Our move from Alabama to Tennessee was very calculated and spontaneous at the same time. Joe's job, several jobs ago in 2005, is what brought us to Birmingham. It was chosen for us and made sense at the time, but we never felt like that's where we'd stay forever. It never truly felt like home even though we had made close friends and had all of our children there. A few years ago we began discussing where we'd want to live if we left Alabama. We were getting to a point where we could choose within a 9-state region where we'd want to go. We started making exploratory trips to some cities Joe could see us in based on his work travels. Charlotte, NC, Nashville, TN and Knoxville, TN became our Top 3. The Carolinas were intriguing, but that would take us further away from my parents; we wanted a place that would get us closer to both sets of parents. Tennessee would do just that and after visiting Knoxville 3 or 4 times we realized we got the warm fuzzies every time. It seemed right. Having been discussing this move and making these trips over a course of a couple years, my back thoughts definitely went to Is this really going to happen? Are we all talk and no action? If we were going to move I wanted it to take place before our oldest started Kindergarten and here we were with our oldest in 4K and me pregnant with #3. We decided the first step of no turning back was to begin packing up boxes for storage to declutter. We had also been looking at houses in Knoxville on Zillow, but we couldn't really do much about it because we were 4 hours away, Joe was always traveling and I was super preggers. The baby came earlier than expected (December) so we decided we'd put our house on the market in February or March. We had a realtor come out to appraise our house in February so we would be prepared for when we were ready. The next week he called us and said "I know your house isn't on the market yet, but I think it is exactly what one of my clients is looking for. Would you mind if I showed it to them tomorrow?" We spent the next day locking kids in bedrooms and cleaning furiously. We went across the street to the park while it showed and one hour later they put an offer on it. The only stipulation was they needed to move in 17 days later!! So we went from house not on market yet to we have 17 days to get out in the course of an hour. Looking back I have no idea how we made that happen, but with a 5-year old, a 2-year old and a 3-month old we packed up our house ourselves, got an apartment leased, moved stuff from a Birmingham storage unit to a Knoxville storage unit, packed up what we would need for an unknown amount of time in an apartment and took 3 trips with a moving truck. But we made it! What's crazy is as we pulled away from the first house we ever owned together, a house we had spent 12 years in, the house we brought all 3 kids home from the hospital to, I wasn't sad. I thought I'd be silently weeping as we pulled away, but when the time came it was more like "Bye house!" It was a sign to me that we were making the right decision. I wasn't sad about what we were driving away from; I was excited about what we were driving towards.
Once we closed on our old house, got the apartment feeling like a temporary home (first floor bugs and all) and got a better feel for Knoxville roads on a daily basis we began looking more seriously for homes. Between open houses, developing neighborhood builders and showings with our realtor we probably looked at 50+ homes. We were "those" people. But in our defense the first two houses we put contracts on fell through. The first one had a bad inspection so we backed out, not wanting to deal with all of its issues. The second one was in perfect shape, but I didn’t feel it was the right house and the appraisal came back way lower than the accepted offer allowing us to back out again. In this house-buying case the third time was the charm. We found a house that was on the same street as the first house we had a contract on and jumped on it. We felt like we had been in the apartment forever, but 4 months after moving to Knoxville we moved into our new home. Within days we had multiple neighbors come over and introduce themselves, bring baked goods and buckets of goodies. It was a nice welcome compared to our last house.
The first neighbor to ring our bell was a man named Tony. He introduced himself, let us know he was right across the street and offered to help us with anything right there in the moment. I had one huge heavy box in my son's bedroom that needed to go in the attic so I asked if he could help my husband take that up. He obliged and as he was leaving, his wife, Monica, came over so we got to chat with her a bit. Super nice people and we found out she also used to live in our hometown. Small world! She was a few years older than us and moved to Florida during her childhood so we assumed we didn’t have any mutual connections. That was that. They walked back to their house across the street and Joe and I agreed they were very nice people and we should hang out with them sometime.
Two months later we decided to have a pool party during Labor Day weekend, inviting all the neighbors we had met, including Tony and Monica (who we hadn’t seen since that introduction). She texted me to say they’d stop by and for whatever reason, before I replied back, I decided to look her up on Facebook. Her name was listed with both her maiden and married names and my jaw dropped when I saw her maiden name. It was the same uncommon name as my grandparents. I checked out our mutual friends and we had two - my grandma and one of my step-cousins. My text reply went something like this:
That's great and all, but hold up. I just looked you up on Facebook and saw your maiden name. Was your dad or grandpa's name Bill? I think we're family! Let me know when you can talk.
She let me know that she had an uncle and a grandpa named Bill. It was at that moment we realized we had the same grandparents! We then shared our matching wedding photos where we were standing next to the same grandparents. Our grandma was even wearing the same dress to both our weddings 6 years apart! We were absolutely floored and in disbelief. At first I was trying to think of the term we would use for our newfound relation - step-cousins-in-law-once-removed, second step-cousins, step-cousins-twice-removed... Then it dawned on me how close we were - we are just step-cousins! Her dad and my mom are step-brother/sister. Since our original grandparents divorced and remarried when our parents were older and starting families of their own there wasn’t much communication between the new step-siblings so we never even knew each other existed! And here we are living across the street from each other! If they had never introduced themselves I would not know their names, I wouldn't have looked them up on Facebook and we could have gone years living across the street not knowing I had a neighbor cousin! What a fortunate thing we discovered only months after moving in.
The reason I went into so much detail is to show how God works in amazing ways. There were SO many things that could have deterred this from happening. We talked for years about moving, but chose the most hectic time in our lives to go through with it...the decision to choose Knoxville over all the other cities in a 9-state region...the quick not-even-on-the-market sale of our home jumping our timeline forward...the 2 other houses we had contracts on that fell through that we almost ended up at instead...even the other house on our street was further down so they probably would not have introduced themselves...the voided contracts pushing our timeline back to a point that we were still looking when our current house went on the market. Add the fact that Monica was thinking about moving, partially due to the previous owners of our house...and her prayers for nice neighbors to replace them when they put up a sale sign...and the generosity of them being the first people to welcome us to the neighborhood. It’s hard to think this wasn’t meant to happen. Now we watch The Bachelor together, and play Bunco together, and her daughter babysits our kids, and she decorated pumpkins with my daughters, and we’ve hung out together with our grandma, and I’ve met my step-uncle (her dad) and she’s met her step-aunt (my mom), and we laugh together, and we complain together, and we wave through our windshields as we pass each other. And we still get goosebumps when we tell our story.