An American in the USA
Updated: Sep 1, 2021
For the first time in two years, I recently traveled back to the USA. As everyone knows, a world of change has occurred during that time. More than ever, I was immensely grateful for the privilege of making this trip, especially to reconnect with family and friends.
My daughter's farm in Indiana
I don't think we'll ever take such things for granted again. At least, I hope not. While Zoom and FaceTime have been enormous blessings, enabling me to see, hear and interact with loved ones, nothing beats being together in person.
I love doing all the big fun things: going to the zoo, the pool, hiking through beautiful Pacific Northwest scenery, or walking next to a lovely mid-western river. Sharing adventures that will hopefully create lasting memories.
But it's the little moments that are often the most meaningful. Working jigsaw puzzles, experiencing painting extravaganzas, and snuggly book-reading sessions filled my heart with joy.
Each time I return to my home country, certain things stand out. America is a land of convenience, efficiency, and friendliness. At my beloved Trader Joe's grocery store, I didn't quite know what to do with myself as the check-out person unloaded the items from my cart and then bagged them for me. In France, the customer does all that. After putting groceries on the conveyer belt, one must run to the other end and quickly bag them before they pile up. Oh, and then pay and get out of the way. I'm always a bit breathless and sweaty and have to remember to breathe. It takes a lot of focus and energy.
On top of that, as they bagged my groceries, the Trader Joe's checker would ask about my plans for the day. I just stared, thinking that's kind of personal; I don't really want to share what I have going on, nor do I feel like chatting. However, by the third time, I realized that the employees are trained to do this, so I obliged.
Checker: "So, do you have something fun planned for this afternoon?"
Me: "Um, yes, a barbecue."
Checker: "Looks like it will rain."
Me: "Um…oh well."
I didn't know what to say to that. And I'm a pretty talkative person!
In France, everyone is much more reserved. The grocery store protocol includes greeting the check-out person with eye contact and a Bonjour! The one time (THE ONE TIME!) After putting my items on the belt, I was texting until the checker loudly said, "BONJOUR," with a heavy dose of sarcasm. I'd said it earlier, but she hadn't heard me—deep sigh.
But after that greeting and a "Merci, au revoir," that's the end of it. If I add "Bonne journée," the same will be returned to me. Seldom will there be chatting, and never would it be about my plans for the day. Maybe about the weather or the difficulties of speaking while wearing masks.
Another thing that stands out when I return to the US relates to history. Our country is relatively young in the grand scheme of things. Compared to centuries of European history, America's 200+ years on the scene brings a different flavor. I love the depth and ancientness of Europe, yet I also relish the invigorating freshness and possibility-thinking of my home country.
And, the US is massive! The geographical area of France makes it slightly smaller than two Colorados. France is 50,000 square miles smaller than the state of Texas. This fact alone changes a lot of things.
In France, each region has striking features and some cultural differences. It's one of the many things I love about traveling through this country. But due to sheer size, there is far more variation in America. So when non-American people ask me something about the US–"What is the typical food?" or wonder how people think or act on a given issue, I have to say that it depends on which part of the US we're talking about as there is quite a lot of diversity. Beyond the east coast-west coast differences, there are variations in how we speak, eat, live that exist in each state, in every direction. We've not been called a "melting-pot" without reason.
This trip took me first to the Pacific Northwest. Boise, Idaho, is a lovely town ringed with mountain ranges. Unfortunately, the air, usually crisp and clean, was often filled with smoke from fires in northern California. But that did not diminish the pleasure of the tall evergreen trees, wide vistas, small bubbling creeks, and the wild, rushing Boise River. A natural hot-springs tucked in the mountains and captured in a spa-like swimming pool was a highlight. Did I mention the poolside drink service?
Idaho hot-springs experience, drawn by my daughter Sarah
Next on the itinerary was South Bend/Lakeville, Indiana, with its broad fields of green, rambling farmlands bursting with corn and lower-lying soybeans. The size of personal lawns is impressive to me, as is how well owners maintain them. The lack of fences between properties surprises me and adds to the overall beauty. One of my daughters and two of my grandchildren live in a charming farmhouse on several acres. It is an idyllic spot for the children to grow up. And, as a special treat, I was able to see the last of this year's fireflies. What a magical idea Creator God had with those! These tiny twinkling, blinking lights flit and dance in the hay fields. Love it!
We also witnessed the beauty of a cicada emerging from its exoskeleton with its iridescent green-blue wings.
From there, I went south to Kentucky, where more vast, brilliant green fields met me. The lush grass spreads across rolling hills, with many gorgeous horse farms topped with incredible estate homes. As the promo video at baggage claim announced, I was in bluegrass, horse derby, and bourbon country. Thankfully, I was able to see or experience all three in some form. Breathtaking scenery, impressive thoroughbreds plus grass-fed and finished cows grazing, and excellent bourbon were all part of the experience.
I'd been invited to attend the Good Lit Writers Retreat in Stanford, Kentucky, about 45 minutes from Lexington. I fell in love with this charming small town and the people that hosted us for the week. One of my daughters asked me if I was ready to move there, sit on a veranda, and write stories about Kentucky while sipping bourbon. She wasn't far off! I'd been having just those thoughts!
Beyond the genuinely gracious southern hospitality, I was deeply impressed with the vision of a generous couple who have dedicated a great deal of energy to revitalizing Stanford. The beautiful renovations, preserving historical detail and highlighting the original features, increased the inherent charm in Kentucky's "second oldest town."
Business ventures include a refurbished Inn and guest cottages, a farm-to-table restaurant, and the wonderful Kentucky Soaps and Such, featuring the most amazing soaps and creams, all made from local goat milk and natural ingredients. I spent so much time in there that I was greeted with a friendly smile and an "Oh hi! You're back again!"
The Good Lit Writers Retreat was above and beyond all expectations. Each year they select a small group to mentor and encourage in their writing journey. All expenses were paid for by the Wedgwood Circle, which is dedicated to facilitating Christians creating art in a variety of forms. It was an honor and privilege to be part of this year's group, made up of fiction writers in various stages.
Besides the excellent teaching and impartation from seasoned authors, we had one-on-ones and dedicated time to write. The constant flow of conversation on all things pertaining to writing–from the craft, to how we work, to publication and growing our platforms (sigh)–was incredibly enriching. I look forward to staying in contact with these lovely fellow writers.
The final leg of my trip took me four hours south to Signal Hill, Tennessee, not far from Chattanooga. Dear friends of over 20 years currently live on a beautiful, multiple-acre wooded property. They generously drove the four-hour trip to fetch me. Long, deep conversations and prayer over the next few days in their incredible home were yet another blessing. Oh, and group Covid tests as the restaurant that catered the Good Lit retreat had a few employees test positive. We were are all "negative," thankfully. Another adventure, one we certainly never anticipated sharing!
Finally, I began my 48+ hour journey back to France. Starting in Tennessee, via Atlanta, Houston, San Francisco, Frankfurt, I eventually arrived in bright, warm Marseille. Besides the ridiculous number of airplanes and airports involved, traveling feels more than ever like a gauntlet of challenges to overcome. Needless to say, I was very grateful to step out of the airport into the breezy, fresh air and even more grateful to see my husband. As much as I love to travel, there's no place like home!
La vie est belle!