I was standing amid a mountain of boxes the other day, talking awkwardly with some neighbors who had come to drop off my pie pan and, I assume, meet the lady who had asked their daughter to babysit.
We’d been here a month or two, depending on when you consider us ‘here’ full time.
This is the fourth US state of residence for my 10 year old daughter.
The people from next door said the same thing we’ve been told everywhere: we could live here fifty years and we will still be outsiders.
This is primarily a rural thing.
When you are the new people, you have no support system, no base knowledge, no contacts or references, just you and Google (if you have a signal or internet.)
People who live in rural communities are overwhelmingly people who have been there most of their lives and, frequently, for generations. There aren’t jobs drawing people to a town of 800. New people stick out.
So, I have developed ways to dig in.
I usually start by taking something home baked to the houses around me.
Then I find groups that need help and volunteer.
I head to the school, take gifts to the teachers and staff and see what they need. I leave them my cell phone and tell them to text and I’ll bring anything they need for their classrooms.
We find services to attend and offer to help at the church. Church shopping is hell, btw. Run into a teacher or your realtor? Awsome. Now you get to reject their most closely held beliefs when you don’t choose their church. Find out the largest church in your area is full of ideas you find repugnant? Joy. That won’t color how you see the area at all. And who doesn’t like to once again try and find common ground between you and any other religious people in your family? Great fun.
We get our library cards because, even if they aren’t the friendly type, librarians know everything about the town. Also, buying books is expensive and libraries aren’t.
We find the local farmers’ market right away, networking being a must for finding the best food.
We need to find a hay supply that is fit for the horses. This cannot be found on Google and requires talking to other horses people.
Oh, and I need to restart my career.
All of this is exhausting.
Have you ever tried to break into the adult clique that is 4-H? Dear God.
So here I sit, with no “away” for many of our belongings and the desire to take everything to Goodwill with those familiar words, “you’ll always be an outsider,” in my head.
I know my formula for being accepted works, at least most places, but I don’t have it in me this time.
Maybe being an outsider is nice, if you embrace it. I do it on a small scale all the time. I read at bars, I like to go to movies alone, I go places to experience other cultures where I stick out like a sore thumb, and I dance in public anytime I feel like it. Maybe I don’t need an in group in my community.
I’d rather hide at chess club with my kids in the city than walk into another PTA meeting (it’s called PTO now, but that’s another thing entirely to a farm dweller). I don’t like the questions, but worse is the risk that your iced out, even as you come offering a check and time you don’t actually have to help them do whatever.
It’s harder to start over when you know you’re just going to be starting over again and again or when you don’t like the area.
It’s hard to invest in people and risk the two extremes of bonding: adoring each other or not getting on at all.
When you are still in the first 6 months and the house and barn don’t feel settled, it is daunting to think of running around giving away time you don’t have so you can make sure your kids aren’t outcasts.
When you are the new people, especially in an established community, there are people who want to share what they know with you but you have no way of gauging the quality of the information so there is a lot of careful pleasantness when you do engage. That mechanic they recommend is actually a crook but he’s their family, so…
Then you hear the same little bit of gossipy information from different people, with different opinions, and have to determine the local baseline for such complaining so you know how much to ignore.
The term “new person” rings strange in my ears, since I’m not a new person, just new to them. I’ve actually been here and there and sometimes-gasp!-have more life experience than the people who are trying to make sure I’m not going to be a problem for their community.
But, what counts is that I’m new to this little place, that I could inadvertently mess up my kid’s chance of making a team because of a sticker on my car or the way I talk.
Because of all of this, I’m obnoxiously friendly. And God help the people who arrive after us. I take them lists of resources, bake them things, make sure they have my phone number, anything I can think of.
New people need to help each other.
We can eat and shop local, give our time and money, but we can’t go back and have the memories that locals have. We can’t get history with them.
So, I’m going to keep combing through boxes and making trips to the donate things.
I’m going to keep looking for new doctors, dentists, vets, and farmers. I’ll continue to answer questions about who I am, where I’m from, and why I’m here.
Maybe I’ll reinvent myself. Maybe I’ll dye my hair and wear trendy clothes and take dance classes.
No, I won’t.
I’m the same everywhere.
Maybe I’ll just keep to myself for a while.
It’s less daunting if you allow yourself time, so that’s what I’ll do.
I’ll join PTA, just not this month.
Happy eating, katy