My mom was so excited, I could hear her about to wet her pants over the phone. “We even met some of your new neighbors. They have a little boy that is Jake’s age. And the best part?” As the suspense and bladder pressure built to the point of bursting, she blurted.
Ever since her first grandchild was born, my mother’s dream was to have all of her kids live close to her. She now envisioned us becoming best friends with some random family in Nashville. For all we knew, they could be militaristic Guatemalans who had once tried to exterminate the Mayan family we lived with during our missionary year. But the fact that we could all read the menu at a fancy Mexican restaurant would be the tie to bind us together forever. This was mom’s big selling point.
But we weren’t biting. Mom and dad moved to Nashville in 2002 to live near my sister and her family. My brother followed a couple years later with his wife and two girls. Gabby and I were the lone holdouts, and we showed no signs of moving from Austin. Too many friends and too much love for the city that prides itself on being “weird”.
Unbeknownst to me, my mom would drive through random neighborhoods in Nashville looking for homes for sale. One day, she found a really cute one, so she parked her car out front and prayed that Gabby and I would one day move in. While the Neighborhood Watch director was calling the authorities, mom was calling the Big Guy upstairs, praying for a miracle, and accosting the neighbors.
Call it coincidence. Call it Divine Intervention. Call it an 862 mile umbilical cord. Around this same time mom was pulling out the rosary beads on Ramble Wood Circle, Gabby and I both realized living close to family was more important than anything Austin had to offer. Over the next six months, we were somehow able to sell our house in a very down market. The amazing thing is that we were still offered more than the asking price. When it came time to buy in Nashville, the house that mom had prayed over was still available, with a greatly reduced price. We moved in on October 19th, 2008.
Apparently when Mom prays, God listens.
The house only needed some minor renovations, including re-seeding the lawn where her knees had worn the grass down to bedrock. We soon met our Mexican neighbors, Rich and Lyndsey, who turned out to be a couple from the U.K. with very thick Irish and Scottish accents. Mom may have some impressive spiritual connections, but don’t call her if you need a dialect coach.
“Scottish. Mexican. What’s the difference?” she said.
We became fast friends with the Williams family, and our kids loved playing together. They helped ease our transition to a new city. We missed our wide network of Austin friends and the familiar faces. Every day I would fondly recall something different that was now lost to us. No more birthday parties with friends. No more Town Lake. No more Tex-Mex food. Amy’s ice cream. Sixth street. Waterloo Ice House. All a memory. We tried to find replacements, but it just wasn’t the same.
To heal the heartache, we spent lots of time outside in the cul-du-sac with the neighbors, talking about life, laughing at our children, and making future plans. We hosted backyard barbecues. Our kids shared toys. They were all a true blessing in our lives. Especially Rich and Lyndsey. Every story they told was peppered with the U.K. colloquialisms “fantastic” and “brilliant” which made everything sound… well… fantastic. They were our silver lining.
That is, until they decided they needed to be close to family as well. Less than a year after we moved in, they moved back to Northern Ireland. Just a stone’s throw from Cancun.
We were sad to see them go, but couldn’t fault their reasoning. After they left, we moped around for quite a while. Jake missed his buddy next door. We missed the energy they brought to the neighborhood. We spoke often about the good they brought to our lives. And even though our favorite Tex-Mex restaurant from Austin decided to open its first “outside Texas” location just 20 minutes from us, resulting in literal tears of joy streaking down Gabby’s cheeks, it just wasn’t the same. We fondly reminisced about the good times we had together with our old neighbors, realizing that it was just a season of our lives.
But the good thing about seasons is that they tend to come back around again.
Just this past weekend, Rich had an opportunity to return to Nashville for a business trip. We hadn’t seen him in well over a year. He was traveling without the rest of his family, but we used the opportunity to “get the old gang back together” for a neighborhood barbecue. We invited a bunch of friends over and grilled copious amounts of charred animal flesh, at Rich’s request of course. I guess finding a tasty baby back ribs in Ireland is like finding a Leprechaun guest starring on “Sarah Palin’s Alaska.” I also dug out a really old recipe for sausage balls that I used to eat as a kid. I loved the things. They turned out OK. But not the same as I remember.
For a few hours, it was just like old times. Rich and I chatted about family, work, and regular life stuff that makes you feel like a regular person. Things were as fantastic and brilliant as always. I half expected him to turn around and walk into the house next door. The house he used to own. It would have felt so normal. In fact, the new owners came out to the cul-du-sac to celebrate his homecoming with us.
“Would you like to come in and see the old house?” they asked.
Rich thought for a second.
“No. But thanks for the offer. I appreciate it.”
I was kind of surprised at this. I would have wanted to go check out my old house. Especially if I was invited in. No worries about being the creepy guy who knocks on the door and says, “Uh… can I come in? I used to live here.” The new owners gave you a free pass!
When we asked Rich about it later, he summed it up for us.
“It would have been odd. They asked for some of our furniture in the contract, so we left it for them. It was a win-win. But now, to go back in and see the place. Our furniture with someone else’s things in it. Our walls, painted a different color. Our house, but with new people living in it. It just wouldn’t be the same.”
Smart guy, that Rich.
I’ve been back to Austin and visited once or twice, hoping it was just like I remembered it to be. But it wasn’t. Friends have moved away. Things look different. It’s just not the same. I went to the Nashville Chuy’s hoping the food would taste just the same as it did back in Austin. But they don’t serve Gabby’s favorite salsa. They don’t have live oak trees in the outdoor patio. It’s just not the same. And I make sausage balls in a vain attempt to recapture a taste from my childhood. But it’s no use.
It’s just not the same.
Every time I try to relive something that is past, it never fails. I walk away with a twinge of nostalgia mixed with disappointment. Sadness for days gone by. So why am I surprised?
Rich has it right. Why go back? Memories are the gifts of the past. Happiness and joy in concentrated form, with all of the mundane and ordinary stripped away. Trying to rewrite all of that is like being back in junior high making a mix tape for the girl you had a crush on. You would overwrite an old cassette with new music, but every time you did it, the quality just wasn’t the same. The whole exercise not only brings about a shoddy result, but it diminishes the vividness of the original.
Maybe I should just hang on to the memories as they are, and rewrite the present instead? Filter out all of the negative and focus on the fantastic and brilliant in every moment. To do so would certainly be revolutionary. It might change the way I see the world. Less moping and worry and stress. More hoping and joy and peace. What might my life be like if I took that view?
One thing’s for sure. It just wouldn’t be the same.