Thursday, February 7, 2013

Chapter Three: When South meets North

When Keith and I first met, there were some obvious points we had to work through before it became apparent that our relationship might work out.  One of the biggest problems was honestly the whole north versus south thing.  He was from a small town in northern Minnesota, and I was from a small town on the southern Mississippi/Louisiana state line.  We were both in the Army stationed in Colorado, and I was pretty set on returning home after my time in the Army was up.  He had some reservations about living in Louisiana.  Why wouldn’t anyone want to live in the great state of Louisiana in the heart of Cajun culture???  The food, the music, the ambiance???!!!  I really missed home and as much as I loved the Colorado mountains and seeing other parts of the world…  it was just not N’Awlins. 

We got engaged, but this problem still persisted.  He was not sold on Louisiana.  I took him home with me and we drove across the Ponchatrain, hung out in the French Quarter, ate beignets at CafĂ© Du Monde.  We walked along the River Walk on the south end of the mighty Mississippi.  We stopped alongside a dirt road in a bayou to watch wild alligators sunbathing.  I loved sharing this part of who I was with him.  After all, this was the area of my birth place.  I took great pride in it. 

In the same trip, he took me up north to see his hometown for the first time.  It was September and I had to buy a coat because it was c-c-cold.  We woke up the first morning and the camper we were staying in had run out of propane the night before.  There was no reason it should be as cold as it was during that time of the year in my mind.  We did go see the Headwaters of the Mississippi River, and that was cool.  And while I enjoyed my time in Minnesota, the possibility of moving there someday was a non-issue.  I didn’t even consider it.  Pf, why would a southern girl like myself ever want to move so far north?  Yankees moved south.  Southerners did not move north. 

And then we got married.  Keith gave in and relented saying that he would move home with me when our time in the Army was done.  How much can change in such a short amount of time!  We got pregnant with Gracie, who is now five, during our second deployment.  I came home early while he finished out the deployment.  While I was home and he was away, it became apparent that if we wanted to actually be physically together during our marriage, I needed to get out of the Army.  So, after seven years in, I got out.  Keith had already received orders to move to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, for drill sergeant duty, but I did not have enough time left in my contract to move also.  I did have just enough time left though to deploy for a third time and get caught in a stop loss since our unit was on a regular deployment rotation.  We already knew where we were going for the next deployment prior to coming home from the previous one.  That’s just the way it was back then during the war.  We were looking at being stationed in two different sides of the country and then separated for another deployment.  That is not a way to start a marriage or a family.  When a woman is pregnant in the Army, they are always given the opportunity to end their contract early on good terms.  So that is what I did.  And after he returned home, we moved to Columbia, South Carolina together. 

We thought we would be in Columbia roughly two years.  That was how long the drill sergeant duty was supposed to last.  While we were there, our old unit deployed again but to Afghanistan this time.  The first two deployments had been to the Al Anbar providence (ar Ramadi, Habaniyah, Fallujah area) and then to Baghdad right before and during the Surge.  The unit had just received orders for a three month extension when I came home making it a 15 month deployment instead of the typical 12 months. Immediately after the unit deployed to Afghanistan, we started getting word of losses.  It was devastating.  Our first deployment had been horrendous.  Our second deployment had left its own scars, but the third time deployment continued to affect us despite us not even being in country with our old unit.  Our friends were still dying.  It was then that Keith made the decision to just get out of the Army with eight years in service and on a fast track towards retirement.  He was a successful soldier, but he was also an Infantry soldier, and that meant as soon as we left South Carolina, that the deployments would start all over for him.  We had already lost so many friends.  We knew what more deployments could very well mean. 

So, roughly two years ago…  his contract ended and he was finished with his service.  My parents had since moved away from Louisiana due to job losses and changes, and Louisiana didn’t quite hold the draw to me as it had before.  A lot of things had changed for us.  We’d talked about what we were going to do after the Army and we played with a lot of ideas.  The possibility of us being in charge of our destiny hadn’t really been a possibility before.  We settled on becoming missionaries and moving to a foreign country.  We talked to several people who were already missionaries and focused on moving to a small country called, Albania.  First, we had to go to school and do some training. 

We put our house on the market and started packing up our stuff in preparation.  My parents had moved to a small town in the northeastern corner of Oklahoma, so we looked at going to school in Joplin, Missouri in preparation to become missionaries.  We arrived there on a Friday.  On Sunday evening, the tornado hit Joplin.  It became apparent very fast that our plans needed to change and were not going to work out like we had original thought and our house had not sold in South Carolina, so we just moved back in.  After that, we were kind of in this weird place for a while.  We were unwilling to settle back in, because we were still holding out on being able to leave.  We never planted roots, because it seemed like moving was always on the horizon.  After we returned though, it seemed like all doors of opportunity just seemed to constantly close on us.  A lot of soul searching happened during this time. 

Finally, one day I sat down and I prayed “Dear Lord, if you aren’t going to open the doors of opportunity for us to be missionaries, can you please allow us to be homesteaders.  In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.” 

We knew there was nothing we could do for ourselves that would help us move forward.  So, we just used what we had to do the best we could.  All we had was our backyard and a home that would not sell.  We expanded the garden, got some goats, raised some rabbits, and sold some fresh eggs.  Through this, we met our neighbors, made some friends, got to know some people, and learned a lot.  I became focused and my perspective on life changed. 

Even through all of this, South Carolina was still…  well, the south.  Not the South I knew, but still technically the South.  It took me a lot of time to be able to come to a place where I was willing to even consider moving to Minnesota if the opportunity arose.  And I am sure I said it more than once “But, Keith, it is just so COLD in Minnesota.  I am not sure I could do that, and you know how grumpy I get when I am cold!”  I was well aware that my blood was the consistency of chicken noodle soup.  Thin and watery.  But just as Keith had become open to moving to Louisiana, so did I with moving to Minnesota. 

Then one day we got the call and within six months, I had hit an all time low.  Literally.  It was -33 last week.  I’d experienced 145+ degree temperatures while we were in Iraq, and that is impossible to help some truly see how hot that is unless they have experienced it firsthand.  I have since learned that trying to explain to someone what -33 feels like is also impossible to comprehend unless you have experienced it firsthand.  Cold doesn’t even begin to cover it.  And I never understood before what people meant by being burned by the cold, because that seems impossible…  but now I know.  Freezing is a lot like burning.  And feeling the skin on the inside of your nose instantly start to freeze because of frigid temperatures is a crazy awakening. 

I have since come to acknowledge that the only thing that protects my family from assured death during the winter is the walls we live within.  Without those walls we would not survive.  It’s not like in the South where you can live outdoors successfully the entire year.  Here, you just cannot.  It is that simple.  My perspective for life was always going in a southern direction.  When you move this far north, you have to change your perspective 180 degrees.  It is a matter of survival here. 

And when opportunity knocks, like it did with us…  sometimes that means stepping way outside of your comfort zone to answer the door.  My comfort zone was an ideal zone 8.  Now I am working in a 3b.  That makes a lot of prior knowledge incompatible. 

We have spent the past couple of weeks just kind of holed up in our little home during the Big Freeze.  People keep telling me that this year is not near as bad as it could be, so maybe it is a good thing we moved here when we did.  I am just really looking forward to warmer temperatures, although the snow is a nice relief during the cold temperatures.  It gives beauty to the inconvenience of the arctic climate.  I am amazed by the snow.  One night we got 10+ inches to the snow that was already piled up on the ground and we have just continually gotten more since then.  I wonder how long you have to live here before you start looking over the beauty of the snow.  I wonder if people who have always lived here even notice the beauty that they live in, because sometimes it can be so easy to overlook what you have always perceived as normal and not realize just how unique it is. I hope I can always appreciate the beauty of the snow and never learn to find it a source of irritation. 

In parking lots, the snow that has been plowed has been piled as high as the buildings surrounding it.  You learn to drive in the tire trails so as to stay off the snow.  Speaking of driving…  I did start driving.  I had to.  That is just what happens when you have some place to be and the vehicle you need that fits everyone in it won’t start because it is frozen.  Did you know a vehicle can freeze?  I didn’t.  We have had a lot of car/truck issues because of the freeze and because our vehicles are from the South.  They were just as not ready for -30 as I was and I think they are revolting.  Driving isn’t so bad.  I have learned out to manage the tires spinning in place on ice and snow, and how to handle the truck when it starts to slide. 

The kids see the snow outside and they want to go outside to play in it.  I had to make the rule…  You can’t go out to play in the snow unless it is at least 10 degrees outside.  10 degrees!  See, I am already evolving!  It never even hit 10 degrees the whole time we were in South Carolina!  I never would have dreamed letting the kids out to play (even if they had asked) because 10 degrees is ridiculous in South Carolina, but compared to -30…  well, that is a heat wave here.  So, here 10 degrees is acceptable. 

I had been trying to keep us as healthy as possible since we are all cooped up in a tiny little house in the middle of winter with a projection for a moderate flu season and a new baby at home.  Yeah, that didn’t work.  We don’t get sick very often, and even less as a family, but some kind of stomach bug hit us and it hit us hard.  My four year old son got it first, and woke up in the middle of the night vomiting.  Then my two year old daughter got it by the next night.  Then on the third night I woke up with chills and a fever.  In my feverish state, I asked Keith if it was possible that I was just hypothermic and not feverish…  because don’t you Minnesotans get hypothermic on occasion in the middle of winter?  Eventually, the fever broke and I started thinking rationally again. 

I did break down and go to Home Depot to just LOOK at the seed rack.  And then I picked some up to take home just to keep them close for when the time comes to start planting.  When I went up to the cash register to pay, the lady said “Oh, getting ready for summer already?”  I felt like saying “It is February and you plant in the spring NOT THE SUMMER and why does this seem like abnormal behavior to you people!”  The cold temperatures must be affecting these peoples’ brains.  Who DOESN’T buy seed in February is probably the bigger question here!  I am not the crazy one.  They are!  It’s just too cold to plant it, that’s all. 

Minnesota just has no idea yet what moved into the neighborhood.  It just needs to warm up a bit before I can show them!  

1 comment:

  1. You'll love gardening up there, Rebecca. The soil is incredibly dense and fertile. Great post!