2011 and 2012 were years unlike any others in my life. After living in Los Angeles for 27 years, in 2011 I decided to move back to my hometown of Murfreesboro, Tennessee so that I could be closer to my parents and my son could be closer to family. Realizing that some day this move might be a necessity, I decided to make it a choice instead of an emergency situation – or worse. My work had always required me to be in a big media center like Los Angeles, but a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity fell into my lap with a position at Middle Tennessee State University, so that triggered the move – and a prophetic one it was.
In the summer of 2011 we sold our house in LA, packed up, and moved to Tennessee. Helena and I decided after eight years it was time to make it official so we got married in Las Vegas as we drove across America to our new home. We drove because that was the best way to move our two French bulldogs, Sophie and Duke; our cockatiel, Sunny; plus two frogs and a snail named Gary. We could only stay at Motel 6’s because they were the only chain that would allow birds. Not exactly a great honeymoon scenario. Did I mention this was in August and the temperature was generally 100 degrees or better?
It was no small matter to make such big changes, but I knew I was doing it for the right reasons. The most challenging part of the plan was to start a new career, but I was up for the challenge, and it has proven to be a satisfying new direction despite the nonsense that goes on in higher education and state government. Miraculously I was granted full professorship and full tenure upon appointment – things that normally take well over ten years to achieve.
It was hard to leave behind my stepdaughter who was attending college, so many friends, our beautiful home, and the Southern California climate and topography. I loved the desert, the ocean, and the mountains. Even so, I was excited to return to the land of my ancestors. I surprised myself by getting emotional and crying for a good half hour as soon as we crossed over the Mississippi River into Tennessee.
It’s good to be back home, but things haven’t gone as anticipated. Buying a new home proved to be a challenge, with our intended purchase falling out the day before closing, and having the moving van show up with all of our furniture and no place to put it. Fortunately my dear friend (who also originally got me thinking about making the big move) generously gave us a place to stay and a warehouse to store our furniture while we looked for another house. I was already familiar with the market so we quickly found another house in a good neighborhood out in the country. Unfortunately, we were burglarized a month after moving in. Not a good house warming, but life moves on.
At last we were settled in to our new home and were able to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas with my parents. I was looking forward to being here, being close to my parents, and continuing our genealogical pursuits that we had collaborated on for so many years together.
And then at the beginning of February my father got very sick and was gone a week later. The finality of that loss still hasn’t completely sunken in – probably because of all the other things that were already going on and have happened since.
Losing my father was a deadly blow to my mother. Suddenly her husband of sixty years was gone and so was her support system. She had been dealing with kidney disease for twenty years and my father had been her ‘round-the-clock caregiver. She never recovered from the loss and began a downward spiral that ended with her passing away seven months later in September.
I was very close to my parents. We had a warm and loving relationship. We had a lot of fun working together on our genealogical pursuits. I attempted to capture and document as much as possible of what they knew of our family history, and now I feel a million details have faded away – as most family history does. There was so much we still wanted to do together: ancient family cemeteries to find, ancestral mysteries to solve, and so on. I will carry on – as I am sure they would have wanted. I will probably always ache a little bit when I learn something new and won’t be able to share it with them.
It is now the eve of a new year. For the first time in the year and a half, since I made that decision to move, I have had a moment to reflect and just breathe. It truly was a miracle that I was here when my parents needed me most. It just wouldn’t have been like that if I had not made the decision to move. I am saddened over the loss of my mother and father, but I am happy that they suffer no longer. I am home. I am ready to do what I can to make a bright, shining life for myself, my family, my friends, and my students.