scholars and rogues

Converting. Yep.

by Terry Hargrove

This week, something happened that changed everything. Life is like that. Just when we get comfortable, there’s a phone call or a letter or a chance meeting and the ground shifts, the sky changes, and the world is different and can never go back to the way it once was. On Saturday, my wife sent in the card to subscribe to Yankee magazine, and we dropped our subscription to Southern Living. We have officially become northerners.

While it’s comforting to know that I won’t have to move all my stuff 1000 miles, again, I can’t bring myself to tell my parents. They’ve never been anywhere farther north than Kentucky, a weekend that still sends them both into the shivers. I don’t know what happened in Lexington back in 1964, but I think that, just like everything else in the Bluegrass Sate, it involved mint juleps and racing horses. Somewhere between the bar and the track something took place, and it sent them rushing back to Tennessee with a vow never again to venture north of Nashville.

But they’ll find out eventually. I suppose on some deep level, I knew this was going to happen. I found myself defending the north when I stopped by to see cousin Dennis last year.

“You’ll never get me to live up there,” said Dennis. We had gone south for a brief visit last July, in the middle of a hellish drought, when the temperature was over 103 six days on a row. I was melting and couldn‘t breath. The only movement of air was the dry heat rising from the driveway. “I wouldn’t move to Franklin and that’s just 12 miles north of here, but they’re strange up there, too. I hate the thought of moving. You’re gonna stay up there so you won’t have to move again.”

“What are you looking for?” I asked. Dennis was peering over my shoulder down the length of Elm Street.

“Mr. Jackson has three new dogs and they don’t like strangers,” he said. “And you smell funny. No offense, but you smell like one of those people from up there.”

“Clean?” I asked.

“Oh, har, har, har,” he said. “A water restriction ain’t funny.”

“You’re right, and I apologize,” I said. “But I like it up there. It did smell funny at first, but that’s because we were so close to the water. This air smells old and hot.”

“They call this part of Tennessee the Great Basin,” he said. “Summer air gets stuck in here and can’t get out. Don’t know what’s so great about that. Great if you’re afraid of kites, I guess. It is hot, though. I saw a dog chase a cat yesterday and they were both walking. But I’ll take our summers over your winters. I’ve heard that in the winter, they have this kind of snow that’s not like our snow. Their snow falls on the ground and it stays. It stays for months! I’ve also heard that it snows year round.“

“No, it stops snowing by June,” I said. “Usually.”

“They play their high school football games on Saturdays,” continued Dennis. “That ain’t right.”

“Some high schools in Connecticut don’t even have a football team,” I said. “Some high schools play field hockey.”

“I’m gonna pretend I didn’t hear that,” replied Dennis. “No football team? What the hell do they have high schools for?”

“You got me there,” I said.

“They don’t love animals, neither. They don’t let their dogs run around free as God intended. They keep ‘em on leashes all the time. I’ve seen a man on television, a grown man, walk around behind his dog with a plastic bag on his hand to pick up the dog’s… you know, the dog’s business.”

“Some people don’t mind that,” I replied. “For me, I still have bad dreams about the pack of dogs that chased us around the junior high school when I ran track. People in Tennessee just buy dogs and turn them loose.”

“And that’s good for us,” said Dennis. “It keeps us alert. A mind can’t get too lazy when it knows it can be dog food at any moment. Now, I don’t know how long you and Nancy plan to stay up there in, what is that place where you live?”

“We live in Connecticut,” I said.

“I can’t say that. Say it again.“

“Connecticut,” I said slowly.

“That’s just like you,“ he scoffed. “Couldn’t move to New York or Maine or Marsacharsetts. Nope, cousin Terry had to move to the one state that nobody can pronounce. Well, you need to start thinking about moving back home next summer, since we all need to… Run! Run! The Jackson’s dogs are a coming this way!”

We really didn‘t have to hurry. It took the dogs an hour and a half to get across the back yard. It was really hot.

What I couldn’t tell cousin Dennis or any of my other relatives is that we like it here. We like the bookstores and the museums. We like Boston and New York City. We like Vermont and New Hampshire, or at least we will when we get some time to go up there. The people are friendly, the autumns glorious, the springs breathtaking, and the summers have wind, real breezes that are coolest when you most need them. True, the winters do seem to stretch out five months longer than seems normal, but how can I complain when I look out the window of my classroom in January and see bald eagles soaring down the length of the Thames River. We like the churches and the lakes and the history in the Northeast. New England is the birthplace of our country, and in the red granite slabs you can see the faces of our ancestors.

And if we stay, that means I won’t have to move again. I hate moving. The packing and the lifting and renting a new place in a new state and learning new people and getting new tags and new driving licenses. I just might stay here forever because that means I won’t have to move again. Three days in a U-Haul does things to a man.

And the dog thing doesn’t bother me at all. Nope, not me. I’m a cat person. They hate moving as much as I do, and when it’s time to do business, they don’t need me or a plastic bag, if you know what I mean.

Categories: scholars and rogues

5 replies »

  1. Every time I go back to Tennessee (which is several times a year), I always pull over at the state line, get out of the car, turn around and piss on Kentucky. It’s kind of like a ritual to renew my TN citizenship. It’s a catharsis that works for me… may help your parents.

    But Terry, you got to know this… can take the boy out of the country but you can’t take the country out of the boy, no matter how much you like it up there.

  2. Hooray! Welcome to the north!

    I did the opposite (temporarily). Spent three years in Atlanta and a year in South Florida.

    Ya’ll down south can keep the fire ants, toxic toads, and weeding your garden in January. Plus the Atlantic traffic jams and people in Palm Beach County who just plain can’t drive.

  3. I started to say good luck finding barbecue, Yankee Boy. But then I remembered that you’re from Tennessee. So unless you’ve driven across the hills to NC, you don’t know what barbecue tastes like anyway.