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  • Writer's picturemaggiehsmith07

Training to be Southern

I haven’t written here in a while. When I first began blogging, over 14 years ago, I would record aspects of my day as if there was a potential fan base of people who really cared about what I ate for lunch or what errands I ran. After spending day after day at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I felt as if I didn’t have much to write about aside from what I ate for lunch or how much the birds who came to our feeder ate (a lot).

We’ve been in Virginia 2 ½ months and seen little aside from the local hardware store, grocery store and the dump due to the state shutting shortly after our arrival. A fine “how do you do?”, Virginia. I’ve been working from home, as has Andrea.

“We could have done this from home – in Hudson!” Andrea said. “Do you think we would have seen our friends?”

“Yes.” I answer without hesitation, “Anne and Sue walk together. Yes – we’ve would have seen them.”

“I wonder what the lesson is in this…” Andrea says, considering.

Good fucking question. I believe things happen for a reason – and reasons aren’t always clear in the moment. After all, Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards (Soren Kierkegaard).

The state eased some of its restrictions this week, including reopening 11 Division of Motor Vehicle offices. you had to book an appointment online in advance. Our cars weren’t yet registered in Virginia so we were paying for auto insurance in Virginia and in Massachusetts who wouldn’t permit us to cancel our insurance until our cars were registered. I thought that booking an appointment ahead of time would revolutionize the DMV experience – raising it to new levels of efficiency. We optimistically made the hour drive to Roanoke, which is where the open DMV closest to us is located. DMV workers clad in ponchos due to the steady rain stood under a pop up canopy as we pulled into the parking lot to ensure we had an appointment. Then workers under another tent near the door verified your appointment and made sure that you were not entering more than 10 minutes prior to your scheduled appointment. We stood in line, six feet apart, waiting to officially check into at the information desk. A woman with a spray bottle sprayed the counter down between each customer transaction. The DMV website had indicated that masks were to be worn. Apparently this was more of a suggestion than a mandate. The unsmiling DMV worker at station 13, where I had been directed, wasn’t wearing a mask. Before I moved to Virginia, I would joke to Andrea that I was “Training for Southern” which referred to the urgency and pace I expected people to have down here. Good thing I got some training in. As “P. Harrison” slowly reviewed my documentation so I could get my drivers license, Andrea stormed over.

“Do you have my social security card?!” Andrea demanded. I pawed through the contents of the folder I’d brought with us as I eyed P. Harrison and hoped she’d accept my utility bills as proof of residency although they were in Andrea Smith’s name.

“My birth certificate!” Andrea pounced, snatching the aged document up and reclaiming the utility bills that P. was done with.

“If they fucking told me what I needed.” Andrea mumbled and I hoped P. Harrison did not hear her because that was not southern. Andrea should have trained too. Andrea stomped off. I smiled at P., still unsmiling, from underneath my mask and considered saying, “Bless her heart!” to see if P. would smile. I thought better of this.

“You can step over there for the picture.” P. gestured.

“Oh.” I complied. “I should take my mask off, right? Or maybe this could be a commemorative edition?!” I laughed at my wit. P. did not. “Hahah. Of course…” I hastily removed my mask. “Okay. They’ll mail it to you in a week.” P. advised. She then picked up my Massachusetts drivers license, punched it with a hole puncher and handed it back to me. My eyes bulged, the hole puncher had made the word “VOID” across my license in small letters.

“Sorry.” P. shrugged, almost sheepishly, and I thanked her, hastily stepping away from the counter, gathering my paperwork as Andrea stomped back over.

“I have to come back on June 12th! This is bullshit. Maybe if they had told me what they needed!” Andrea ranted. “And I have my W-2 in my phone, but NO! It has to be printed!”

“Be quiet a minute. We can figure this out. Let’s go to the car.” I said, having some time to kill before my appointment to register our cars. “Okay. We’re smarter than the DMV. Let’s think about this. You have a copy of your W2. Let’s find a place to get it printed.” We did and Andrea drove off as I headed back in for my second appointment. This was with a friendlier, masked man, who was slower than slow. He had an accent and the mask made it more difficult for me to understand what he was saying. It was like I was processing his words on a delay. I’d smile, under my mask, nod, and wonder what the hell he was saying while saying, “Yes!” Then I’d understand and do whatever it was he wanted.

Andrea returned and the information desk tried to argue that the appointment she had now was to register her car.

“She’s doing that!” Andrea protested – gesturing to me.

I tried to focus on my masked man to keep the process going, while keeping one eye on Andrea in case she started losing her shit on both the women at the front desk who were scrutinizing her W-2.

“It printed weird!” She said urgently, by way of explanation. I glanced over and she said it again – this time to me. I heard Andrea mustering her southern, tossing out a few, “Yes. Ma’m’s” and she was finally directed to a seat to get her license. See? We were not coming back to this gd place on June 12th.

The still unsmiling P. Harrison tells her, “You can smile if you want to.”

Our licenses arrived yesterday – the most efficient part of the entire process. I figured our photos would be like mug shots. Andrea opened hers and laughed. Her left eyebrow was up and the other down – a look that I’ve never seen, that P. managed to capture. In the photo, Andrea looks like she's gritting her teeth and I wonder if P. captured a frustrated Andrea, training to be southern.

After three dreary days, the rain has finally stopped, so we’re sitting outside, Virginia plates affixed to our car. If I look hard enough, I'm sure I'll find a lesson in that but instead, I'm going to sit on this slightly soggy chaise cushion and enjoy the breeze and the sunshine.

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