Finding a Needle in the Haystack – The Oxford Eagle

Find a needle in the haystack

Published at 5:00 p.m. on Saturday, December 10, 2022

By Susan Mah, LCSW

As a child, growing up in downtown Memphis, I lived in a neighborhood where we knew everyone.

There was Jean who lent us a cup of sugar or an egg if my mother missed part of her recipe. There was Shelba who took me to church on Sundays. There was this nice old lady who made popsicles in the summer for the street kids – not because she had to, but because she wanted to.

When I grew up, my family moved to the suburbs of Memphis and we no longer knew our neighbors.

When I came home from school in the afternoon, I watched “The Andy Griffith Show” and was drawn to the kinship I saw on the small screen. Even though Barney couldn’t sing, the community came together to make him believe he could. Even though Floyd’s stories were rambling and not that interesting, the people at the barbershop sat up and listened.

For most of my adulthood, I lived in various large cities on the coasts with millions of inhabitants. I didn’t know my neighbors and didn’t really care but Mayberry remained on the back burner in my mind.

After the advent of the internet, I would occasionally go online and search for phrases such as “cities like Mayberry in the United States”, hoping to one day find that needle in the haystack.

Having lived on the west coast for the past 10 years, I came to Oxford last summer on a lark. I was originally planning to go to Memphis to get out of California for a summer break, but couldn’t find a rental that allowed dogs.

Eventually I clicked on “farm stays” on Airbnb and the nicest cottage showed up in the search results – The Nests, Oxford, MS.

My dogs and I made the long trip across the country and stayed on the farm for two months. Our summer was like a good chapter in a book – where golden dogs ran through golden light on lush green lawns and swam in lakes when it was hot and sticky, where the best music I’ve heard was the sound crickets and frogs in the night air as I swayed on the porch in the dark, where I met people and made friends and could feel the suspicions of a community.

Mayberry had moved to the forefront of my mind.

As the summer was coming to an end, I decided to write a new chapter in our book. I left my dogs at Delta Dog, flew to California, packed my things and drove a moving truck to Oxford where I finally bought my dreams.

In the days that followed, one of my new neighbors gave me salsa and homemade chocolate chip chips and cookies, another gave me a bouquet of flowers, while yet another made a coffee cake. I found that needle in the haystack!

In my work as a psychotherapist, I often share a pie chart with my patients that illustrates six vital elements of well-being: health, relationships, safety, purpose, environment, and community.

This Halloween, I strolled down Lamar Boulevard to see the kids dressed up, tricked out, or treated, and was absolutely blown away by the incredible display of community spirit. The owners of these beautiful houses decorated their gardens and handed out sweets to hundreds of children, not because they had to, but because they wanted to.

And witnessing this, I was overwhelmed with gratitude and joy.

This month will mark my seventh birthday at Oxford, and in that short time I’ve become a regular at Littlejohn’s, joined a ladies’ band, joined the country club, made connections with the community and made even more friends.

The icing on the cake, I know all my neighbors and recently I willingly lent one of them some brown sugar because he was missing part of his recipe.

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