In August of 2007, my then-spouse, Marvin, and I moved from Los Angeles to Wadesboro, North Carolina. We went from a population of 3 million to a population of 3,000. It didn’t occur to me that this might take some adjustment.
But this is what I DO in life. I plow through it, never thinking anything through, then being stunned by the struggle because I didn’t think things through. I wish for you to put this on my tombstone, along with the 40 other things I’ve asked you to put on my tombstone, which at this point is something of a scroll. A stone scroll. That you can somehow pull out to read all the epitaphs I’ve written.
“You wanna visit June’s grave today?”
“Ugh, no. I can’t even deal with unrolling her stone scroll.”
Anyway. So instead of sitting, oh, still, and letting myself be charmed by TinyTown, I immediately commenced to finding ways to leave. This is why, on February 27, 2008, I was driving to Raleigh for a job interview, when I passed a little dog on the side of a busy road.
(I just took this yesterday, and was stunned by just HOW busy that road was. Tallulah was less than 3 months old when I found her, and you guys, she was past that gutter. It gives me chills. She was probably moments from being in that road.)
I never made it to the interview, because as we all know by now, I made the best U-turn of my life and swooped that little puppy up and into my car. My initial plan had been to knock on the trailer doors, there, to say, “Here’s your dog,” but when I saw all the yards weren’t fenced, and that she was so very skinny, and once I saw the sun glint through her gold eyelashes, I instead shut my car door and put her in the passenger seat. And right then I knew, I had myself a Tallulah dog.
I’ve never known something so certainly, and never loved someone so fast. It was her gold eyelashes that did me in. Those gold eyelashes assured her spot as my passenger that day.
She was the best passenger I ever had, for 8 years.
This week would have been her 10th birthday, and I decided it was time to scatter her ashes all the places she loved. That included her first home, where I found her; the house we had in TinyTown; my yard here; the dog park; and any other places I can think of where she was happy, i.e., anywhere Edsel wasn’t.
(She was never a fan. Don’t tell Edsel. He was nothing BUT a fan of that dog.)
So yesterday I took the day off work to drive back to TinyTown and to where I found her, which by the way is precisely nowhere–it’s not even a town. Tallulah was a small-town girl. Livin’ in a LONELY world. She took the midnight train going an-y-where.
Also on June’s scroll: She burst into bad ’70s music when no one wanted her to.
The problem was, yesterday was our first snowstorm of the year. Go, June! Wait, did you just plow through something without thinking it through? Hunh.
Just as soon as I got out to the car, it started to snow. It was so pretty, and I was all, Oh, it won’t stick.
So, once again, my favorite passenger and I got into the car and headed on down the road a piece.
I took the country roads to take me home, because it’s a really pretty drive, and normally I’d have stopped to take photos for you, but as the grandmother I’m turning into would say, it was pouring the rain. It wasn’t far out of Greensboro that the snow turned to rain, but man, we’re talking rain. Much rain. It rained longer than Queen Elizabeth.
Oh, June. You’re not funny.
Whenever I return to TinyTown, I am charmed by the people and the beautiful old houses and I think, Why the hell did I ever leave TinyTown? I wonder if I’d have gotten divorced if I’d left. I wonder if I’d have ever met Ned. I’d never have had a Steely Dan, or known a single Alex.
But left it I did, which means I missed the news that my friend Lucy died earlier this year. She was a woman I met through the Episcopal church, where I was the best church secretary the world has ever known.
My stepbrother-in-law Bill once told me about a guy he knew who chucked it all to become a mushroom farmer. He wanted a simpler life. Turns out, being a mushroom farmer is really hard, and you have to constantly keep up with the heat and the moisture and the soil and your mushrooms and LIFE WAS NOT SIMPLER.
This sums up my experience of going from being a proofreader at an ad agency in Los Angeles to being a church secretary in a town of 3,000. IT WAS THE HARDEST JOB I EVER HAD.
But man, did I love the people there. I saw the church and the steeple, then I opened the door and saw all the people, and they were fabulous.
It’s funny–when we first moved to TinyTown, we had one car, a car Marvin would take to work. So my only entertainment was walking, and right outside our door was the world’s steepest hill, so every day in the August heat, I’d climb that hill. This church, the Episcopal church, was at the very top, and I’d sit on the wall and spit up blood while I caught my breath. I would admire the architecture every day. At night, the steeple would be surrounded by barn swallows, but I didn’t know what they were yet.
I’ve learned a lot of things living in the South: To be, not to seem. What a barn swallow is. To enjoy conversation. A ham biscuit. And that not everyone automatically believes in evolution.
I didn’t know I’d end up working at that church, is my point.
Anyway, when I learned my favorite parishioner Lucy died, I called her husband, Dr. Whit, and we made plans to get together yesterday.
When I pulled up to his house, he ran out for me with an umbrella, and does anyone want to join me in wondering why I left TinyTown? He’d made a cozy fire in the living room, and we had lunch and talked about just everything. That’s the thing about the people there: They all have the gift of gab. They make an afternoon fly by, because they actually know how to have conversations. No one checks a phone, no one dominates the talk. It’s a skill everyone there seems to have.
I was stunned to see they still have their mean cat, Dixie, named because she was found out behind a Winn-Dixie 14 years ago. “Has she gotten any nicer?” I asked hopefully. “Can I pet her yet?”
“Oh, no, don’t do that,” Dr. Whit warned. “Don’t ever do that.”
Of course, we talked about Lucy, and he even gave me some of her ashes, and I got my nerve up and asked, and YES, she got to be buried in her Tiffany box after all. I really almost cried when I found out. I so wanted her to get her Tiffany box.
After our visit, I stopped at the church and scattered a little Lu around the back door. I used to work every day from 8–12, and she’d be in her crate during that time. If I ever had to return for more pressing church secretary duties, I’d take her back to work with me for the afternoon where Dear People of TinyTown: Occasionally she’d poop in the nave maybe a bit. I am sorry. SHE WAS JUST A PUP. It was just a little puppy poop.
I remember her little excited puppy self clamoring to the back door of the church, trying to get up those big stone steps. And I remember Father Mike very tolerantly saying, “Hello, Tallulah” when he’d see us together in the office. He was the kind of guy who kept dogs for hunting, so you have to hand it to him that he didn’t fire me on the spot.
I also drove through the bustling downtown that continues to be adorable, then over to my old rental house, which doesn’t look good. They cut down some greenery, somehow. I want to look at old photos to compare the difference, but it looks barer now.
Nevertheless, since no one was home, I sneaked to the back yard like a common criminal and scattered Lu where I stood with her for countless hours in the cold, holding her leash, saying, Go potty go potty go potty go potty until we’d give up and go inside, where she’d poop on the floor as soon as we got in.
“Lu really prefer to poop in nave.”
Then I popped in on some other friends I made in TinyTown, Jerry and Rachel. They are the very definition of gracious. They served me hot cider and chewy almond cookies on a silver tray. Also on my tombstone: She never had elegant silver trays.
Careful readers will note this is the couple who had me over a few Christmas Eves since I moved to Greensboro. Their house was built in the ’20s, and they are the second people to ever own it. It has built-in cabinets, and one of those fireplaces with the wood columns and the mirror built in over it and OH MY GOD THAT HOUSE Y’ALL.
I forget how happy the people of TinyTown make me. And when I left their house, Jerry walked me to my car with an umbrella over me.
Hey, why’d I leave TinyTown?
Anyway, the weather was not letting up, and I basically hydroplaned my way to Tallulah’s old homestead. I saw a kid playing in the yard of one of the trailers, and I was tempted to ask, “Did anyone steal a puppy from you when you were just a wee child?” but I did not. Instead, I very casually walked around the grass, scattering Lu out in the driving rain, looking, I’m sure, not remotely berserk in my suede fringe boots and fur-collared retro coat.
The closer I got to home, the snowier it got, and while hydroplaning was not relaxing, neither was slipping on the ice. Despite my concrete shoulders, I took time out of sliding on the road to open the gift Jerry and Rachel had given me, a big tin of peanuts, and what better time to delve into a tin of peanuts than when you’re on an icy road, with cars spun out every few miles and ambulances everywhere? It’s a moment that cries out for a peanut break.
Tip for readers: Some tins of peanuts have very sturdy foil tops. These foil tops will SLICE YOUR FINGER TO RIBBONS should you choose to, oh, eat peanuts and drive.
You have no idea how badly I cut my own self. Turns out, bleeding and driving don’t mix. Oh my god, I was Nicole Brown Simpson. I was Sunday Bloody Sunday. I was bloody, Mary.
The peanuts were delicious.
I made it home alive and Dr. Whit even called today to make sure I did.
It didn’t even snow that much–although it’s still snowing as we speak. But it’s that kind with the icy top layer, like a creme brûlée. And today I was supposed to go do something exciting that I was gonna tell you about, but now that’s been put off.
But that is probably good, since I have droned on forever about my day in TinyTown, and talk about your gift for gab.
Not as gabby as my tombstone is gonna be, but you know what I mean.
June. Of TinyTown, fmr.