Small wonder


January 6 – The Feast of Epiphany in the church I grew up in. It marks the day the Three Wise Men visited baby Jesus, bearing gifts for the newborn, as described in the Bible. The symbolism is of something which comes to light; something hidden becomes apparent, in the way God became flesh. In common usage, usually, the word epiphany indicates a sudden revelation; an unexpected change in the way of thinking about something.

I’ve had a strong connection to this day and it’s meaning most of my life. The metaphor resonates deeply with me, even though I no longer attend church. I rarely think things out in a logical path; most ideas and thoughts come to me in an “I could have had a V-8!” kind of way. Even as a child I understood the symbolism in the church and in my life. My brain is, and always has been, more about revelation than reason. Every year around this time, something comes to light in a way I hadn’t seen before, usually right on the day. Often, in hindsight I find that I had an epiphany on Epiphany. Less often I recognize it as it’s happening.

This year it came yesterday as I was walking on a beautiful snowy, sunny northern Michigan day:

After living in the same small town most of my life, I finally realized I like it.

There are lots of times I’ve wished for more excitement, or opportunity, especially when I was younger. Many times I’ve been frustrated by a lack of anonymity, and the social obligations that come with living in a tiny community of people who have known me all my life.

But there are also times, especially in the winter, when I’m very happy to live in a rural area, and to feel a part of small town life. Summer is hectic and crazy when the tourists are here, but in the late fall, winter, and early spring, it’s just “us.” The locals. Doing our thing, keeping these little northern towns running, raising families, working and playing hard.

There aren’t many places to “go,” not compared to a city, and the pace in the winter is pretty slow. In my town there’s one movie theatre, one bookstore, one video store, one coffee shop, a few restaurants, a couple of bars. One two-lane street through downtown.

One stop light.

The library has evening programs fairly frequently, and they’re well-attended. There’s a book lovers group that meets once a month, high school basketball games almost every night between the girls’ and boys’ leagues, and lots of places to volunteer.

There’s the Kiwanis Club, the Lions, the Rotary, the Garden Club, the Grange. Every Christian denomination is represented, and if you belong to a church the congregation is small and there is a lot to be done, and activities to attend throughout the week. The kids are involved in sports, 4-H, Brownies, Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts. There are support groups, charity groups, two gyms. The Masons hold a Cribbage tournament every year, you can hike, snowboard or ski at the ski hill,  and every other weekend there’s a snowmobile ride-in. There are adult hockey leagues in a nearby town, for both men and women, and evening basketball and volleyball leagues, too. If you’re in your church choir, you most likely practice on Thursday night.

The rest of the time you work — hard — in one of 4 large local factories in the area, or farming, or fishing, or a combination of jobs to make ends meet. You drive a bus, or work in a body shop. You teach school, work for the county, run a daycare, or wait tables. Maybe you’re a part of the large artists’ community that meets and shares work in the old library building. Maybe you own a store or run a business that’s been in your family for generations.

You might work in the same place all of your life. You might live in the same house all of your life. Family is important. On Friday night in January, chances are when you walk in a restaurant you will know most of the people at the other tables as well as the person who cooks and brings you your dinner.

Not only do you know those people, but you know their parents, their brothers and sisters, and your kids play on the basketball team or are in Daisies together. At least once a week I run into someone with whom I started kindergarten and who was beside me 13 years later when we graduated high school 39 years ago. I see his kids and now grandkids in the paper. My parents knew his parents, and did since before we were born; they may have gone to school together, too.

Your doctor is your neighbor, and the police chief lives down the street. There are two fire trucks, one ambulance, and the EMTs and the fire department are mostly volunteers. The fire whistle blows every night at 9:30 for curfew (which no one acknowledges anymore), and no matter where you are in town you can hear the noon fire whistle and the bells on the Catholic and Congregational churches at lunchtime. At least one event you attend this winter will be a potluck, and someone will bring a jello mold, and something made with tuna fish.

The nearest “city” is 60 miles away and is only a little bit bigger. The real cities are “downstate” – Lansing, Detroit, Grand Rapids. All three to five hours away.

Like a town stuck in time. But I suspect that most towns are like this, all over the country. The excitement is in the cities, and that’s great for lots of people, but small towns are the largest part of American life still, I think. Especially in the Midwest. I feel a part of this place, and I know that it’s a part of me, and that for all my complaining about the weather, etc., when I leave it will be hard.

There are downsides, too, of course, and sometimes they’re hard to bear. For example, in my town, there aren’t many people of color. Also, if you’re Jewish or Muslim, you have to worship in another town.

Sometimes people’s perspectives and attitudes are as “small” as the town. It’s rather insular, this small town life in this sparsely populated area of Michigan, and you have to make an effort to stretch yourself and your horizons. Not everybody feels the need to do that, and that has to be okay. In a town this size, you don’t have to be friends with everybody, but you do have to find ways to get along, and that means for sure you are going to encounter someone with whom you absolutely do not see eye-to-eye, and you must accept that person’s right to be as he is, or you had better move to a bigger place.

I grew up here. Lots of people have known me since my parents brought me home. It’s hard to escape your past when someone reminds you of it everyday. Winter stretches on forever and summer flies by in a whirlwind of activity. As in all things, you have to take the good with the bad.

No matter where I go later in my life, I’ll always be from this little town. I’ll always be a Midwesterner, a northerner, a small town girl. How could I not love it? It’s part of me, this place with the water and the trees and the snow, as are these people who look and sound like me, and who recognize me as one of their own. Suddenly that seems like a good thing. I belong here, for now, at least, and that’s comforting. Knowing that this place is in me, and knowing that I’ll take it wherever I go is comforting, too. We all have to be from somewhere, and as “somewheres” go, this is a pretty good place to be.

The sun came shining through


I am inexplicably optimistic this morning. It’s Monday, it’s winter (6 months left to go, and it’ll get much much worse before it gets better), almost exactly 6 weeks to go til Christmas – my least favorite holiday – and I haven’t even started thinking about presents. I’m facing the prospect of a new year still with my mother and still in this job. There are other ucky things on the immediate horizon – a doctor’s appointment, our annual All-Staff Meeting at work, starting a gym membership cuz it’s getting too snowy and cold to be outside. (Ugh.)

Other icky winter things: Shoveling. Boots. Coats. Hats. Mittens/gloves. Cold. Ridiculous heating bills for the house I don’t live in, and outrageous water bills cuz I have to run the water in the kitchen so the pipes don’t freeze. Cold. Crap driving and crap drivers. Did I mention shoveling? Oh, and it’s COLD. But the worst part –

No sun. For days and days and days. ~shudder~

However, I have new tires, so driving will be less scary this year and I won’t get stuck in the parking lot at work everyday like last year. Yay! I get a longevity check in December and a raise in January, so I’ll be a little richer. Yay! I have 2 additional days off this week and 6 additional days off in December. Yay!

I have good books to read and I will get more for Christmas and my birthday and while I’m sitting inside for hours and hours, unable to go outside cuz snow and cold and wind, I can read, read, read! Possible this winter, unlike the past few years, cuz I have introduced my mother to the wonder of downloadable audio books that she can listen to on the phone I gave her (and she has finally learned to use), with EARBUDS. So we don’t watch DVDs so much anymore, and we can sit together in our cozy living room and read our books.

That is such a good thing! Yay! There are many good things, and today I’m in a place mentally and emotionally in which I can see those good things and be grateful for them. I haven’t been there for a few weeks, and I’m almost afraid to write that or think that or say it out loud, cuz generally when the universe has any inkling that I’m feeling good, it goes out of its way to kick me in the teeth almost immediately.

Paranoid? Ya, maybe. Whatever.

I had a nice weekend, including a long walk yesterday in the sunshine, even though I had to keep my head focused on the ice under my boots so I didn’t fall, and a shorter, snowier walk on Saturday that was nice, too. I had a few chores to do, but mostly I read and ate well and walked and relaxed. It was good. It was restorative.

Now it’s back to work, and so far it’s a crappy Monday, but it’s a short week as I have Thursday and Friday off for Thanksgiving, my second favorite holiday. (Easter is my favorite holiday – Spring, rebirth; I get giddy thinking about it.) Also, our best cook/baker brought in cake, so there’s that. Cake makes everything better. Always.

I bought a turkey breast and a frozen pumpkin pie and I’m going to be spending much of Thursday cooking, but that’s okay. Turkey and mashed potatoes and crescent rolls and Sara Lee pumpkin pie with Cool Whip. It’ll be awesome. We usually go out for T-day dinner, but as mom doesn’t leave the house anymore, we’re staying in – which I’m all about this year. What could be better than being in my jammies smelling turkey roasting and pie baking, hanging out with my mom and the cats? Turkey sandwiches and pie all weekend. Yay!

Then 3 WHOLE DAYS of not really that much that has to be done. Regular chores – cooking, dishes, blah, blah, but nothing that requires a lot of effort or even being dressed. Walking (I’ll put pants on) if it’s not too late November-y, (the forecast looks promising), and reading (new book from the library I got on my walk yesterday), and eating, eating, eating.

Perfect. The last two Thanksgivings were fairly crappy, so I feel like I’m due a good one. Two years ago our sewer drain clogged and it was not pleasant being in the house for 4 days. (‘Nough said.) Last year, our dinner out was hella expensive and not very good, so it was a big  disappointment, and mom and I got in a big fight about something and it overshadowed the whole weekend.

So I’m optimistic. There are things I like about winter, and things I like about Christmas, and I’m going to try to focus on those things and let the rest go. Soon it will be my birthday and that’s great, and then St. Patrick’s Day, and Easter and then Spring. Spring. Spring! It goes quickly, I know.

“If winter comes, can spring be far behind?”
Percy Bysshe Shelley

Welcome winter.





I’m not wealthy, but I do have 2 houses – one I live in and one I own.

I live in the house I grew up in with my mother. I moved back in 2012 following the death of my father. I had been living in the house I own for 3 years when that happened. I still own it, and currently it sits empty as I’m reluctant to rent it and I don’t want to sell it.

My mother’s house is on a reverse mortgage, so after she’s gone I’ll be moving back into my house. In the meantime, I go there regularly. I do my laundry there every 2 weeks (long story) and in the summer I walk there from work to eat lunch on weekdays. A couple of times a year my best friend comes up and we stay there.

It’s a great house. I keep the lawn and the flower beds up as best I can and I keep the inside clean. It’s pretty small, but it’s perfect for me and I love it. I look forward to living in it again.

Last year, just before Halloween, I got new neighbors next door. They’re renting. I rented for most of my life, so I’m reluctant to judge anyone based on that, but so far they’ve been a disappointment. I don’t know them, and have only spoken to them a couple of times, briefly, as one of us was coming or going. They’re an older couple, and I’m sure they’re nice people, doing the best they can, but like many people I encounter lately, they’re inconsiderate of those around them. They’re hardly ever there when I’m there, so it makes it hard.

The first thing that happened was that they gave their plow guy the wrong address and he plowed my driveway. Okay, not the end of the world, even though he gouged my lawn in several places. I don’t have my drive plowed for that very reason, and because it’s expensive for the little bit I’m there in the winter. But mistakes happen, so okay. They sent their grandson over to apologize one day when I was there. Whatever.

Then the plow guy started plowing their drive, but pushing the snow onto my lawn. I wanted to say something to them about it, but I was never there when they were, so I let that go, too. Yesterday I was over at the house raking and mowing and discovered that he gouged that part of the lawn pretty badly, too. Lovely.

Strike 2.

At some point this winter I noticed snowmobile tracks in the snow in my backyard and saw 2 snowmobiles parked in their backyard. Hmmm. Yesterday I found a 2′ x 2′ patch of dug up lawn and tracks through the rest of the lawn that lead over to their house.

Strike 3. YOU’RE OUT!

So now I have to think of the best way to deal with this. I hate to leave a note on their door, but as they’re never there, I think that’s the only option. I’ll be nice, but I need to make it clear that my property is off-limits. Period.

What gets me is that I have to tell people who should know better that it’s not okay to destroy my lawn. What’s up with that? I don’t know my neighbors’ name or anything about them, really. I hope they don’t have guns. I hope they don’t retaliate. I hate that I have to think that way. It makes my little Aquarian heart sad. But there it is. I hate confrontation, but I can’t let this go on. Apparently it’s not obvious to them that it’s not okay to wreck my place.

I get that people are not always good neighbors. After all, there is that saying that “fences make good neighbors,” and we don’t make up adages for things that happen infrequently. I’ve lived a lot of places and I’ve had less than perfect neighbors before. I’m tempted to think this is a new thing, but I know it’s not, though I do think it’s getting worse. Courtesy in our society is breaking down, in my opinion, and that’s hard to take sometimes.

I’m not naive, but I am an optimist, and my heart gets broken easily sometimes. This is one of those times. I feel disrespected and treated as if I don’t matter, and that’s a real hot button for me. The difference for me now is that I intend to let these people know that it’s not okay to treat me that way. I wouldn’t have done that even a few years ago, because I thought I didn’t matter.

They’ll either stop or they won’t, and if they won’t I’ll have to think about what to do next. But right now this feels like a win already – just standing up for myself is a victory, for which I’m very grateful. I have no control over the outcome, but taking action to try to stop someone from hurting me is better than doing nothing. Also, knowing that I’ve reached a place where I’m able to respond, rather than retaliate is satisfying, too.

Baby steps, but I’m getting there. Thank goodness.