Welcome to Greenville

Already the relentless moon has pulled me five months away from Madison, and I don’t know if it feels like yesterday or forever. When I close my eyes, Ramona is in the backseat of the Rendezvous and we’re driving down Whitney Way towards Woodman’s grocery, or I’m beside Lake Mendota, cold September breeze and Norway maple’s bright yellow hands and the memory of my womb, full of life. I remember the rough carpet in our apartment and the hexagonal sandbox below, catalpa blooms along Lake Mendota Drive in June, the Lakeshore bike path all the way downtown to First United Methodist Church. I remember bao at Orient House on South Park and ming sabai at Sa-Bai Thong on University Avenue. So much life, those seven years, moving from newlywed into parent.

Now, I am more, always expanding into newness. My poetry is more central to my life than ever as Ramona goes to preschool, five full days a week. From the chilly attic of our Greenville home, I’m writing about change and reading Chen Chen and Naomi Shihab Nye and Elizabeth Bishop; I’m applying to MFA programs, lining out my 20 best poems across the tan tile floor.

Summer turns golden, and then we see frost in the morning at the school bus stop. Consistently, the days are about ten degrees warmer here than in Madison. I still check the Wisconsin weather from time to time, think about snow. I’m looking forward to winter here, wondering what it will be like. I’ve never lived so far south before, and yet still this is the midwest? The world is so large. The world is so small.

This small town grows on you, its people close-knit in the small streets around the square, stitched up Beaumont Avenue and into these few hills that look out to a land of flat. The sidewalks here remind me of my hometown, the small Illinois village of my childhood, tree roots pulling up the corner of the concrete, flowers and weeds waving from every lawn.

The trees here are better than our Madison apartment, where the west sun glared through the living room window all summer long. Here, our backyard is full to bursting with leaves and twigs, so shady that the grass barely grows. The tulip tree stretches taller than a four-story building. I am comforted by the age of the trees, this old house, the years that this place was home before it was our home. Our Madison apartment was a place of transience; grad school housing where we were limited to no more than eight years renting. Having lived there for seven, we were the longest remaining tenants in our building. But here, this house was the world for one woman, the space where she raised her children and lived into widowhood. This attic room was one of her children’s bedrooms, “E’s room,” according to the note on the breaker box in the basement. The house is heavy with her stories; it makes it a warm place to live.

As I walk Oak street past Dairy Queen and our neighbor’s wilted garden, the burning bush still vibrant with autumn red, I find Greenville a good place to be. I hardly miss my before, my large home of lakes and liberal politics. It only takes a few months to remember how lovely a small town can be, even if it doesn’t have huge public libraries and what seems to me now endless restaurant choices. What it lacks, it makes up for in friendly faces and a sort of informality, a nonchalance about keeping up the yard and having the trendiest wardrobe. I am not anonymous here, and as someone who often chooses silence yet still wants to be seen, the lack of anonymity cheers me.