Before and After

There are two kinds of people in this world: who you were before and who you are after.

I love Chicago. My great grandfather, Timothy Ryan, moved there in 1880. He proceeded to marry a miner’s daughter and have nine children. I am one of his many descendants. To say that Chicago was home is to say that an oak is an overgrown acorn. My roots ran deep. It never occurred to me to live anywhere else. New York? Nah, too crowded and we have all that culture here. Los Angeles? Too spread out, too much traffic and it’s a one-industry game out there. I loved living in Chicagoland. I love being a Bears fan/ Cubs fan/ south side Irish/ hot dog devotee of the city by the lake. If we were considered flyover country to the two coasts, they could keep flying.

We had a nice life in an affluent area northwest of the city with all the trimmings. We had a nice house, country club membership, good schools, well-trimmed lawns and well-trimmed kids. I was a member of the riding club and we were raising our kids in our forever land. Our neighborhood was lined with huge stately overgrown acorns and the neighbors that lived there were kind giving people of similar ilk who genuinely enjoyed gathering together for the annual clean up/cookout/trick or treating/chili-fest/Christmas Party/New Year’s Eve. The random and occasional desperate housewife kept it amusing.

“Before” was something I accepted as permanent and inviolable. That cloud out there on the horizon was just going to water the garden.

The shift was a steady thrum almost unnoticeable in approach. The symptoms, post 9/11 were pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that didn’t quite fit. We all regained our new equilibriums and adjusted to the new world. The symptoms came from different directions. My daughter was beginning to shut down with the pressure of being a stepford kid. Malpractice premiums kept doubling even for those who had no dings on their records. The number of “have tos” left us all exhausted and crabby.

One fine ordinary day, the hubby came home having seen an ad for a practice in “Big Sky Country.” Montana!!! “Well, why don’t you look into it? I like Montana.”

He promptly picked his jaw up off the floor.

Me and my big mouth.

Thus began the “after”.

Through a year of being recruited in Wisconsin (close to Chicago, maybe they wouldn’t notice five people moving in up the street wearing orange and blue and Bears hats), we were offered an opportunity in western South Dakota.

Talk about flyover country!

We did a lot of soul searching and middle of the night what-the-hell-are-we-thinking? We asked for signs from God.

The malpractice premiums went up again. It started an exodus doctors leaving the state that would rival a penguin march.

Thank you, God.

We moved in July of 2004 just before the world famous Sturgis Motorcycle Rally began. We moved to a smaller house in a subdivision where my neighbors were completely okay with hanging their tighty whiteys on the clothesline. It blew my world that they even HAD a clothesline. I hadn’t seen one of those since I moved out of my parents’ home. I thought they only appeared in Prince Spaghetti commercials.

My homeowners’ covenants said I could not raise poultry.

I took my kids to a horse auction where they learned that there are many forms of the English language and an auctioneer’s is unintelligible from Bantu.

We were invited to a cattle round up and branding where I put on a cowboy hat and actually said, “Yah!’. My hunt coats have been in a closet ever since.

The moment between “before” and “after” was an extended one. It took me about a year to stop introducing myself to the same people over and over. When you live somewhere for a hundred and twenty four years, you are ensconced in your own little world with all it’s subgroups.

“After” continued to change my perspective.

I went back to Chicago to discover that the main road that was under construction when I left was STILL under construction. Three more malls and two “luxury estate” developments had emerged from the rolling hills that had brought us out there to begin with. People still put up with 45 minute, ten mile commutes. I get crabby when I have to wait for three cars to pass to make a left hand turn. I call it the Spearfish rush hour.

I haven’t turned into Lisa Douglas from “Green Acres”. I still need my sushi fix after hitting the bookstore. I mourn the fact that the nearest Costco is across the state and the nearest Trader Joe’s is in Denver. If I can’t get it from the internet, I probably don’t really need it.

Recently, we were at a very elegant wedding on the east coast. They hubby’s college roommate is a Manhattan attorney. He’s never been east of New Jersey. He introduced us to a guest and pointed out that we now live in “one of those square states in the middle”.

I have become a reluctant cowgirl. But a content one as well. I am glad we live in one of those square states in the middle that only make the news when a blizzard hits. This traumatic experience was really nothing more than a major blessing in disguise. Once we put the jigsaw puzzle together it points toward here, where we are meant to be. Certainly not where we expected to be. We are a better family for it.

I should mention that there is a buffalo head mounted on my wall. Buffalo steak is very good.

When my friends and neighbors come and visit (I think I was personally responsible for a spike in tourism out of sheer curiosity of life beyond Chicago), they walk in my house and look at the view of our mountain and understand that leaving the rat race creates new opportunities to grow.

There are two kinds of people.  Before and after and they can exist in the same package.

Just call me Ma Cartwright.

If you decide to visit, please bring me a case of Two-Buck Chuck.

About marysigmond

After four generations in Chicago, a big city transplant to the "wild west" of western South Dakota in 2004. Mom, domestic goddess, CEO of my world and fond of musing about what is becoming the second half of my life. It's a big old goofy world.
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5 Responses to Before and After

  1. Mary,
    I loved this post and was so intrigued by your move and your courage. I related to much of it since we have moved so often in our lives. I hope your memoir is about this experience as it would really reflect the shift in our world and in many of our lives. Embracing life, taking chances, breaking the mold.
    ~Susan Pohlman

  2. Jamie says:

    Hi Mary,
    I don’t think I have heard your story before–how you came to live in one of the square states. I loved this. We just moved out of SD onto ten acres of land in northern MN. We built a little straw bale house. It feels even more remote than SD. Nice to hear from you again.

  3. marysigmond says:

    Thank you, Susan. I am equally amazed at your bravery as well.

  4. Really terrific post. Sounds like both your before and your after are pretty together people.

    • marysigmond says:

      Thank you so much for your kind words. I love your blog. You have to post your winning story on your blog. It was wonderful. Glad to meet another scarf challenged person! I recall the line from the movie “Steel Magnolias”: “The only thing that differentiates us from the animals is our ability to accesorize.”

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