It seems I’m destined to be that fish-out-of-water story–how could I not be, with my habit of uprooting myself every two to three years? My dad said once that I was like a hummingbird–I didn’t light in one place for very long. But since the last few moves have been below the Mason-Dixon line, this one is a bit different. My latest exodus has taken me to Iowa–a place I thought was going to be, as my grandmother says, “flat as a flitter.” I was happy to find it has the same rolling hills that ripple across my native South Carolina. There’s the same expanse of pastures, the same lowing of cows in the distance. The only significant difference so far is the lack of trees. It’s so similar, in fact, that for the first few weeks in my new home, I had to keep reminding myself that I was in the midwest. When I told my new friend this, she said, “Don’t worry. Pretty soon the weather will alert you to the fact that you’re not in the south anymore.” Ah, the weather.
Everyone warns me about the winter. It’s sweet the way they worry about me freezing to death, how maybe I don’t have sweaters or a coat that will ward off hypothermia, or how I might panic when there’s a real snowfall, sort of like the way a turkey is doomed by a rainstorm. Before I moved, my friend’s husband told her, “Lauren’s a little Southern girl–she doesn’t know about real cold. You have to help her!” And then she gave me a list of the three essentials that helped her survive Alaska with all extremities intact: 1) a full-length down coat, 2) silk long underwear, and 3) knee-high snow boots. I told her that maybe one of those wild mountain men that look a little like Wolverine might help and she said, “Honey, please. You don’t want any man that wanders out of those mountains. Trust me.” Does Iowa have mountains?
At dinner with my new colleagues, one confessed that after the interview for my new job, one member of the panel said, “Did anyone say anything about the winter? Nobody tell her about the cold until after she signs the contract.” I think maybe they were serious.
One day in November, when it was 30 degrees and I was wearing my Alabama-winter coat, I said to my friend, “I’m glad it’s finally winter.” He chuckled, with this devilish look in his eye, and said, “This isn’t winter.” A few weeks later, on a day when it was 15 degrees and we were shivering in a field, I said, “Is this winter?” After a long pause, possibly because the synapses in his brain were slowed by the chill, he said, “Yeah, this counts as winter.” But the winter is no match for the warmth of the folks who were waiting for me in Iowa City. I’ve moved a lot in the last fifteen years, and I never felt quite as welcomed as I did my first week here. New friends brought me into their homes and showed me around town, helped me find an apartment and invited me to Thanksgiving dinner. I knew I liked this town when I found good coffee shops and a great bookstore, when I bumped into someone I knew when I’d only been in town for three days, and when I walked past the old capitol and saw it had been engulfed by gigantic pink tentacles–a local artist’s installation that reminds us to embrace our surges of creativity. That’s just the kind of surge that brought me here, but the wave of kindness is what made me feel like I belong.