I had really left two weeks before, on a Sunday afternoon. It was the middle of May. I preached my last sermon, a story sermon without notes, I remember. I stopped at an anniversary celebration for the retired pastor who lived in my community. And I drove, my car full of boxes (and one cat), to my new call in suburban Minneapolis. My parents had taken a car-full as well, and my mom had tried to help me organize and pack the possessions that had bred like mice in the parsonage during the last four years.
But I wasn't done yet. The moving truck was coming at the end of May. I had left some half-packed boxes throughout the two-story, five-bedroom house I had managed to fill up all by myself. So, on Sunday night two weeks later, I drove back to the prairie and walked back into my home.
My church secretary and my past church secretary both came over that night, to help me finish packing the rest of my boxes. I had started out with such aspirations to organize: books, music, dishes, clothes. It all made sense at first. Somewhere along the way, though, I had discovered items that didn't quite fit into my neat categories: "miscellaneous". Miscellaneous, it turned out, was my biggest category. Gifts, stationery, a cloth angel wall-hanging, candles, bric-a-brac, scripture verses, hand lotion, bath soaps -- after awhile many things became "miscellaneous."
Monday morning I was still working when the movers arrived, two earnest young men from the big city. They seemed bewildered to be here, as if they had taken a wrong turn and fallen off the edge of the world. One of them talked more than the other. He saw my grandmother's old piano in the corner and said, "That's staying here, isn't it?" "No, that's going," I answered. He saw my small television in another corner, and asked some question or another about a show I never watched. "I don't get that station," I replied. "What? You don't get cable?" He looked around and said, "I could never live in a place like this."
He didn't know the half of it. I didn't get cable; I also didn't get NBC; never got addicted to E.R., because it was not available on my television. And during blizzards, ABC went out too, so I was pretty much left with CBS and Public Television. And we did have blizzards. During blizzards I did jigsaw puzzles, caught up on paperwork (like parochial reports, conveniently due in January or early February), called people on the telephone, cross-stitched and watched the same movie over and over until I knew it by heart (no video store either). One year it was Strictly Ballroom; another it was Gigi. I think I watched Roman Holiday over and over one winter too. And of course, if the snow wasn't too bad, I could always walk over to the council president's house. They did have cable.
I had never seen professional movers at work before. They were experts at building boxes around furniture. Everything was going very quickly, as they emptied my bedroom (couldn't understand my love of antiques), the kitchen and the living room. I was furiously packing the last of the kitchen items while they worked. At one point the talkative mover asked me, "Are there ticks here? I think I got a tick!" I said that yes, there were ticks out here at this time of the year, and he shook his head again and said, "I could never live in a place like this."
I remembered the two summers my niece and nephew came out to stay with me for a week. One year they came at the same time; the next year they came separately. They had a great time at Vacation Bible School. The older children down the block came over and played with them and baby-sat while I did hospital and nursing home calls. I invited them all over for dinner one night and my neice cried and cried when they left. My nephew learned to ride a bike; a family loaned him their smallest one for the week he stayed with me. And my neice chased a cat under the porch and -- you guessed it -- got a tick.
Lunchtime drew near, and my movers asked where they could get a hamburger. In the next town, ten miles away, I told them. "No restaurants here?" they asked. No. No restaurant, no grocery store, no gas station. I told them I would drive down and pick up a couple burgers for them. "I could never live in a place like this," the young mover said, yet again.
Almost four years before, on a hot day in the middle of July, I had driven into town, following the pick up trucks (and a U-Haul) driven by the council presidents of two of my congregations. Between us, we carried all of my possessions. Shortly after we left Watertown, they seemed to speed up and I had a hard time keeping up with them. They ran a stop sign just east of a small town called Hazel. Following them, I ran the stop sign too, fearing I would not find my way if I lost sight of them. (Later on, I found out that they were laughing, and one of them said, "Our pastor broke the law." to which the other replied, "at least she slowed down.")
Perhaps I was thinking, "I could never live in a place like this," as we turned on to the street which would eventually turn in to this small town, home to (as the sign said) 90 people (although others thought the correct number was 63). As our small caravan of cars approached the parsonage, it seemed as if everyone in the whole parish was there, waiting for me.
That's why they ran the stop sign. They were late.
They were making barbeques (South Dakota for "sloppy joes") and serving chips and lemonade, and of course bars. And they made moving into a party. They had my furniture and my possessions unloaded and in the house in an hour. And then they wisely left me to get acquainted with my new home. I did hear later, that one man had commented to his wife as they were leaving, that he felt sorry for me living all alone in this great big house with hardly any furniture.
Perhaps he was thinking, "How can she live in a place like this?"
And now, almost four years later, I was leaving. I was ready to go to a place where I could be anonymous, at least sometimes. I was ready to go to a place where I could have Chinese food for lunch, and hop right over to the nearest bookstore. I was ready to go to a place where the grocery store was five minutes away, where I didn't have to do jigsaw puzzles and cross-stitch during blizzards, and watch endless marathons of Gigi. Really, I was ready to go.
How could I have lived in a place like this?
But then there was my first Easter there. It was my birthday, and as I walked down the steps to the Easter breakfast, I saw that they had gotten a cake, and that there were cards and presents. There were the Christmas programs every year, and the gifts they left for each other under the tree. There was the surprise party they threw for my 40th birthday, and there were all the pickles and jams and sweet corn and green beans and even a couple of pheasants, once (but that's another story).
It was a lonely day, just me and the movers. I didn't run into anyone from the church. After all, I had already officially left. But every once in awhile I had to go upstairs, to the second floor, and have a good cry.
I was ready to go -- really I was. I was a big-city girl, returning to her roots. I had never lived in a place like this. Sure, my mother was from rural Minnesota, but that was different: trust me. A small town of 4,000 is much different than a small town of 63. And I had only visited there. I had a been a fish-out-of-water for four years, and now I was going home. That's what one of the council presidents had said. "You're going home."
"I could never live in a place like this," I heard the young mover say, again.
In my mind, I replied, "you never know."
P.S. this is a draft of something I'd like to continue working on. I'd appreciate feedback.