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22K. Or just a handy 22.

November 22, 2010

When I was a kid we went up to the mountains of North Carolina/Tennessee every summer. My mom’s mom was from that part of the world, and roots go deep.

My grandmother’s cousins, three old maids, lived in a beautiful old house in a small town, and on the wall of that house were many cross-stitched sayings, framed. One of them was this: “Make new friends, keep the old. One is silver, the other is gold.” I know this, I do, but I am terrible at following up. I can blame it on my peripatetic lifestyle, and also on my own personality that is perpetually looking forward, never back.

When I was diagnosed with cancer, I did make an effort to do some phone calling and emailing, letting my closest friends know my terrible news, so that they would not hear it from the grapevine and suffer hurt feelings that they didn’t hear it from me. I missed some people, and I feel mildly guilty about that, but I did the best I could, and one small silver lining of the whole experience has been getting back in touch people from my earlier lives.

Than *bam* along comes facebook and I’m overwhelmed with back-in-touch-ness. It makes me happy in a way nothing else can.

I got a facebook message from Jenny, my old housemate, about ten days ago, “I’m going to be in Dallas on business. Are you free next Friday evening?”


Never have I so earnestly wanted my children to be at their very best.

I cheated.

Yes, I made them bathe and wear stain-free pajamas. But more, here is what I said.

“A wonderful thing is happening. My friend Jenny, who I used to live with before I married Daddy, is coming to see you.”

“Ginny? Like Ginny Weasley?”

“Almost. Her name is Jenny, not Ginny, and you will call her Aunt Jenny. But she is a LOT like Ginny Weasley. She looks like her, she is wonderful and kind like her. And if she were a witch like Ginny, you can bet that she would be a doozy of a good one. ” It does not hurt that my friend does resemble the actress who plays Ginny Weasley.

My kids were primed, and they delivered, with appropriate hugs and kisses and songs and as much charm as two small monst… I mean small children can spread on someone they want to like them. In their small minds, the next best thing to the real Ginny Weasley from the books was coming to see them. I have never been so proud of my kids.

Then they went to bed like little angels and Jenny and I stayed up half the night talking. Like the crew of the Pequod, we played show-and-tell with my surgical scars. We talked about her father, who died from cancer about ten years ago, so she understood a lot of what I had been through.

We talked about how friends can’t help as much as they want to. We talked about how my more liberal friends, focused on the big picture, made donations in my honor to breast cancer research organizations, whereas conservative friends, focused on the immediate need they could see, and their own experience, brought food. We talked about hats.

Jenny added something to my list of things friends can do for someone who has cancer: to go to the funeral. That’s a difficult truth to get my head around, but she is right.

We talked about the mood in Washington, DC, where she lives. We talked about how hard it is, and it is getting harder, to be both a Christian and a liberal, and how it just makes us want to stay home on Sunday morning rather than go and listen to the hate.

“When are you coming home,” she asked me, meaning back home to the East Coast.

That’s a tough call. First of all, it’s completely out of my hands, since our family’s location is always determined by my husband’s career. But there are more things to consider, and I thought about them this weekend.

“You could never afford a house like this anywhere on the East Coast,” she said. It’s true. Our house is huge, and we love it, and it fits our kinks.

I thought about my Dallas friends. They’re all new friends, because I’ve only lived here for six years. But if we stay here long enough for them to become old friends, that’s good too.

Another cross-stitched saying my grandmother’s cousins had on their wall was this one: “Home is where the heart is.”

Part of my heart will always remain back East. It’s where I’m from, and there are countless cultural nuances that make it so that Dallas will never, ever be home to me, not in the way that New York, or the mountains of East Tennessee, or the beaches of Miami, are home. I miss living back East, especially at Thanksgiving, where people really do sit around the table swapping stories about our Puritan ancestors. It’s not putting on the dog, even when my paternal grandmother lorded it over her husband because his family did not date back to the Mayflower, but only to the Speedwell. She really did, and it really bothered him, and he retaliated by bringing up his Algonquin forebears. Every year. Thanksgiving is our heritage, like St. Patrick’s Day is for the Irish and Columbus Day for Italians. When I see the kids at my kids’ school acting it out, like kids do all over the country, like it’s the story of “those pilgrims” and not “we pilgrims,” and I long to be home.

But then I look around at my friends here. Women and families who, for the most part, got to know me when I was in the belly of the whale, or had recently been regurgitated. There are not a lot of cities where someone could show up not knowing a soul, have a baby, and then get cancer within eighteen months and still make friends. Real friends. True friends. Not just sympathy friends. I don’t know what kind of reaction I would have gotten had shown up in a new city back East with cancer and two toddlers, but “Sucks for you,” comes to mind.

Dallas does not have mountains. We don’t have a beach. We don’t have 400 years of history, or if we do, it culminates in not forgetting the Alamo. We don’t have a long tradition of art museums or outstanding music, although that is changing and it’s exciting to watch the arts bloom before my eyes, and it’s great that I can actually get season tickets to the symphony.

When I moved here, I heard, over and over, “Dallas doesn’t have a lot, but it has the people, and that is why we all think it’s the best place in the country.”

Over and over again,  I’ve been frustrated when people take it personally whenever I express my belief that Dallas is a fine city, but not the Promised Land that the people who live here seem to think it is. Now I begin to see why: the people who live here, the dominant culture, are what makes this city great.  Of course they take it personally when I say it’s not my favorite. D’uh.

Maybe when I set the board for Thanksgiving Dinner come Thursday, I’ll honor the natives of this brave new world I’m living in and serve up a concoction of jello, canned fruit, and Cool-Whip. Sure, my Puritan ancestors might rise up out of their graves and come after me for committing such sacrilege, but I’m confident my new Texan compadres are more than capable of taking out of an army of Puritan zombies.

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  1. Aunt Lee permalink

    Instead of white bread cuisine, you could serve Spanish or local American Indian cuisine, both of which cultures are older than the Puritans in the USA, and in the case of the local Indians, very much older.

    • On the one hand, Aunt Lee, you are right, and I hear your voice chiming in with seventeen generations of New England food purists, “nooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!! with Granny as a final afterthought, “Bleah.” On the other hand, a paean to white bread cuisine is exactly what I had in mind. If I do stabilized whipped cream instead of Jello and Kool Whip, or however you spell it, will it still count? Or will I be defeating both purposes? Either way, I bet my kids will love it.

      • Aunt Lee permalink

        Whipped cream or Cool Whip, canned fruit, Jello – whatever you decide will be just fine. As you say, the kids will love it.

  2. Nancy Kirk permalink

    Happy Thanksgiving ER to you and C and the Gs. My granddaughter is the 4th generation born in NYC. Who’d a believed it? Not I, for sure.

  3. Mary Knapp permalink

    I’m with Aunt Lee on the concoction. When I read that, I simultaneously rolled my eyes and swallowed a dyspeptic belch. After (digesting) the thought, however, I realized that it epitomizes your generosity of spirit and light-hearted attitude towards stodginess.

    So……you have my blessings on the concoction, and please do throw in teeny tiny marshmallows.

    And don’t forget the arroz con frijoles and platanos fritos.

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