Collages by Sheena, Queen of the Hallway aka Jo Ann Tunnell Muench

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Once, many, many years ago, a woman read my palm for me. She said that I would have a long and interesting life and that my life would be divided into two parts..almost a double life. That made little sense to me at the time, but now I have come to see the truth in her prediction. 

 

For 47 years I was an East Texan. I was born in East Texas, went to school in East Texas, went  to college in East Texas, married in East Texas and was a college professor in East Texas.  Then, at 47, I moved to Phoenix, Arizona, to marry the man of my dreams. I have led two lives. In one life I lived in a medium sized city, knew everyone in town, and was known by many. I had dear, beloved friends. I had a rich history in those piney woods. Then, one day I found myself living in the desert of Phoenix and living a totally different lifestyle. I had no friends other than my husband. My family lived far away and the change has been interesting to say the least. 

 

There are many, many things I miss about my former life. Above all, I miss my family and my dearest friends who were so close that they counted as family. I miss the southern cooking that I grew up with. I miss the wildflowers, the azaleas, the roses and the lush greenery of home. I also miss people who talk like I do..with a strong southern drawl. And, I miss the closeness of a smaller community. Sometimes I find myself longing for the green trees, flowers, and richness of my native environment. I always long for my friends and my family. I miss the traditions that I grew up with. I miss going to the grocery store and seeing at least ten people that I knew. 

 

But, I also love and embrace Phoenix. Of course, much of this is because I am very happily married to my soul mate and he grew up in Phoenix. This is his spiritual home as much as East Texas was mine. I now live in an enclave of older homes in a historic district in central Phoenix. It's a bustling place and reminds me a bit of New York City. There are a diverse mix of people living here and my liberal ideas are the norm rather than something that I have to downplay to keep from being harangued by conservatives. We can walk from our house to the light rail which will take us downtown or to the suburbs. We can walk to restaurants, coffee shops, bookstores, and boutiques. There is an energy in the air and I love that. 

 

My color palette has changed since I moved to the desert. As an artist, this has had a tremendous impact on me. In East Texas, the colors I responded to were rich and lush just like the landscape. I loved jewel tones and deep colors. Now, in Phoenix, I am surrounded by a vast sky and moutains and palm trees. My favorite colors are now coral and turquoise and saffron. I am always moved by the desert sky. Sunrises and sunsets are spectacular and the sky is a shade of blue that is hard to capture but makes me happy. I love palm trees. When I was a child, my late grandmother took me on a my first big trip to South Texas to visit my uncle. I was immediately seized with a love of palm trees, bouganvillia and oleanders. Now, I have palm trees across the street, a huge bouganvillia growing in the front yard, oleanders along the back fence, and real orange trees in the backyard. I have come to love the smell or orange blossoms as much as I once loved the smell of honeysuckles and gardenias. 

 

It's hard to compare these two lives because there is just so much difference between one and the other. My core, my soul, my spirit remains the same, but so many things have changed. I feel a sense of freedom here that I never felt before. Perhaps it's because I am not known by many and I can think and speak and wear what I want without fear of ridicule. I have, however, run into some very troubling things about being an East Texan living in Phoenix. The most maddening is that some people stereotype me because of my accent. They think I am either 1) a wild conservative 2) a racist 3) uneducated 4) unsophisticated and naive or all of the above. On my good days, I realize that these people who stereotype me are the unsophisticated ones. They are as provincial in their mindset as they perceive me to be. On bad days, I will admit that I become really, really angry at people who typecast me. I've learned something about being discriminated against. After all, I have a southern accent, I'm slightly chubby, and I am, by many peoples' weird standards, "old." Well, I'm not going to change my accent; even if I could. My voice is the sound of my mother and my father and all those I hold dearest. It's a part of my ancestry and a part of who I am and where I was raised. The chubby part can be remedied and I have begun dieting to loose the extra pounds that I put on when my thyroid went kaput in 2013. As for being old, I wear it as a badge of honor. I've made it. I didn't succumb to the dangers of my wayward youth and have been blessed to be relatively healthy as I age. 

 

I miss the food I grew up on. Homegrown tomatoes, Noonday onions, black eyed peas, turnip greens, chicken fried steak, barbeque, hot links, fried okra, cream corn, biscuits and gravy, blackberry and peach cobblers, homemade peach preserves, and a thousand other dishes that I dream of. Most of our produce comes from California and I haven't eaten a tomato in 17 years that compares to the tomatoes we used to buy at the farmers' market. No onion on earth can compare to a Noonday onion. It's impossible to find fresh okra or fresh green beans or fresh black-eyed peas here. Canned and frozen ones fill some of the void but they are a poor substitute.  Yes, you can go to restaurants and buy barbeque and chicken fried steak but, believe me, it's not the same. 

 

On the plus side, I have discovered foods that I love in this big city. I wait impatiently each summer for the 6 weeks or so when we have access to white California peaches. We buy them by the box and I overindulge always. I've come to love fresh dates filled with cream cheese and rolled in coconut. I love the Arizona style of Mexican food which is somewhat different from my beloved Tex-Mex but is equally good. I never dreamed I would have a craving for shrimp tacos but now I do. I have come to love and appreciate all the different varieties of fresh salmon that we have here. Sadly, catfish is nowhere to be found, however. Oh, how I love catfish and hushpuppies. But, I now love jalapeno bagels with salmon, cream cheese, onions, tomatoes and capers. I've come to appreciate sun-dried tomatoes and love them on sandwiches and pizza. My tastes are a bit more adventuresome than they were in my East Texas days. But, I still loathe organ meats, eggs (except for omelets), giblet gravy, and the dark meat on turkey and chicken. Some things just don't change. 


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