We live in a rural community on the fringe of Nashville so finding like-minded friends residing nearby when we don’t feel like heading into the city is a challenge. I do have plenty of childhood friends in the area who are a whole lot of fun and whom we see often enough, but many of them have kids and Little League practice and demanding jobs and travel schedules that don’t make for weekly hangouts. And the other locals I have met since our move—well, let’s just say we don’t have a whole lot in common.
Last fall, a new journalist friend said she had just the couple, Hannah and Bryan, who lived nearby and so she introduced us via Facebook. We have been casual online friends since, but never took that next step toward hanging out—until Friday, that is.
Meanwhile, the daughter of my dad’s old business partner at the CPA firm, Elizabeth, moved a mile down the street from us with her husband Sam. She was the oldest of the four kids, a decade or so my senior, and I was a year behind the youngest in school, so while we grew up across the street from each other, we never knew one another that well. She has a half dozen degrees and spent the last decade as a linguist in France and Africa and beyond. She moved to Indiana, where her husband is from, a few years ago, then sold his company and the two relocated to Alabama last fall to work on a goat farm. A month ago, they became our neighbors and now are operating a grilled cheese truck that they are taking to food festivals around the Southeast and breeding Australian labradoodles on the side. I believe I have found one Southern girl with an even more random existence than my own!
On a whim, I emailed Elizabeth and Hannah last Wednesday to see if they and their husbands wanted to convene at our place for a Friday dinner. A stroke of good luck meant that all of us were free at once (“we’ll head over after we coop the chickens” was Hannah’s response). Spending the past many years in New York and San Francisco, I’m accustomed to having to make such plans six weeks in advance to accommodate all my city friends’ busy schedules, so this last minute, spontaneous get-together was a novelty for my Type A self.
This was a blind couples date of sorts, which could make for all sorts of awkwardness—but there was none. Rather, the moment the four of them walked through the door, it was an explosion of conversations—so much to say! so many cool stories everyone had to share!—and there wasn’t a moment of silence in the five hours that followed.
Bryan is a doctor, and Hannah a professor who teaches classics (Greek, Latin, literature) at a university and commutes 90 miles one way to work each day, sometimes on her motorcycle. The two grew up in Virginia—he in suburbia, she on a farm—and then spent much of their twenties in Portland, Maine as she got her PhD and he completed his medical residency. Today, they live on a hobby farm in a quaint holler with cows and chickens and a pig named Pork Chop who they slaughtered Tuesday. Hannah, a true academic who spends her commute listening to The Economist and Wall Street Journal via podcast, also doubles as a mechanic; my politics- and car-obsessed husband who also tinkers with automotive-type projects in his downtime (and was forced to sell both motorcycles when we moved cross-country) was in awe of her, as were we all I think it’s safe to say.
Elizabeth and Sam arrived with three types of home-brewed beer, home-baked bread and their eight-month-old pup Riley. Hannah and Bryan came bearing 18 eggs they had been lain that day and homemade limoncello in an over-sized mason jar. I am never going back to store-bought eggs, and SVV might have already convinced them to incubate some eggs for us come summer. (Chickens in the backyard of our home in a commercial district? Why not! If memory serves me correct, I think the neighborhood ordinance only banned swine.)
For dinner, SVV and I made our beloved Burmese fermented tea leaf salad and a green curry and red velvet Oreo truffle brownies for dessert. A whole lot of bourbon and beer and Limoncello was consumed, and the six of us could have stayed around that table all weekend talking; I have a feeling this will become the norm in our new blossoming relationship.
After spending the better part of a decade in big cities that breeds liberal intellectuals, it’s nice to find intriguing people with similar interests and lifestyles to our own in the rural sticks of the American South. Moving and forming new relationships as an adult is always an exercise in humility. Never discount a place or person based on geographical or cultural stereotypes or you’re in danger of missing out on the greatest friendships of all.