I rode Baltimore city public transportation to school year after frigid year. With orange bus transfer slips clutched in my wind burned hand, I had no choice in how I rolled. People with dubious hygiene and intent sat next to me while an AM transistor radio in the back played the Eagles. “City girls just seem to find out early, how to open doors with just a smile”. I knew myself then. I was made of asphalt and dirty snow and transfer slips.
I was still that city girl the day I drove with my future husband to house hunt on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. His homeownership ‘must haves’ included bar free windows and his own personal parking spot. Eventually we found our Mr. Right Priced house on the Choptank River in a town called Denton. Known once as the Garden County, Caroline County, Maryland, is Talbot County’s northern redheaded step-sister.
My man was exhilarated by the smell of the salt air as we crossed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. I was charmed by the tinny “Kum ba yah” blasting from Denton’s Methodist church’s tower at quarter past noon. And together we were sold when the honking snow geese flew over our heads as we stood gazing out over our future waterfront property. We said our “I dos” a year later in a backyard wedding extravaganza complete with a private fireworks finale.
We were no longer a couple of touristas headed “Downy O”. Nope. Now we were ‘come here’s. And we had fallen off the edge of the known world. Our bizarre disappearance was confirmed as our friends bypassed our hinterland address by mere blocks barreling down Route 404 toward their beach destinations. As they passed up the use of our clean convenient bathrooms, we knew we’d become either fictitious or invisible.
Although surrounded by the sprawling bucolic farmlands of the Eastern Shore, we were pleasantly living on an island. Peninsula, island, whatever. I called it the “Rock”. The eventual housing market dump would confirm we had purchased our retirement home. There will be no ‘buying up’. That trapped feeling combined with the slower pace of the Shore would soon irk my inner city girl.
I whined about the lack of cultural entertainment, packaged goods after nine pm, and a Thai restaurant for goodness sakes. I bemoaned my destiny to be knocked up here and eventually planted in this ground. The swellest husband ever said,” Whatever you want to do sweetie”, a ridiculous statement since we’ll never get our money back out of this decrepit old house. I graciously responded, “Thanks for pretending there’s a choice. I’ll buck up and see what happens”. After he’d talked me in off the ledge, we planted a garden or bird watched or something.
The husband then landed a well paying job and offered to fund my opening Bally Eden, my own gift and antiques shop. And in the summer of 2003, I found my new identity as a shop owner. I was invested in this town and I waited to reap the rewards. Unfortunately, like my new baby’s naps, my patrons became fewer and farther between. And then the non-recession happened. After two and a half years, on a cold and windy January day in 2006, I cleared out my lovely little shop and swallowed the bitter pills of debt and grief. I was no longer a city girl or a shop owner. Time had come for my inevitable turn to sacrifice myself on the “Mommy” bonfire. I had fought a long valiant battle.
The seasons changed again and the town’s charm emerged. As downtown residents, we enjoyed the marching bands in parades down Main Street. Across the street, the Courthouse Green hosts Shakespeare plays, movies, and Summerfest, a free family fair in August ending with a fireworks display. My native born friends assured me, where once they couldn’t wait to escape this small town, they had migrated back here to have their families.
I began to relax as I stopped trying to jam the square peg of my past into my round holed present. Challenged to grow where I was planted, I found concerts to attend, joined the YMCA, and began to publish essays online. I spruced up my nest, poked futilely at my nine flower beds, and discovered I had friends. I forayed to the big city to remind myself of what I wasn’t missing. And, when we couldn’t afford or stomach our dining-out choices, I cooked. Consequently, I’ve become a better cook. My kid thrived and I figured both my parenting skills and life here might not suck after all.
Despite myself, my forward thinking had made the right choices for my family’s future wellbeing. We’d chosen to move to a safe and quaint little town. Caroline County’s school system is good and we have curbside school bus service. My son’s childhood will be enviably stable. And how could I not feel safe with the police station a block up and the sheriff’s office a block down? After twelve years, there is a sense of belonging. A continuity in knowing peoples faces and the changing of the seasonal fields.
Then, out walking with a friend, I spotted them. Two women with their butt cheeks clenched pushing doublewide strollers full of babies up Second Street. Decked out in pricey athletic gear instead of frumpy house-frau clothing, their monstrous modern perambulators proved the inevitable city folk invasion had begun. My walking partner informed me, these weren’t transplants, just native money “slumming it” downtown with us townies. I was relieved. They were just ‘been here’s too.