The next thing was we moved into our first house, which was half a block away from a Catholic church. There was a statue of Our Lady outside, next to a playground, and I found myself staring at the statue when I’d take Lotus to the park to play. Whenever I went for a run or a bike ride, I always made sure my path crossed that statue, and I’d pause for a moment, and stare at that image, the thoughts of my heart and mind a mystery even to myself.
The final thing that happened during that period of my life was Ken got his first transfer. We would move away from suburban Detroit, a place I’d lived all my life, to Mississippi of all places. Mississippi! The absurdity of the whole thing was almost too much to comprehend. What on earth would a good Midwestern girl do in the Deep South?
Although the move from Michigan to Mississippi was sought after, welcomed, and wanted, I did not adjust gracefully. What I did do was suffer from major culture shock for the first year or so.
Major. Culture. Shock.
Of course, now that I’m writing this from a distance of 1227 miles and seven years, I have a different perspective, one that is too colored by nostalgia probably to be entirely accurate. But I can remember one thing with laser-like precision that drove me frantic about my new Southern neighbors.
And that was their open, unabashed practice of religion.
This, coupled with the notamyth reality of Southern hospitality meant that I was confronted with my religious agonies on a daily basis. Within a week of moving in, we had met every single family on our street. They came with flawless charm and goodwill, bearing some housewarming gift, and the conversation went the absolute same every time:
Here I would accept the baked good and/or poinsettia (we moved into the house in December of 2004), tell them my name, and invite them into my house which was in shocking unpacked shambles. The neighbor would politely decline to come in, to my extreme gratitude (see what I mean about Southern hospitality?), and would continue The Script:
“So, have you found a church yet?”
No. I am not kidding you. This was the second question from everyone. Hi, what’s your name, by the way, have you found a church yet? As if they could see right into my heart and knew the one question that would cause me the most discomfort.
Normally, I would mutter something vague and start opening the door wider, just so one of the dogs would escape and I could end the conversation by chasing after it. If this failed, the new neighbor/torturer would press on, asking what kind of church I went to back home. When I had no answer for them, they’d invite me to their church. Repeatedly. With printouts of service schedules for me to reference later.
I remember calling my mom in a tizzy one day over this affront to my Midwestern sensibilities. She wisely advised me to tell them that Ken and I were married in a Presbyterian church, and play the odds that the neighbor was either Baptist or Pentecostal, who would then assume I’d found a suitable replacement in Mississippi, and leave me alone.
Brilliant! I did just that, and it worked like a charm. Until I met the last neighbors, who were (of course) Presbyterian. Who then offered to have the pastor of their church over one day so we could meet him. Who started calling every few days to see if I’d checked with Ken to figure out a good time to do so. Backed into an absolute corner, I remember that Ken’s parents, who lived 20 minutes away, were also Presbyterians. In a fit of blind panic one day, I told the well-intentioned neighbors that we were going to my in-law’s church, and thanks for the offer, but we were good.