When my husband initially received his duty station assignment, I was informed of the news over the phone whilst I was casually strolling through the aisles of a super market. I felt like a life-changing bomb had been dropped right there amidst the condiments.
He told me that we would be leaving our Southern California home and moving to Central Texas to be stationed at Fort Hood.
I felt my grip tighten on the bottle of Sweet Baby Ray’s sauce that I was holding as a wave of disbelief and cynicism washed over me.
The idea of picking up life and moving to another state, particularly one I predicted would be so vastly different from home, was utterly terrifying. My imagination was bombarded by images of a stereotypical culture far removed from my native Californian comfort zone.
I shuddered at the thought of swapping sandy beaches and a dry, mild climate for landlocked humidity and ten-gallon hats. I indignantly slammed the sauce back on the shelf in feeble protest – I had most certainly lost my appetite for anything barbecued.
My first days in Texas were spent holed up in our new duplex, hiding from my conceived notions of the unknown (not to mention surprise thunderstorms and that infamous, unrelenting humidity.)
It was day four and I was busy wallowing on a makeshift living room set comprised of lawn chairs, Face Timing with friends back home and insisting on impenetrable misery when there was a soft knock on our front door.
Who could this be? I thought in irritation as I ended my phone conversation and proceeded to answer the door. We hadn’t even set up our mailing address yet and I certainly was not in the mood to deal with any solicitors.
I was greeted by a young couple standing on our front door step who introduced themselves as our neighbors. They had come to welcome us to the community and to offer their assistance should we need anything.
And, of course, they had come with a plate of fresh, homemade barbecue in hand.
I was taken aback by their presence alone, not to mention their genuine kindness and interest in us.
Never in all my years as a Californian had a neighbor gone out of their way to introduce themselves to me. Perhaps we had waved in passing or shared some sort of mutual acknowledgement, but never quite like this. Oftentimes in California, I had gone years without even so much as knowing a neighbor’s full name.
In the weeks to come, our new Texas neighbors became our close friends. We have gone to movies together, shared meals, enjoyed play dates for our pets and had game nights.
They come to check on me when my husband is working nights or away on field exercises. We even take turns mowing one another’s lawns.
Needless to say, my premature bitterness over the move to Central Texas has been sweetened by the “Southern hospitality” shown to us by these once perfect strangers, an experience I never would have gotten had they not come knocking that day.
Not only have I gained a fresh concept of what it means to be a neighbor through my relationship with this couple, but I have made true connections within my community, something that has been essential to my success and happiness as a new Texan (not to mention helped me rediscover my love of barbecue.)
A word of advice to military families from far and wide: When all else fails, sometimes all you need to make a strange place feel like home can be found right next door.
Kirsten Farmer is a Herald staff writer and a military spouse.