Monday, June 30, 2008

The Middle of Everywhere

Five years ago this month, My Hero and I moved back to New England from his home state of Illinois. Two years ago this October, we moved into our newly built house on land purchased from my grandfather, about a mile down the road from my parents' house. It took a year or two, after 6 years away (4 for college, then 2 years after we were married) for this area to feel like home again, but since then, I have felt our roots, especially mine, delving deeply into this rocky New England soil, making connections, winding around favorite places, learning to find the best nourishment, what sources of joy New England has to offer. Summertime, especially, from the first days of melted snow and birds telling us that spring is here, offers endless reasons to joy in calling this place home.

Our large yard, surrounded by woods on two sides and a cow pasture on the third, with stone walls centuries old, holds so much freedom and potential. It's quiet here, and most of our time is spent in the back yard, far from the road. My garden patch doubled in size from last year to this, and its uneven edges testify to a work in progress. My goal in the next few years is to determine the right sized garden for our family, and to plant grass in straight lines around its' neat, rectangular edges. I love our yard, but I cringe with embarrassment at the slow progress we're making in getting it finished. Large patches on the sides and in back remain untamed and are now filled with weeds, shrubs, brambles, and growing young trees that will be harder to remove with each passing summer.
My maternal grandparents purchased a plot of land from my paternal grandparents across the road from us, and moved in last fall. Before their house sold and their new one was built, they would come and neaten up their stone wall, and sweep the rock that rises like an island in their front lawn, and trim away any undesired shrubbery. My Hero and I joked that they took better care of their lawn before they lived there than we did of ours after moving in. We joked, but it was absolutely true. This summer they have paved their driveway, replanted grass in bare spots, landscaped, put up window boxes under their windows and filled them with flowers, and they mow their lawn 2-3 times /week. In a week or two they'll have a deck built in back of their house, too. My Hero shakes his head and says, "They're shooting themselves in the foot. What will they have left to do next summer?" We're envious, but realize that they're retired and don't have toddlers to tend...other than all the times they invite our boys to come over and play. So they have more free time than we do.
We couldn't ask for better neighbors. My grandpa brings us their newspaper every morning around 6:30, after they've finished with it, even in the bitterly cold winter. And they bring our kitty the fancy food their spoiled cat turns her nose up to, which is the only time Tuttles gets soft moist food to eat. The best part is how much they delight in our little boys. Grandpa especially loves that Peanut Butter gravitates to him, climbing in his lap, snuggling with him, talking to him first.

This afternoon Great Grammie and Great Grampa came to take the boys and their vehicles across the road to ride around on their paved driveway.

My sister has a lovely habit of sending me something really good to read for my birthday, and this year it was The Middle of Everywhere by Mary Pipher, a book about "helping refugees enter the American community." I never had any idea just how difficult it can be for someone to adjust to our culture. Imagine someone, a middle-aged adult, say, who had never before used a clock or lived by the concept of hours and minutes, learning to keep an appointment or tackling the enormous complication of daylight savings time. The book really opened my eyes to the problems refugees face, and made me want to help somehow. New England isn't exactly a melting pot of nationalities, but actually our nearest city has a large population of refugees from Somalia. Many refugee families just need a friend to help them learn the necessary details of our culture...Pipher listed over three pages of things that she had helped refugees learn, things like:

How to mix juice
How to cross streets with traffic lights
How to use an alarm clock, a watch, a calendar, and an appointment book
How to check oil and put gas in a car
How to drive
How to peel an orange and eat watermelon
What to put in a refrigerator
What are vitamins
How to enroll in school
That cut flowers need to be put in water
What a United States map looks like and where Nebraska is
How to walk on snow and ice
What a birthday is
How to wear socks
That police can be helpful
How to use cleaning products
What germs are
What a tissue is

The list goes on and on... And the stories she tells of refugees she has come to know are almost impossible for me to fathom. Almost all refugees have lost family members--seen them shot in front of them, or seen them starve to death or freeze to death. Refugees have survived terrible situations, yet the United States confronts them with new and different difficulties. Life isn't easy for them just because they arrive here. Most can't speak English well enough to hold higher than minimum wage jobs, and many fall prey to the worst influences of our culture...television, commercials, credit cards, junk food...they have no education or experience to guard them against the lies shown on television every day.

The book opened my eyes to a need I had no awareness of until now. What can I do with this? How will this change me? I want to help, but I'm not sure where to start.

It also opened my eyes to the tremendous blessing of community, of being surrounded by friends and family who know us and care about us, of having roots and knowing the nuances of my particular town and land.


Amy said...

Sounds like you have a beautiful place to live. Someday I'll make it to New England . . .

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