Yesterday, I stood with Liam at our front door and watched a man stand on the roof of the house across the street to pluck all the ripe persimmons from the neighbors’ persimmon tree. The bright persimmons are a visual reminder of why we hang ball ornaments on Christmas trees: they evoke the lushness of the time of year of ripe fruit. It’s a way, along with the lights on the trees, to drive back the darkness of winter a bit and remind ourselves that bright times of plenty will return. (Of course, in California, that time of plenty pretty much continues year-round. But these traditions started far from California.)
I also stood and watched, fascinated, a year ago. The man uses some sort of simple implement to pick the fruit. He moves nimbly around the roof as if he has no fear of falling. This simple, assured act is very compelling to me.
As Liam and I watched yesterday, I was overcome by a sense of peace at having this annual ritual repeated while I watched.
I grew up in one small Southern town my whole childhood, a place part of my father’s family had lived for centuries. I spent most of that childhood in one house. There were many things about that environment that grew to feel constricting, but since I was raised there, it was also a place that felt very safe, where my life had order and made sense. I grew up and changed, but things mostly seemed to stay the same from year to year. The year I left for college, my parents got divorced in a very messy divorce, and in a few months, I lost most of what had felt familiar in my life. On the outside, I had a number of successes over the following years, but inside, I floundered for a very long time, and having illness after illness didn’t help. After college, after I met my husband and settled in Atlanta and developed a group of close friends, my life felt more whole again. Finding out that I had to make major changes because of gluten intolerance and food allergies was hard, but my friends were generally really supportive and went out of their way to help me adjust. Overall, it was a fulfilling time in my life in many ways.
I suppose I should have seen it coming that moving to LA, which was entirely unfamiliar and where we knew no one, would knock me over like one of those large Pacific waves, but I honestly didn’t. I went into the move with a bit of trepidation but a lot of anticipation. My husband was finally finished with his PhD, and he was going to have a real income for the first time; that was incredibly exciting. I didn’t want to live in LA, but that was where he got a great job, so off we went. I struggled mightily there, in part because that was when my chronic medical issues were awful. I started a business, too, and compounded changes with change and a bit more change–too much change. But mainly, I finally understood the idea of being a stranger in a strange land. I didn’t fit LA, and LA made little sense to me. Dan’s office was a small and pretty close-knit place, and that helped some. We did find a gym, CrossFit La, which was way more of a community than just a gym, and over time, that helped a lot. Then, eighteen months after our arrival, just as my business started going well and I finally felt a bit at home, Dan’s company shut down his lab in LA, and we needed to move again, this time to Silicon Valley in the San Francisco Bay Area. I didn’t want to move again. I cried quite a lot for several days. I knew we were much better off than so many people who’ve lost jobs and not found new ones, but it was still a huge loss to face. Then I began to accept the reality, and several weeks later, we were off.
We’ve been in Silicon Valley for a little over a year now. Silicon Valley has its drawbacks, but it is a much better fit for me than LA was. And here, we are stable; when most of my husband’s co-workers were laid off, I really didn’t worry much about whether Dan would be, because I knew he could find another good job in a few days. We recently signed a two-year extension of our lease in the house that we’re renting. Watching the man pluck the persimmons from the neighbors’ tree was a reminder that we have started to settle here long-term.
As the holiday season approaches, our first year of having a child, I find myself thinking a lot about the importance of rituals in my life, and thinking a lot about the ones that I want Liam to grow up with. I’ve realized that intentionally building rituals, small and large, is a primary way of helping myself feel at home. As we say in the church, it is ‘a good and right and joyful thing’ to focus on making this my home. When I got up in the dark a.m. hours with a hungry Liam this morning, I was thinking about how we had a gluten-free gingerbread house and cookie-decorating party in LA, inviting both friends’ kids and the adults to come over and play. It is one of my favorite LA memories. I think I need to figure out the time and energy to make one of those parties happen again this year, in the place we call home now.