New England Newbie

Before I moved from California to Massachusetts three weeks ago, my friends shook their collective head.

“You’re moving cross country in a 24-foot U-Haul, towing a car behind that, with your husband of five months…” they’d begin.

“And our cat,” I’d interrupt.

“And your cat, and you’ve never moved together before.”

“Well, he moved me from the Santa Cruz Mountains to Chico.”

“Sure, but you weren’t living together then.”

“We were engaged.” (And the truest quote on that subject was from seven-years-married Julie, who stated, “I’d rather be married than single, but I’d rather be single than engaged.”)

“Ok, engaged,” they’d all counter. And then they laughed off their collective butt.

My matron of honor, Anne, who did her undergrad at Wellesley — a New Englander pro tem, perhaps — put the underlying ridiculousness best.

“I can’t believe it,” she told me long-distance, and three hours earlier than it was at my house. “Lynn, the least likely person ever to be a New Englander, living in New England.”

Don’t worry — I wasn’t offended. See, my father is a third-gen native Californian (I am suppressing to urge to capitalize “native”) and I’ve never quite forgiven him for making me be born in North Carolina. My family returned to the Left Coast before I was fahve, and I was California public-school educated from Kindergarten to my MFA. It wasn’t until I was 29 that I saw snow fall for the first time. When Mom set the thermostat to 68, I’d have to go put on a sweater. While living in the beautiful SC Mountains where everyone should live before they die, I was snowed in one winter’s day and snowed out two nights the subsequent year — snowed in is better. Above all, I am molto allergic to insect bites and stings, and the one time I was in Boston, Hurricane Bob came to visit.

So why Massachusetts? Because my darling husband was accepted to UMass-Amherst’s doctoral program, and wants to be a college professor more than anything in the world. Why Northampton? Because we heard that was where all the “cool” grad students live. How’d we end up in the most enormous and beautiful flat in town? Because we couldn’t afford to fly out to visit first.

I was office temping and Brian was sanding cremation urns — it’s a living, but barely. Lucky for us, the Noho/N’ton/NorthamptonUncommon Chamber of Commerce employs a fairy godmother by the name of Katie. She hooked me up with a business owner who offered me a job after nothing but e-mails and phone calls and cross-country reference checks. In addition, she not only looked at apartments for us, but put down a $100 check of her own money as a placeholder when we agreed on the place she liked best. Seven of Brian’s future classmates showed up at noon on August 10th to help us move. Benji at Jimmy Burghoff’s tried getting our sofa up the front and back staircases and also the second-floor sunroom window (we have come to the conclusion that early New Englanders were neither tall nor portly). Jeff, the furniture refinisher on Route 10, traded us our sofa, a similarly awkward-sized bookcase, the desk we broke moving it into the truck in Chico, and a $100 check for a beautiful desk and a two-piece china hutch.

The only thing that didn’t survive the move was our cat, who died two weeks after our arrival, and prompted the Chamber ladies to write us a card that made three people cry: me, Brian, and my mom when I read it to her over the phone. Now we take heart in the loss of our beloved pet by saying, “Well, at least he saw the country” (during which time he found porn under the bed in Utah, and grass in the room we got for him in Entfield, CT. If he’d survived, I’d have farmed him out to the Vice Squad).

So anyway, I don’t know where y’all got the reputation for being unfriendly, and you aren’t working very hard to maintain it. Jeez, and we haven’t even made it to church yet!


[1] It’s true that telling people you’re moving cross-country is a lot like telling them you’re scheduled for surgery to have your wisdom teeth removed: I heard from two men how they each were so broke by the end of the journey that they had to live in campgrounds with all their possessions, their newlywed spouse, and, in one case, an infant. This universal truth is not dependent upon the goodness of the people you tell, as the pastor who baptized Brian, married us, and was also my boss for a year, himself lived the tale with the aforementioned “infant.”

Sorry I haven’t written…

I was all set to get back up on the blog bandwagon last week. I was back from a week’s worth of training at one of the other ice cream stores in Albany; Mr. Johnson set up the apartment in my absence. We had mostly settled in. Last Monday we started training employees at our Northampton shop, and things were going great. Until Wednesday morning, really, when I walked out into the living room and found our sweet kitty Maxwell had died in the night.

Today would have been Max’s first birthday, so he wasn’t old. He seemed to be settling in as well as Mr. Johnson and I. We’d had an exterminator in who’d dusted ant poison into our walls, but that seemed largely undisturbed. Maybe he was just worn out from everything, all the changes in his life.

As if losing a beloved pet isn’t bad enough, I also don’t feel like I’d been a good kitty mommy for the week prior. I’d gone away to Albany and returned with a cold, so I spent Monday and Tuesday nights after work parked in my chair. When I got home from Albany, Max raced to greet me. I picked him up and he put his arms around my neck in what we referred to as a “kitty hug,” and purred for half an hour. Later, when I tried to put him down, he held fast and looked at me, frenzied. I laughed then, but now it just makes my heart hurt.

Mr. Johnson, who is braver in the face of woe, put a more pragmatic spin on it. “Well, at least he got to see the country.” Which he did — Motel Sixes from Chico, CA to Northampton, MA, during which time Max found other people’s porn in our room in Utah (and it was total Utah porn — the girl on the cover wore a swimsuit) and other people’s dope in Entfield, CT, where he had is own room (we splurged on it after 15 hours in the truck, so that he could expend nocturnal energy without waking us up in the process).

“Max should work for the vice squad,” I told Mr. Johnson, who did not disagree.

We took him to the vet to be cremated. Dad said he’d bury the remains at the pet cemetary we have at the cabin where I spent my childhood summers. And even though I know Max is dead, I still hear him in the apartment, mewing and jingling his collar. One week later and it still brings pinpricks to my eyes.