When I moved from the city to the country, I had no idea that my spiritual journey was going to evolve the way it did. It wasn’t my idea to move to rural Pennsylvania (and I do mean rural) – it was my husband’s idea. Of course it was his idea. There’s lots of stuff for HIM to do like hunt and fish – both of which Jews don’t normally do. Especially the hunting. Jews go to the deli and hunt for the perfect sour pickle and a deal on a pound of lean corned beef (after all, why should you pay for the fat?) Then, you go to the bakery to squeeze the rye bread to find the freshest one. Now that’s how you hunted for food where I grew up.
You’ve heard of the”Borscht Belt”? Well I was now a Meshugganah in the “Bible Belt” of Pennsylvania.
Being a city girl, I knew this move was going to bring great challenges and changes for me. For the most part, I was open to them. I wanted my daughter to be able to grow up away from the negative influences of the city. This was going to be a great adventure for me and my family. I was leaving row house living and moving to a beautiful single home on 14 acres on the top of a mountain! (later dubbed “the frozen tundra”)
I always thought my home would be a split level in suburbia. God really does have a sense of humor. We were leaving everything behind and starting over; new house, new friends, new business venture. I quit my well-paying job. My husband sold his business. I wasn’t afraid. I was excited. The truth is, I had no idea what I was getting into.
Living in the country was complete culture shock. First, no Bloomingdale’s. In fact the closest mall was 1 1/2 hours away from my home. I had never heard of a “Bon Ton” but I quickly learned that they don’t sell Michael Kors. Not that I would need designer clothes where I was now living. Welcome to the land of Carhartt, flannel and muck boots.
Me: What is that awful smell everywhere?
Al: Oh, the farmers just flopped the fields.
In other words – fertilizer. Eau de Cow Poop or Eau de Horse Poop. Whatever it was it stunk, but it was all the rage. All the farmers used it. It was their signature cologne. It was just freaking lovely sitting behind them in church.
Second, much to my dismay, I found that PENNDOT does not come by at 6:00 A.M to clear the snow from the dirt road where I lived. I sat at the window on the morning of our first snow (um like 2 feet, I think) with my coffee, waiting for the snow to be plowed. I grew increasingly annoyed with every passing minute that the road crew didn’t show. I began to pace furiously. My husband asked what my problem was. And that’s when I found out that PENNDOT doesn’t plow my road.
Who the hell plows the roads then?
The local township plows the roads and they “get here when they get here”
WTF? How am I supposed to get to work and get my daughter to the bus?
Duh. That’s why I bought you 4 wheel drive honey.
I guess I should have paid better attention when Al was teaching me how to use the 4 wheel drive correctly. Yep, that was the day I put my pick up truck in the ditch. I was screwed. There was no one around to help me. I started walking (it was going to take a while) when I saw a truck coming along. I actually put my thumb out. I had never, ever done that in my life. My mother would have killed me. Jews don’t get tattoos and they definitely DO NOT hitch hike. But hell, I wasn’t in Philly anymore.
I got a ride to the one pump gas station “country store” which was four freaking miles down the road. On my way inside to use the phone (no cell service) I walked past three township trucks with shiny snow plows all parked out in front of the store. When I went in, the township guys all looked nice and toasty drinking their coffee with their white powdered sugar-coated lips. After a lively exchange, (actually it was only me doing the talking (yelling)) I made some new “friends” that day. The coffee drinking, donut eating township guys were kind enough to get my truck out of the ditch. When I got home that night my whole road was nicely plowed along with my entire front lawn! Satisfaction and mirth emanated from my soul. I was joyful! The next morning I baked cookies and took them to the “men at work” (haha) at the store (oh, did I tell you I got fat living in the country?) and I was in! I was almost “one of them” Yaay! No more issues! The guys were even waving to me as I drove by now. Progress.
A few years later I found out the incident that day was the topic of many jokes for a very long time. Some of the locals would gather at the firehouse and they would literally “take bets” on how long it would take my family to move down off of that mountain. I understood that the townspeople gave us a lot of respect for living up on Mt. Everest. 🙂 I joke but all in all the people were good even if some of the local volunteer ambulance crew was known not to show up for a call if they didn’t like you. (No joke) Thank God I was a good baker.
I learned lots of new words living in the country. For example, the word, Grange. Grange is a community organization with its roots in agriculture. I think our local “Grange” was more like something out of the Thomas Tryon novel, Harvest Home. I wasn’t really sure what they did in that building even though it was said to be where quilters gathered on Tuesday nights. Yeh right.
I also learned that water (pronounced “wooder” in Philadelphia) was actually pronounced”watter” in these here parts. I still can’t bring myself to say “watter” although my husband and my daughter both crossed over to the dark side of country twang. A roof was a “ruff”, a root was a “rut” and the only directions given were “upta or downta” as in upta the fire hall or downta the township building. e.g. The Halloween party is upta the fire hall tonight. I’m still not sure if door to door trick or treating wasn’t allowed because we lived in such a rural area or, because of the Grange. I’m telling you something was going on in that building and people knew they shouldn’t be “in town” after dark!
I knew I was different from the locals immediately. The fact that they referred to my family and I as “flatlanders” was a clear giveaway that it was going to take some time to win them over. How would we start a new business with attitudes like that? I will never forget our curiosity seeking first customer. He came into our business and drawled, “It’s nice to have you here. I sure hope you don’t have to go on welfare until your business makes it because it could take a few years for people to start to like you, you know.” Wow! Thanks! Please stop in again. By the way, he didn’t buy anything. The second customer who came in just wanted to use our fax machine and gossip about the neighbors. I was in hell.
Was there any place to get a manicure around here?
Majestic mountains, pristine countryside still untouched, fresh air and golden silence (you hear that? nope. that’s right) except for the time my neighbors cow herd ran away and decided to camp in my back yard at 3:00 A.M. The farmer was pissed when we woke him up and asked him to come get his cows. What, not your cows? Oooops, sorry. How can you tell anyway? They all look alike to me. And, with all the beauty of the countryside and the “farmy” stuff going on, here I am, this citified Jewish girl, (with all of my teeth) riding through town in a shiny new red pick up truck blaring Bruce Springsteen and Hava Nagila on the stereo. Between annoying the wrong cow owner and the townspeople talking about me playing *(see note below) “that music those people who have horns listen to,” I’m pretty sure my name was in the paper that week. I was quite possibly headline news.
Ah yes. The local “paper.” It was excellent reading for the toilet. (excuse the visual) It was the town gossip rag. It contained everything such as the price of apples at the local grocery store, hospital admissions and releases, church news, and a very interesting lost and found section. Lost: 600 lb. bull. What? How can you lose a 600 lb. bull? Drink too much corn liquor, did ya?
Just about everyone went to church and the churches were all very cliquey. I was shocked (not really) to find that there wasn’t one synagogue around for hundreds of miles. People asked you what church you belonged to as if that defined you as a person. I quickly found that Catholics were a minority and there were “no damn Lutherans around here”. Okay then.
We began going to the Catholic church. Our first two friends in the area were the priest and the local undertaker. We were covered in the event of sudden death. I went to the Catholic church because I didn’t really have another religious preference at that time and also because my husband is a (mostly) practicing Catholic. The one thing I wanted more than anything from the church experience was family unity. Sunday was family day and everything that we did on Sunday, we did together. It was a wonderful time in our lives. So if going to church every Sunday was part of me living a wonderful life, I was okay with that. If my grandmother saw me kneeling in church……….Oy, I can’t even finish that sentence. Never mind.
We got along great with the priest! He was awesome until you didn’t agree with him. He would often come to dinner at our home. We got fat on homemade pie together (yeh baking pies was my newest hobby yee haw) and played lots of games of Pictionary. (what a sore loser he was). He stayed late into the night and always went home with a full belly and an argument from me. But he still kept coming back. (sort of like a Jehovah’s witness but not exactly) I’ll never forget the night he told me that dogs can’t go to heaven because they don’t have a soul. When I was finished arguing with him, he didn’t speak to me for weeks. LOL! I loved how “human” Father Joe was even though he really tried his best to be “holy.” It was great.
We lived in the country for 8 years. Those years were rich in unique learning experiences and filled with many, many moments of joy. Something was always missing, however. Spiritually speaking I think one of the biggest things I learned when I lived in “Green Acres” is what I DIDN’T want to do with the rest of my life. I didn’t want to stay in a place where my spiritual growth was stunted. I longed to be with people who had open minds and hearts. There weren’t too many options for social media interaction back then. Wow, that sounded prehistoric!
My daughter went to college. She was hours away and I missed her. Without the whirlwind of her activities and friends, I turned inward. There was definitely a lot of empty nest syndrome going on. I sat at the computer for hours like a pathetic puppy just waiting for her to get on AOL. I spent a lot of time alone and did a lot of reflecting. I wanted to be closer to my daughter and I knew she would never come back to the country. Her career path was city track all the way. I also wanted to be somewhere where I could make a difference in people’s lives. I had so much inside of me that I wanted to give. The wonderful but very closed-minded community in which I lived wasn’t going to allow for that. It was time to say goodbye.
I cried the day I left my beautiful home in the mountains. I still cry when I think about it because of the wonderful life we had there. We were so blessed in so many ways. I’ve been in my new home for almost nine years now. My daughter never did come home. She graduated college, went to grad school, got married, had children and has a very successful career. I’m grateful to live only two hours away from her.
I always maintained that if my daughter was able to become a college graduate and never have to worry about anyone taking care of her, I would die happy. Thank God, Kine-hora, pu pu pu this happened for her. I’m thrilled for her happiness but I don’t want to die…….not yet. I’m not ready. I need something for me now. I spent 21 years micromanaging her. (her words) – kill me. how does a daughter say such things to a mother? I’m ferklempt from this kid.
It was now time to do something that would make my soul sing.
Look out. Here I am and I have a hell of a lot more to say! Come back next week and visit me again!
*Note – my grandmother always told me that the only reason the world thinks that Jews have horns is because there was a statue of Moses at 52nd & Parkside in Philadelphia, where he was depicted with “high hair.” I cannot corroborate that such a statue ever existed, nor can I say that said statue started the rumor that “Jews have horns.”
Borscht Belt: a resort area in the Catskills, frequented mainly by Jews
Kine-hora: An expression used to ward off the evil eye
Pu, Pu, Pu: Jewish equivalent of “spitting” to ward off the evil eye
Ferklempt: When you well up and are on the verge of tears