Big Daddy and I never planned to raise kids in Memphis. I spent my entire childhood and adolescence hating this town and vowing to leave. But then I discovered midtown, and I realized that my suburban existence really had nothing to do with living in Memphis. I got accepted to Rhodes College, which happened to be the only school I applied to in my haze of oblivion. Luckily it was a good school and a great fit for me, although it would have been nice if the guidance counselors at Kirby could have pulled their heads out of the student council's collective ass long enough to let me know that my ACT score qualified me for free tuition at just about any state school in Tennessee, if not elsewhere. Oh well.
We got married two weeks after I graduated from Rhodes, and about a year later, we did leave town. BD's mom, step-dad, sister, and two brothers lived in Panama City Beach at that time. We are both beach people, we both wanted to move away, and on a visit to his family, as we sat on the deck of a beach-side restaurant and watched the sun set spectacularly into the gulf, he said to me "See that?" I knew then that we would move. And we did, not to PCB, but to Panama City proper, on a little peninsula off downtown that put us a few blocks from the city marina, a bayou that housed a smaller marina, and the St. Andrews Bay. We lived in a tiny, generic little apartment but in a great neighborhood, and we broke the mold by being the two people who live near the beach and actually go to the beach. We rode bikes around the marina and through Bunker's Cove (imagine Chickasaw Gardens on a bay) and ate at Joe's on the bayou and Schooner's on the beach, where I also waitressed for a while. Those parts of living there were fun, and BD was happy to be near his family for the first time in a few years. But there were no good jobs, and the only culture was the culture of low-brow tourism. We left with the intention of moving to Taos, New Mexico, which lasted a week. That's a whole other story, but the end result was that we ended up, unexpectedly and against all my swearing that we'd never live here again, back in Memphis. In the next few months I learned I was pregnant, had a difficult miscarriage, got pregnant again, went back to the school where I had taught before the move, and supported BD in the decision to buy The Tobacco Bowl. So just like that, we were entrenched in Memphis again.
I noticed way back in elementary school that new kids who had moved all over the country came here and never moved again. I didn't understand until adulthood that relatively high salaries combined with a low cost of living combine to make the standard of living for the middle class enticingly comfortable. There have been a few times in the past few years that BD and I have talked about moving and looked around at jobs and housing in various places. But every time, in almost any city where we would want to live, I've faced about a $10K a year cut in pay and said "maybe not just now." Memphis teachers make the highest salaries in the Southeast except for those in Atlanta. And we're still poor! Money is the biggest reason we've stayed here so long, followed closely by proximity of family and friends.
But the list of reasons to leave is growing. Lately it seems like crime in Memphis is spiralling quickly out of control. Too many of our friends and family have been victimized. The break ins while no one was home were a lot easier to take than the recent and all-too-in-person hold-ups. At gun point. I don't like feeling like I'm just waiting for it to be me, or BD, or another person we love. I don't like wondering how I will help the kids feel safe again when, not if, our house gets broken into. When I feel like I'd carry a loaded gun strapped to my person if I didn't have kids, but at the same time like I need the gun to protect my kids and wonder if a taser will be good enough, I think we are approaching time to go.
There has been some exciting talk within BD's side of the family this week about all of us moving beachward, not to Panama City this time but elsewhere in the Florida panhandle. There are still a lot of details to work out, but I know that the idea of living near more of his family again, for the first time in adulthood, is very appealing to him. And of course, we'd love to be near the beach, and also to raise our kids in a place where the crime stats are not even close to the numbers we see here. The decrease in my pay is looking less important when balanced against the increase in peace of mind.