That’s A Lot to Unpack
The crisp air settles over the neighborhood. The hum of leaf blowers and other tools of the lawn maintenance trade drone on in the background. The family of black squirrels — which seems to have multiplied in the three months we’ve been in our new digs — skitters among the trees and rustles through the leaves scattered haphazardly on the suburban landscape. Our multitude of feathered friends — dang, some day I’ll take a gander at Daddy’s aging copy of The Birds of North America — compete in low-key chitters and chatters. Their cacophony seems to reign most supreme as the sun breaks through the trees every morning on the other side of the yard. They’ve simmered down in the five hours since then, but make companionable noises while I try to gather my thoughts in my favorite room of our new house — the screened-in porch, which overlooks all of this nature — certainly new to me — while also nurturing my soul.
How does one move during a pandemic? How does one uproot close to 40 years of history in one part of the country to relocate to a place 400 miles down the highway? How does one decide which precious belongings and which pieces of absolute junk she absolutely cannot live without? How does one settle into a completely new rhythm, while keeping fragments of the old routine? How does one figure out which grocery store to frequent, where the best restaurants reside (for carryout — pandemic, duh), where the local coffee emporium with a convenient drive-thru has set up shop?
One word: Family. They drive my engine. And they drove our move from the Washington, D.C. suburbs to the southern reaches of Charlotte, N.C. And where kinfolks are concerned, it’s just not that hard to make the choice.
We started talking about a possible Great Migration about a year ago. We’d been Down South to visit Ella Numera Una and her Hubby for Turkey Day 2019. The weather in the Piedmont of North Carolina has always suited me just fine. Consistently at least 10 degrees warmer than D.C., sometimes more, especially in the summer. A pleasant New South vibe. The hint of a much more relaxed atmosphere than we have up D.C. Way. Sometimes, at least, less traffic. And if we moved, the kids would be 20 minutes away over local roads, not eight hours via three different Interstates.
Of course, our initial conversations were certainly casual — in the beginning. I visited Una on my own and found a cute, affordable neighborhood. Moker drove around with me when we visited in tandem, and the place sort of appealed to him — as much as you can charm a Scandanavian of few words who hails from the Upper Midwest, and whose love language — now that he’s retired — is most often birdies, bogeys and a couple of post-round beers at the golf course. We decided sure, why not? And then filed those new possibilities away for another day.
We talked about a possible move for awhile. We talked to the kids, too, not wanting to encroach too much on their territory. I looked at houses on the Interwebs — locations, styles, prices — he ran the numbers to check on affordability. Both of us retired a couple of years ago, so we had no career obligations on that score. The cost of living down CLT-way is certainly a drop in the bucket compared to the National Capital Region, as the Census-takers term the slice of paradise on the other side of the Potomac River from D.C. And our tiny family had already relocated. Ella Numera Dos has lived on the Island of Oahu for three years. Una is in North Carolina, where we were most likely headed. What roadblocks could we possibly face?
I know — this sounds like an essay reeking privilege. But it’s more about what you leave behind so that you can get to where you’re going. And I think Americans of all stripes can get on board with that sentiment.
Roadblocks, you say? Well (you knew there was a “well” coming, didn’t you?), first off, what about the sheer amount of stuff we’d accumulated in our D.C.-area digs? After 12 years on Capitol Hill, we’d moved from the city to the suburbs in the early ’90s, predominantly because our growing family needed more space. When she was a D.C. toddler, Ella Numera Dos slept in a room that could easily pass for a walk-in closet. Our bedroom was so tiny the bed took up most of the room. We had no place for much furniture, no place for toys, no place, really, for us. So we lit out for the territories — in our case, a Northern Virginia Colonial (the Realtor called it a “5 over 4” — something to do with the windows on the front of the house). A tract house in a cookie-cutter neighborhood, just outside the Capital Beltway.
And after we moved to the burbs, we went about the business of executing “Parkinson’s Law,” abode-wise. This well-known principle states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” And while it’s most often applied to analysis of the growth of large bureaucracies like the Federal Government, I certainly was familiar with this concept, whether it was a job on the desk of a big-city daily newspaper, staffing a congressman on Capitol Hill, or in the employment of a mammoth school district as a high school English teacher. Turns out Parkinson’s Law also applies to families and their tendency to acquire crapola, especially after a big move.
Let’s talk about territory a little, too. My kids were used to cramming together on the couch in the living room of a D.C. row house the size of a dollhouse to watch the boob tube. And putting their toys away in the bins we’d acquired at IKEA, so that the family would have space to walk from room to room. After the Big Move to the Northern Virginia burbs, Una and Dos at first didn’t know what to do with all the space. They still encroached upon one another’s personal comfort zones for TV viewing, and sat outside on the front stoop — as they had in the city — to pass the time and to get a general feel for their new neighborhood. But as they grew, and realized they had a front yard, a backyard, and a basement, the pattern of “crapping up the house” — I think that phrase came from my Nana, who handed it down to her daughter-in-law, my Mom — began.
We had trikes, then bikes, and razor scooters, too. We had Barbies and all of the attendant accessories, including Barbie’s Jeep (doll-sized, not the kid-sized, Praise Jesus). And since my kids are children of the ’90s, we possessed Beanie Babies out the wazoo. Every time the girls aged out of a toy, or an outfit, or entered a new phase of interests, things would certainly get donated, but there was an awful lot of packing stuff up in boxes and storing them in the laundry room — another space we’d been lacking in our cute little D.C. dollhouse. To what end, I’m certainly not sure. The more the kids acquired, the more of the castoffs we put in storage. We made multiple trips to the Good Will and the Salvation Army, too, but the boxes did start to pile up near the furnace and on the other side of the washer and the dryer.
And then the kids grew up. They went to college, and then they went off into the world, seeking a new life. We were stuck with all they left behind. And all in just the 27 years we’d spent in that cookie-cutter Colonial. Time flies when you’re acquiring crap, doesn’t it?
I didn’t realize the magnitude of our tendency toward collecting meaningless crapola until Moker and I pulled the trigger on the move Down South. Because tackling the basement was the first item on our to-do list.
Countless trips to the donation sites, and 25 (yes, I counted) visits to the dump over the next six months (or Recycling and Disposal Center, of which our county had five, and which accepted everything from beat-up Barbie Jeeps to bags and bags of flotsam and jetsam that nobody in their right mind would ever want to keep), and we were ready to get serious about this move. We started looking into the housing side of things. But it wasn’t until we’d listed — and then sold — our humble abode in the D.C. burbs that we realized that this relocation was some kind of significant deal. Like, gosh, we really had to move! And that wasn’t even the most traumatizing part of the whole process. We had to find a place to live, and didn’t have the luxury of taking our time, because the new owners up D.C.-way were “taking possession” (I know, it sounds dire, doesn’t it?) in four weeks.
We narrowed down our choices. Una visited potential houses on her days off and Face Timed her trips for us through each abode. And, by golly, I’m here to report that Moker and I are finally fully cemented in the 21st Century. Yup, we bought our new digs on the Interwebs, and closed the deal a month later, with about three days to spare. And all without seeing the new house in person.
Moving during a pandemic wasn’t really the difficult part of this whole adventure. And I never intended to write a consumer-friendly “how to” article about the process. I suppose I could regale you with my initial trepidation of staying several days in a hotel, both in our old hometown and our new one, but that quickly dissipated when we saw how seriously the hospitality industry is taking the Covid Times. Or I could tell you about Ella Numera Una traveling up I-95 to “say goodbye” to the house she grew up in (lots of tears — from her and from moi), then trucking back home in an SUV overflowing with her Mom’s plants. But that’s not the fun — nor the most poignant — part of the story. And certainly not the part that makes me giggle, snort, and downright guffaw, even to this day.
Let’s just say we also — in a deliberately obscure fashion — cut corners after we closed on the new place. Our check had not yet cleared at the lawyer’s office, but we had two cars full of crapola that we were eager to dispense with. And the Realtor had given us the keys. We debated the wisdom of going into our new CLT casa before the check cleared for about 30 seconds, before we decided “to drive on over there and have a look.” Ever my Nana’s grandbaby, no sooner had I arrived at the new house than I began unloading. I’m not sure if that’s technically trespassing — except that it probably is — because we received a call that all was good before I took the next step of putting the key into the front door lock. And I could tell you about sleeping on an air mattress with Moker for three nights in an empty house, because he flips and flops — from back to tummy and back again — when he sleeps, but I’ll spare you the details, except to say I got bounced out of my side of the bed more than once. But that has nothing to do with moving during a pandemic, so I’ll spare you the excess verbiage.
It turns out moving during a once-in-a-100-years worldwide virus spread is not really about that. It’s more about turning loose of all of the physical and emotional baggage that we’d stored for decades up in D.C. It was about being willing to make the leap to a new house in a new city — and in doing that, saying “goodbye” to dear old friends, but saying “hello” again to having family nearby. That was the whole point of this almost year-long exercise, after all.
We’re still unpacking boxes — although that task looks like it’s nearing the finish line. We’re finding quite a bit of crapola that we should have ditched in D.C. but didn’t, and will soon enough get rid of in CLT. We’re still adjusting to a different life and approaching those differences from another angle. And that’s a lot to unpack. But so worth the journey.