I've never written a thank you note to a town before. This is my first. This note goes to you, C-ton, and the amazing folks that inhabit you. I feel sure I can't do an adequate job showing my gratitude, but I'd like to try.
When I arrived here with my family of three, I had no idea of all that you'd teach me. I didn't know then what a lot of learning I had to do. You were gentle with me, and I was able to take it slow over our twelve and a half years together. I came to you with a three month old child, pretty confident that I knew a lot. I leave you with a seventh grader, a sixth grader and a third grader, totally sure that I have a lot to learn. Thank goodness you were patient with me. Thank goodness you were patient with my whole family.
I must confess that you didn't sound all that great when I first heard about you. Now I know that I don't know anything about a place until I have lived there; until I have met the people that make a place tick. I couldn't have known then what a mark you would make on my life, what you would teach me or the ways you would teach me to maneuver through life.
Back in 2000, as Tim and I ate pimento cheese sandwiches at People's Drug Store, I had no idea how many memories I was about to make. I couldn't have known about the times my kids and I would dance on the square, listening to awesome music. I wouldn't have imagined I would roller blade a few years later in the Christmas parade or that my children would make a memory on each yard of that square. I didn't know that I would be in and out of your beautiful houses, knowing and learning from your great citizens about everything from childrearing to gardening and that many, many times I would visit in those same homes and laugh and laugh and laugh.
I didn't know when we first visited here in the great snow storm of early 2000 that we would have two more children here and that the people of this sleepy little town would be our extended family. I couldn't have known then that your citizens would be with me when I was happy or when I was scared, when we were celebrating or when we were grieving. I had no idea how much I would love you and how you and yours would return that love. I didn't know that my children would roam your streets with a jubilant confidence that comes with being somewhere where folks love you and appreciate you and watch out for you. I didn't know then the feeling I would have later when my friends loved my children as if they were their own, or how proud I would be to be surrounded by the friends of my children, as they ran in and out of our house.
You seemed to be such a small place. I had no idea that I would meet people that seemed just like me and people who were organic farmers and people who made great music and people who had traveled the world. I didn't know that inside those stately homes and those elegant facades were the folks who would soon feel like family. I didn't know that you would hurt with us and help us and urge us on when we needed it. I had no idea then how very much my family would love all of yours.
I did not know that you would afford my children the adventures you would: that they would perform on stage and sing in school and learn more about the arts on the Oxford campus. I didn't know that those friendly looking souls we saw strolling along your streets would soon feel like our grandparents, our cousins, our brothers and sisters. You couldn't have told me then that we would love folks so much that my children would call them "Aunt" and "Uncle" or that our family would be as comfortable in everyone else's churches as we are in ours. I did not know how amazing it would be to worship with loved ones all over town.
It seems funny now, but I had no idea how many laughs we would share with your people. I didn't imagine that we would laugh at all of the crazy things we would do together - the Bunco, the Girl Scout cookies, the impromptu gatherings at Scoops, the long talks in the driveways or the book club meetings. I wouldn't have imagined then all of the ways that your people would become my family. I didn't know then that I could actually love the children of my friends as much as I do or that I would ever drop my children off at school with the peace of mind that comes with knowing how very much they are loved.
I didn't have any idea how friendships between people of all ages would be forged between my family and your people. I didn't know that I would soon walk around your square and not be able to go more than ten feet without bumping into someone I truly loved.
Sometimes we would get sick in your town. Or sometimes we would be sad. I wouldn't understand right at first that we would be supported in such loving ways or that your people would hold their breath with us, pray for us and carry us through. I had heard of the "it takes a village" bit, but I had no idea of what that really meant. Now I do. I'll never forget.
We didn't know when we first came to you that we would build a church with your people or build a school with them or work with them to create things we thought impossible. I would never have believed that I would change careers while I was with you or that your people would encourage me so so much.
I guess I wasn't sure when we arrived in this special place that I could be appreciated for who I really am or that Tim, my children and I would feel so loved. I wasn't sure how comfortable it would all feel, how often we would smile or all of the times that we would laugh until our stomach hurt!
Everything wasn't perfect here. That's just it. We've been really living the day to day, right along with your people. We've struggled together, outlasted the mundane together, gotten up early together and stayed up late together. It has been fun. In your town, the people are 'in it' together.
I guess no one really knows, when they arrive in a town, what awaits them. But you have taught me that I shouldn't ever let my mind jump to any conclusions. I know now that it's the people that make the place and I know now that sometimes people are full of surprises. Some of them are good storytellers, some can whittle magic out of wood, some sing like angels, some listen with sweet and patient ears and some are nurses whenever you need help. You have them all in Covington, and your characters have etched a spot in my heart that won't ever be erased.
You've been gentle with us.
You've listened to us.
You've taught us.
We have hung out with your people.
We have laughed alongside your people.
We have dreamed with your people.
We have wondered about what we might become with your people.
Just before we came to your town, a friend told me something I never forgot. She said that Covington would always be different in my heart because it would be the place my children started their lives.
Our children did start their lives here, and I am eternally grateful. Wherever they go, they will be forever different because of the strength of their beginning. They will always carry pieces of your special town, and I pray they never lose the feelings they learned here of being loved and appreciated. It will carry them far.
You aren't able to avail your citizens every activity in the world or chances to choose between hundreds of restaurants, but you offer them something even more special. Your folks can wander the streets, supported by every human they pass; the children in your spaces have the unique feeling of 'owning' the town. Neighbors are neighbors and the events of each citizen's life are appreciated.
I didn't know much about being a Mama or wife when I arrived in your midst. I might not know much more now; but all that I know about my life in these roles, I learned with you. Your children painted in my garage, destroyed my house, dug 'pools' in my backyard and sent me off on quiet times with Tim. In this place I've learned to cook, learned how to get away without cooking, what I need, what I don't need, and who to call when any situation arises. I don't take that lightly.
On your streets, I've driven mini-vans that should have been retired, I've walked with sleeping babies, I've 'gotten into shape' and I've taken casual strolls.
And, man o man, have we laughed! I've learned to laugh at myself in your town, and I hope my children take away the same skill.
Covington has been, and always will be, my village.
I'm sorry for the folks who don't ever live in a place like you. I'm quite sure they don't know what they are missing. They don't know about the people who make the place, the village mentality, the laughs or the strength that comes from the unconditional love of real friends. We didn't all start here, but we were here together during a special time. I'm grateful that we came.
Wherever we are, you will be with us. You have shaped us. You have held us up. You've taught us and you've changed us. You have loved us.
Thank you, Covington, for your people and your lessons and your quiet streets. Thank you for twelve and half years of living and loving.
With much love and a heart full of thanks,