Life has changed radically for my friend Pam. She has been through her share of heartache. I’m not saying that her life has been anything exceptional. A lot of people have lost a spouse. More than a few have been through an ugly second marriage, maybe even one that turned out to be bizarre and almost horrific. She has survived both.
She has sent the stress needle into the red zone enough times that she would be forgiven if she threw in the towel and decided to become a hermit. But that’s not her way. In fact, she has said to me on numerous occasions, “I am so blessed.”
A couple of months ago, she retired and decided to move back to her roots near the foothills of northern Alabama. Her brother is close by and wanting to be near family is one thing that most of us can understand.
Her new home is in Holly Pond, Alabama. This little rural piece of heaven is located along US Hwy 278 in Cullman County. Rolling pastures. Tractors parked under tin-roofed sheds. One traffic light. A City Hall the size of a postage stamp.
Holly Pond is the anchor of the local Tri-City beltway that runs between Snead and Arab, Alabama. Near the east side of town as you enter there is a sign that says about all you need to know, “A Great Place to Live.”
This is exactly what Pam needed. A place where she could reconnect with her Alabama heritage. A place where she can sit down to a meat and vegetable plate with the local crowd at the diner. A place where, as you come into town, there’s a sign that points to the local tornado shelter.
It is the South.
In this town, the Baptists are everywhere. According to the last census, 92% of the 800 residents claim some affiliation to a fundamentally conservative way of life. This means that if Pam gets a cold with a fever, she has new neighbors who will bring her soup. It also means that in just two months she has been invited to church 487 times. The invitations come from places like the post office and the tire shop and the dollar store and from the waitress down at the Holly Pond Café.
“These people just love everybody, it seems.” Pam’s words, not mine. “I really needed that. But I haven’t settled on a new church just yet.”
I actually interviewed Pam for this story, something I don’t do often enough. So, I’m not making this stuff up.
She lives in a quiet neighborhood. Lots of grass. Shade trees. Open back yards overrun by all the neighborhood dogs.
Her closest neighbor is a guy I’ll call Steve. Former Police officer. Steve has a shooting range in his back yard. His first invite to Pam was not to church but was to “come over anytime and shoot.”
“That would be fine,” Pam told him, “if I owned a gun.”
Steve was not put off. “Oh, I’ll bring you a gun.”
In a strange sort of way this makes Pam feel safe. Steve was once upon a time working on the road with Bon Jovi. She doesn’t know for sure what his job was, but he probably worked security detail for the band. Apparently, he’s been on tour with them several times in his career. Now, he’s the guy nextdoor.
Her very first visitor at the new house was Gertrude. Gertrude is a pot-bellied pig who travels the neighborhood with the dogs. She sent me a picture to prove that she’s not kidding.
Every day, when she pulls into her driveway from running errands or working her way past the church invitations at the grocery store, Gertrude hears her car and comes running.
“I called her Porkchop for the first few days until Steve set me straight on her name.”
Gertrude is about two-foot-nothing with eight-inch legs and an extremely low center of gravity. She’s got a white stripe on her forehead and a curly tail like a cartoon pig. She’s every bit of 100 pounds of pure pork entertainment.
“I had never met a pig in person before.” Which is surprising, if you know Pam.
“She loves crackers. I think that’s the only reason she comes to see me. I’m buying extra Ritz just so I can give her something when she comes over. The other day, she brought her three dog buddies with her and we had ourselves a Ritz buffet.”
“You should have seen them. All four of them standing, wiggling, and squeezed together, with their noses pressed up against the glass on my back storm door. When I gave them crackers they panted and grunted and asked for more, tails wagging the whole time. I just kept feeding them because it made them happy.”
“I don’t think the dogs know she’s a pig.”
Truth is, they make her happy. I can tell by the way she talks about them, especially Gertrude. How could you not be happy when a pig comes to welcome you home at the end of each day.
“I know she just wants crackers, but I like to think that she’s checking on me to make sure I’m alright.”
Pam hasn’t met Gertrude’s owners yet. They live a few doors down according to Steve. But meeting them is on her list of things to do as she settles into her new life in Holly Pond.
Having her brother close has been a big deal. She had lots of help moving her belongings into her new home. He came over a few days ago to fix her kitchen sink.
She’s been taking pots to the bathroom sink to get water for cooking because the kitchen faucet wasn’t working. She has the two-handle style. Hot on the left and cold on the right. She now has both hot and cold when she turns the handle on the right but nothing on the left side. I’m guessing that’s better than taking her pots to the bathroom.
The whole move has been good for her, and I’m glad for that. Heartache and heartbreak are not easy. A person can lose her faith in people when it seems like every time you turn around you discover another lie, another disappointment, another deception. Something had to give.
Some people stay put and work through it. Some move away to get a fresh start. There’s no guaranteed recipe for recovery and renewal. But Holly Pond seems to be the right choice here.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying she ran from her troubles. If you’ve ever been there, you know that troubles follow you. You can’t run. And I’m telling you, she’s no runner.
Finding peace doesn’t come from the place you live in as much as it comes from the place where you put your trust and faith. This gal is solid in that way.
“I don’t need much,” she says. “My little house is just fine. All I really want is a simple, peaceful life. I think I’ve found that here in Holly Pond.”
And Gertrude, she’s just icing on the cake.