the nooks and crannys of the state. A history fan, I have visited more old houses, battlefields and obscure little places than you can imagine. I wasn't just "from Virginia", I was a Virginian, through and through. I lived there, and the state lived in me.
I moved to Vermont two and a half years ago to be closer to the woman I love. An unexpected gift of romance and second chances in mid life. For some time, I felt like "A Virginian in Vermont", loving my new New England home, but not feeling quite a part of it.
That is to be expected. Vermonters are delightful people, but Vermont is a rural state. They warm up slowly, get to know you slowly. Anyone who expects to land here and be an immediate part of the fabric of community, is probably in for a disappointment. This is a place for people in for the long haul. And those in for the long haul will be rewarded with deep friendships. But there is no pretend here.
Southerners are raised a little differently, but in reality, we aren't so different. The famed "Southern Hospitality" is more a veneer. It's easy to feel like, when you first hit a Southern town or church, that you are welcomed with open arms and a drop or two of honey. But in reality, under the warm veneer, Southerners too are waiting and biding their time and learning about the visitor. You don't really become part of the fabric of a place any faster in Virginia, than Vermont, trust me. The pretend of it all is, to us in the South, just good manners. It's not designed to be pretend, even if, in a way, it is.
The surprise for me now is that when I visit Virginia, it no longer feels like home. It feels like a place I was from. That's different for me, who was always steeped in the place I lived. For me, where I was from was the same thing as where I was. Now, it seems, it is part of my history. I go past familiar places and they are places where I " used to" do this or that. I have... a history.
For many, this is second nature. They have histories that have moved them from state to state, country to country. For me it was notable. No one, I think, not the woman I love, not my family, not my friends, could see me leaving Virginia. I and the state were one and the same. I was like a cat, tied to a place called Virginia.
If I am still like a cat, I am becoming tied to a new place called Vermont. It is slowly getting under my skin, becoming part of me as I am becoming part of it. I've been visiting some of the homes and museums and battlefields in Vermont. I am slowly learning Vermont politics. My life has shifted to a Vermont pace. Outside my house, I no longer fly the early American flag that was so popular in Colonial Williamsburg, with the stripes mixed with a Union Jack where the stars normally are. Instead I fly the flag from the Battle of Bennington, one of the earliest battles in the Revolutionary war with a rainbow of stars over a hand crafted "76". My poetry centers in Vermont. It is where I am from, not just were I live.
But at the same time, there is sort of a limbo. It takes one amount of time for a place to seep into you, but it takes longer for you to become part of a place. In the two or three places and churches I have been part of , it seems like five years is about right. After five years, people think you are there to stay. You are part of the landscape, in a way. They begin to open to you in a way they don't when you are just passing through.
So now, I am neither fish nor fowl. No longer a Virginian. Not quite a Vermonter. Fortunately I am sort of a long haul kind of guy. So I expect to be in Vermont for a long, long time. Long enough that the transition from Virginian to Vermonter that has already begun can be completed. And I am so enjoying the journey. My life is richer for the change. It has changed from a life of familiarity, to a life of discovery, and in that, is great, great joy.
PS, the picture is of the Bennington Battle Flag, similar to the one I fly outside my house. You can click on it for a larger version.