Picayune Writer’s Corner
Published 1:32 am Sunday, March 27, 2011
When I moved to Picayune in 2003 from my hometown of Baltimore, I wondered how different my life would become. Since the day I was born, I had lived in just one place, a bustling, noisy city, no less. I grew up in a rowhouse with a tiny front yard, sending Morse code messages to my next door neighbor by knocking on the bathroom wall. Now, here I was, in a rural neighborhood, 1,000 miles away from all of my family and friends, an outsider with a strange northern accent. Would I adapt quickly to my new circumstances, or spend my days longing for the familiarity of my old home?
I arrived here in June, with plans to marry a man I had met on the Internet, once upon a time a development that would raise eyebrows, but now, in this age of texting, tweeting, and Facebooking, a regular occurrence— computers are the modern matchmaker. A job at Hancock Bank was procured, and the settling into domestic felicity commenced. We lived on a typical Picayune country road, winding several miles, and bordered sporadically by towering pines or ancient oaks. The road passed by an eclectic mix of domiciles: Sprawling, elegant houses, trailers, and old, rundown dwellings, including our own. It was country living to me because we were unable to see our neighbor’s house, suburbia to my husband because we lived right outside the town limits.
One of the first realizations about my new home was how unbelievably dark it got at night. I was used to living in an area that was totally illuminated by streetlights, but now, when I looked out my windows, I felt like I was camping in the middle of the woods. For a while, I wouldn’t even think about going outside by myself after the sun set, absolutely convinced that all manner of wild creatures would attack me. My theory was almost proven right, but ironically, it happened in the morning. I was taking the trash out, and I remember glancing casually into the open trash can, and being startled out of my wits by the pointy face and menacing eyes of a possum. It must have been a hilarious sight to those passing by in cars to see me jump back and scream at the top of my lungs.
Autumn came, and I found myself thinking constantly about Sunday drives around Baltimore to admire the symphony of red, orange and yellow leaves that plays all across the north that time of year. Then, winter arrived, and with it a huge question, or three. How in the world could I live without waking up on Christmas morning without snow? Would I never again enjoy the revelry of making snow angels, or the thrill of sledding down a hill as fast as I could?
Spring approached, and I found out that I was pregnant. I quit my job, with plans to care for my forthcoming child until he or she entered kindergarten. Previously, I had worked for over 20 years for the City of Baltimore, the majority of those as a Judicial Secretary on the Circuit Court, in the midst of the exciting, chaotic metropolis. And now, here I was, a homemaker in southern Mississippi, with the mail delivery now the highlight of my day.
An amazing thing began to happen, so slowly that I didn’t even notice it at first. I would walk outside in the morning and hear a cow lowing down the street, or a busy woodpecker in a distant tree, and be completely captivated. I would be stopped suddenly in my tracks by the sight of a cardinal flying across the street to the foliage surrounding the makeshift stable there, where horses boarded, and sometimes escaped to wander onto our lawn. I loved feeding them apples, and listening to the marvelous sound of their hooves hitting the earth as they ran across the adjoining field. These experiences filled me with feelings of serenity and joy that accumulated day by day.
The most enchanting thing of all to this city gal, though, was the arrival of the ubiquitous azalea bushes. Everywhere I looked— while picking up my daughter from school, running to the post office or the cleaner’s— I was bombarded with those gorgeous, delicate pink blossoms, and they took my breath away. They were in almost every yard, along almost every highway, road and path. Of course, we had azalea bushes in Baltimore— I remember seeing them particularly along Church Street, one of the main streets just south of where I grew up— but nothing like the explosion of flowers here. This promise of fleeting, fragile beauty every spring was the clincher that made me fall hopelessly in love with Picayune.
In addition to its natural resplendence, there are many other things I’ve come to adore about this town. The people that I’ve met, and the relationships that I’ve forged, are the most important things in my new life here— my husband and children are at the top of that list. I’ve also met many wonderful people at church, and even several women— through my husband’s friends and acquaintances— who are transplants from the north like me, and we’ve become the best of friends.
And oh, the culinary pleasures in Picayune, in a region where culinary pleasures abound. Some of my favorite hidden gems are (nothing fancy here, just good eating): The cream cheese slices from Paul’s Pastry; the catfish and shrimp basket at Don’s Seafood; the baked potato salad from Claiborne Hill; the chicken-on-a-stick (with fried pickles!) at the Street Fair; and the tartar sauce at The New Orleans Fish House.
Beloved pastimes include: Visiting yard sales on a Saturday morning after breakfast at Betty K’s; listening to the sound of frogs calling to each other after a good rain (and when it rains in Picayune, it’s always a good rain!); lunch at Panda Palace on a Sunday afternoon; and taking long walks with my youngest son in the fall to collect fallen pine cones to make Christmas decorations.
My new life is unhurried, quieter, and I’ve come to realize that that’s just the way I want it to be. Rather than racing to catch the light rail so I won’t be late for work, I spend time enjoying the profusion of butterflies and dragonflies playing among the flowers and bushes that I encounter on my way to the mailbox. I marvel that I’ve seen more of them in a single afternoon here than I have in a five-year span in Baltimore. Instead of navigating treacherously icy streets in the winter, I drive leisurely down sun-dappled back roads to visit friends. I’ll never forget the day that I looked out the window and saw a peacock strutting in my yard. Blissful, calming episodes such as this— the unexpected moments in life that bring much delight— are now commonplace. I’m currently awaiting with great anticipation the arrival of spring, and the azalea bushes, with the stunning, dazzling display of color and loveliness that they bring.
Cindy lives just north of Picayune with her husband and four children. She has always wanted to be a writer— in her early teens, she published a neighborhood newspaper and charged 10 cents per copy. She is planning to return to college to pursue degrees in English Literature and Medieval History.