The New Insiders
By: Cass Van Gelder
“Next time we move, we’re hiring people,” my husband Hoss says as he stares into our new kitchen. Boxes crookedly piled on top each other, threatening to tip if we breathe too hard.
In seven months, we’ve moved several times – the first time almost 2,000 miles and the last time only 6 miles – while we attempted to sell one house, temporary-residency-to-own another, and eventually buy another. It felt like the old riddle – you have a fox, a chicken, and chicken feed. You have to get across the river in a boat that only holds you and two other things. What do you do?
Months turn into a year, we balanced my living in Tennessee, starting a fresh writing job while living with my Murfreesboro cousins. Hoss struggled to take care of our dogs, cats, children, my sister (Rachel), and selling our house.
Oh, and finishing his paralegal degree.
And coming back and forth across the country to visit me.
And searching for a job out here.
And using our unlimited data to FaceTime at the oddest hours so we didn’t become a statistic.
We ferried the animals to our new home in increasingly odd manners, especially since all airlines had ceased allowing any dog that could not fit under an airline seat to fly.
The kids and Rachel boarded a plane with our three non-cooperative cats, each was stuffed under a seat.
The dogs came individually by trailer, truck, and car.
In other words, we worked – hard – to be where we are.
Even after that, Hoss still returned to Las Vegas to live with friends while our house sat empty, being shown to prospective buyers looking for unrealistic deals.
For years after dot.com and housing crashes, our family rode devastating financial waves. We went from paying every bill in advance to paring down to pioneer-style, sans cell phones and cable.
To avoid our 14-year-old daughter being lured to quit school for a glamorous strip club life, Hoss and I opted for stability. We headed closer to home.
Having been raised in South Carolina and Arkansas, we knew our kids needed a life they could absorb and appreciate…eventually. We applied only for jobs in the South.
We made a few determinations before leaving: 1) pay off our debt when we sold the house, and 2) find a community where we could get involved.
Though my new job based me in Franklin, it didn’t take long to figure out that our money wasn’t going to go far there.
We drove farther and farther out, each time finding properties that just weren’t right.
Driving through the roads of Bell Buckle, Wartrace, and Shelbyville, we scanned for For Sale signs while flipping through Realtor.com listings. For every sweeping farm or pretty little house, we found gigantic power towers or on-property mausoleums.
Finally, we found an adorable house in a little dell.
Seeing as they had lived in the house since it was built, the owners waited a long time for the perfect new owners.
The small community yielded friends, sought after at the Shelbyville Central High School football games. Neighbors brought homemade soup when a loved one passed on. Even strangers caught your dog from running into traffic and brought him back to your house.
The day we moved in, a set of new neighbors came over with the biggest smiles and the moistest banana bread. We pulled off pieces, eating as we unloaded, forgoing the formalities of plates and silverware, which we could not find anyway.
We felt we had walked back into a Norman Rockwell version of our past lives. We had come home again.
This lasted all of one week.
My social butterfly husband made quick friends with local businessmen, feeling out the situation for opening a sports bar, a dream he’d carried with him through four states.
One fellow shook his head.
“That won’t happen,” he lamented. “You’re new; you’ll always be new. And they don’t like that.”
Stunned, Hoss asked more, discouraged when he heard how the locals – and specifically the town council - pushed out new businesses and dissuaded growth.
“They lean on those horses, but they’re on their way out,” another said, a nod to the Tennessee Walking Horse industry that floundered in the light of animal cruelty charges.
Only months before, a major financial supporter reassigned funds meant to support the town’s main tourist attraction – the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration week. The festival is so large,; the county school district schedules a Fall break to accommodate the students who participate.
Every story worsened until one day, everything collapsed – literally.
A fast and furious storm passed through the county, overwhelming the large, antiquated flume collecting the town’s rain water, diverting it under several municipal buildings, and into Duck River.
Until it buckled.
Then it bent.
Then it swallowed a police car.
It wasn’t news that it would collapse. The town council had known about it for decades.
Even as the countdown clock ticked passed the year 2012 deadline to replace it, the town council made no plans, set aside no funds. Instead, they incurred more debt through lawsuits filed against the city.
The only bill sure to be paid was their salary.
The flume replacement and the lawsuit – paid by new taxes they passed onto the homeowners.
When Shelbyville’s city manager applied for FEMA help, they denied the request, saying that the town council’s bad planning wasn’t an emergency and could have been avoided.
We read stories in the Shelbyville Free Press, the Tennessean, and listened as town folks complained. The swell of outrage seemed to be rising, only to peter out after a few weeks, the feeling of pointlessness absorbing their outrage.
The original insiders told us nothing could be done. Indirectly, we were told our help would not be wanted. We were not from here, so it was not our business with which to be concerned.
Hoss and I wondered if we had chosen wrongly. We worried that the town would not let us or others grow. We stood to lose our investment – not just in money, but in what we had become and what we chosen to be a part of.
Lucky enough to be born here, these people, this town, all of you – you chose to stay. Lucky enough to live anywhere, we chose to come here.
All of us new insiders, we chose you. We chose here. We chose to be a part of this life, of this town, of our people.
We brought our children here to learn, to grow, and work together, much like we hope to do ourselves.
We came here because we see the same value and potential you do.
Now, we want to act on it.
We want to let this town blossom, to become the amazing place that visitors harken back to and dream of settling.
All of us – born here or moved here – we want to succeed, and we want to be proud.
We are – all of us – a part of this town.
All of us.
A cat jumps up on a box sending it crashing to the floor, breaking all our drinking glasses. Hoss and I look at each other. “I think we’re here for a while,” I smile and sigh.
About the Author
Cass Van Gelder
Cass Van Gelder’s spent most of her days convincing herself that writing is way more important than laundry, and failing miserably.
With an extensive background in journalism, English, opera, and theatre, she made her way through New York, San Francisco, and more recently Las Vegas; writing, singing, all the while imploring the use of the Oxford comma.
Locate more of her work on the ESPN Radio – Las Vegas site, along with www.PainInTheCass.blogspot.com.
Facebook: Cassandra D. Van Gelder (PainInTheCass)
Email: [email protected]