Last night I was thinking about a couple of friends from elementary school and it suddenly occurred to me that maybe they were on Facebook. After a very quick search, I found them and delighted in the opportunity to see pictures of what my eleven year old friends look like now – middle aged parents! Like me, I suppose.
For a year and a half when I was in fifth and sixth grades, my family lived in rural Mississippi. I loved living there, though being an Orthodox family in an area where people had literally never seen Jews we were very much an anomaly. A few years ago my great aunt told me that before we moved there, the local pastor organized a school assembly where he spoke to prepare the entire student body from elementary through high school for our arrival. No doubt this is a big reason that we had what I remember as a smooth reception.
The other thing that helped is that we have family ties in the area that go way back. As someone whose parents came to Judaism at an older age, we didn’t have any Orthodox relatives and we weren’t local to our secular Jewish relatives at any point of my life. But when I moved to this rural area, suddenly I had family. I still remember the warm feeling I had when people in school would come up to me and say something like, “You’re our third cousin once removed.”
Mississippi often gets spoken of derogatorily but I think Mississippi is wonderful in so many ways! I loved the slower and simpler pace of life, and the family centered focus, where families stay put for generations in the same area. My best friend from that time built a house on her parents’ property, her sister did the same, her first cousin lived in the house on the next property, her other first cousins lived in the property around the corner, and her grandmother lived a couple houses past that. I’m assuming this all started off as her grandmother’s property. (When I say property, I’m talking about something very large, not houses jammed on top of each other. My great aunt’s property is over 100 acres and her grandson lives in a house on her property that’s a ten minute walk away; she told me she’d give me property to build a house if I’d come back, too.) I’ve never experienced anything like that kind of rootedness since then.
I have very warm memories of my time living in Mississippi – I jumped on haystacks in the yard next to ours for fun, as a ten year old biked a mile and back to pick up items at the grocery in town for our parents with my best friend, and often would stand watching the cow grazing in the pasture on the other side of our house. It was very rural, a very tiny town (I just checked the population census and as of 2012 it was 227 people), but it was so nice and I’ve gone back three times as an adult to visit. One time I took my oldest daughter with me, and when I met with three school friends for dinner, one brought her daughter who was the same age. Our daughters ended up having a sleepover – my friend remembered what they had to do in order to accommodate me so many years before when I came to her home for a birthday sleepover and willingly accommodated my daughter in a similar manner.
My twentieth reunion for high school – had I continued there – was in September 2011 and when I was notified about it, I was seriously contemplating traveling there for it. But in August 2011 our family moved to Israel so that obviously didn’t happen!
Well, thanks to Facebook I’ve now had an opportunity to reconnect with some of these people! Not only that, I’m now connected to my second cousin in the area as well as my first cousin who I haven’t spoken to since she was about four. I have some concerns about Facebook being a place of connections that are often not very meaningful but in this case, it’s creating an opportunity for connections that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I live a very different life from these friends and family members, and I’m grateful to have even a very casual way to stay in touch.