Moving to a new town and knowing no one is like a cat on a leash. Easier said than done. I soon discovered my daughter’s friend lives approximately two minutes away and is happy to feed my own little beasts on occasion. And thanks to my husband, I met his co-worker’s wife, also new to the area, and we became instant friends.
But otherwise, it’s living in Strangeville. The strangeness isn’t just due to being surrounded by strangers, it’s because I feel as if I’ve entered another country. I call it the Semi-South. A few hours drive towards the equator and you hit a different land.
A land where the friendliness factor rates a ten on a scale of one to ten, where few people really act like strangers. The other day I was out shopping with my daughter who was visiting, and the cashier and I struck up a fun conversation. She ended up calling me her “new boo.” I looked this term up to be sure what it meant and the Urban Dictionary defines it as your boyfriend or girlfriend. When she checked me out again a couple of weeks later, I reminded her that I was her new boo. She lit right up with a huge smile, “Yes! I remember you!” and it felt like I’d just ran into an old friend.
On the other hand, my experience with the Catholic church was a bit different. I chose the closest one I could find since I am directionally challenged, but I’m not sure it’s the right fit. You’ve heard of the Stepford Wives, right? Well, I couldn’t shake the feeling that these people seem to be like the Stepford Catholics. All dressed up and coifed and praying in their pews immediately upon entering their seats. There were no slackers in this kneel-and-pray entrance. The only bit of unruliness was with a group of Asians whose kids couldn’t stop talking and milling about in their pews. They just made the other parishioners stand out more in their Stepford perfection.
The GPS Factor
Initially, sticking to a church close by made sense due to my anxiety about driving places that are unfamiliar and on super busy roads with multiple lanes of cars. I am not used to driving out of my house and in two minutes hitting that kind of traffic. I never know which way to turn even if I am going back in the direction I just came. The GPS in my phone is a crutch I rely upon for direction, and it is the best invention and antidote for driving anxiety ever made by man.
Although I check Google maps before driving to a new destination, I still need the GPS. When I decided to go to the local animal shelter, where I want to volunteer, I of course turned on my phone and zeroed in on the address. I am sure I will do okay because, after all, it’s only eight minutes away!
It doesn’t take me long on my short journey to encounter The Turn. My GPS did not warn me about The Turn, which involves turning left into the opposing two lanes of high speed cars without a light. This maneuver takes me onto the wrong road. My second try I turn earlier. The Turn is still not the right road, still doesn’t have a light, and still looks like committing suicide. I realize that I am supposed to make The Turn later, not earlier, and it will still involve potentially suicidal left-turn mania without a light. The good news is that on the way back I made another wrong turn and discovered an alternate route which involves a blessed right-hand turn onto a clearly marked road, and at a light. I don’t even need a light to go right! I am destined to travel to this animal shelter without risking my life, it seems.
The Hate Group Factor
On this first trip to the shelter, however, once I managed to get to the road the shelter is on, I see a kennel clearly marked with a sign, but no sign for the shelter. I wondered if it was in the same building, but just to be sure, I keep on driving. I see there is one more building on this road and then the road ends. I arrive at a warehouse-type building. As I turn around, I notice a lot of pick up trucks. They are parked randomly, without any order like you’d expect at a workplace. And there are a lot of them. Then I notice in the rear window of one truck a large Confederate flag emblem, emblazoned for the world to see. Terrified, I couldn’t turn around fast enough, thinking how my husband told me he’d just found out that there’s an active KKK in this town, the same town the shelter is in. Could this be their meeting place? Sure looks like it could be, and leave it to me to discover it.
Best Part: The Cat Factor
I get to the shelter, and it smells like dog. Lots and lots of dogs, all barking like they want to rip your throat out, in kennels and cages on two floors. Most of them are pit bulls. They scare the crap out of me. But I also feel terrible for them and I tear up every time I pass by. The cat room is on the upper floor so I have to pass by these abandoned creatures whenever I visit the cats. There are so many cats in the cat room that I can’t count them. Probably fifty, but maybe fewer. Most of them are very friendly and I wish I was an octopus with more hands to pet them. The last time I felt this way was in the orphanage in China. Nearly all of them have this tape-like tag around their necks with their name on it. There are a lot of names to remember!
On my second visit, I am an official volunteer and I jump right in and clean out the litter boxes. I scooped nine giant litter boxes in the cat room and four smaller ones in the kitten room. While there yesterday, two cats get dropped off, one just dumped by the road. Two more cats’ names to remember.
A young couple arrives to adopt a cat. They are having trouble deciding. They were going to choose *Good Cat (he’s a big black cat and has the most generic name of all of them), but they were falling in love with Caramel, another black cat who kept me company throughout most of my poop-scooping. When they realize Caramel is ten years old, they exchange looks. I show them Patti Cake (probably the most unusual of the names) who is also black and as friendly as Caramel. She was my other poop-scooper company. In the meantime, Bella, a light brown- and gray-striped tabby jumps on the woman’s lap. Bella is a hugger. The woman begins asking questions about the cat on her lap who’s winning in the affection arena, but I have to leave. It’s been nearly four hours and I want to go home to make dinner.
I also volunteered to drive to another town to visit a pet store where the shelter takes cats to get more exposure for adoption. They need volunteers to visit and feed, water, scoop the litter boxes, and give love to the cats. What price to pay to be with the most affectionate cats I have ever known?
The Surprise Neighbor Factor
My week ends with a tiny bit of guilt. While I was in the bedroom I heard singing. As I listened, I thought it sounded like a hymn. So I did what any curious person would do, and I put my ear to the wall where the sound was loudest. It was definitely a hymn, and after singing the person began to read aloud from the bible. I started to feel the guilt creeping up from my eavesdropping. Nothing personal was being said, and I just wanted to confirm that it was truly Jesus-preaching that I was hearing, and it was! I wanted to know for sure because it made me so happy to think we have a neighbor who loves the Lord. He was talking like he was giving a sermon, quoting Jeremiah and referring to spiritual warfare. I wanted to make sure it wasn’t a radio show, but I don’t think it was.
It’s really hard to tell which door goes to what apartment, so I have no idea what apartment number it is. It would be fun to figure it out and go knocking on his door with some homemade cookies, but what would I say? Hey, I heard you singing hymns and wanted to say thank you? I like knowing there’s a fellow believer next door? I’m an eavesdropper new to the area? Want some fresh baked cookies?
Life in the Semi-South is a whole new world from the New England living I am used to. I hate the thought there is a hate group functioning nearby, but I love the fact that there are so many friendly people, people who love their God, even if some of them intimidate me with their outward perfection. There are more churches to try, and so many cats to love, in this new-town living. Taking wrong turns isn’t looking so bad.
*All names changed to protect the furry felines.
Photo of rescue kitten I met out for a walk in a nearby shore town.