Feliz Navidad!

A few days ago our container of furniture arrived. I felt a little emotional as the first box was carried off the truck: not only have our paintings, crockery and clothes made a long journey but I feel as though the pair of us has as well.

The arrival of the container also signified something else: the renovation (at least the inside) of our house is finally about done. Luis, our electrician, has put up the last of the light units and ceiling fans, and our painter, José, has touched up the remaining bits of internal paintwork. We are now able to arrange the newly arrived furniture where we please, place books on freshly painted shelves and knick-knacks in appropriate places. There were some unexpected stowaways in the boxes: a piece of sash rope from my bedroom window in Sussex; the handle to the grill pan that should have remained on its hook on the kitchen wall, and a carefully wrapped container of slug pellets (a neighbour has confirmed that we do get the occasional slug here when it rains!). At one point during the unwrapping Mike called me over and said, ‘What on earth’s this?’ I looked down at a piece of paper covered in what looked like tiny black eggs. ‘An insect must have got in there,’ I replied, with a shudder. Mattie then approached and exclaimed, ‘They’re not eggs, they’re poppy seeds!’ Mike gave the paper a shake and, sure enough, hundreds, if not thousands, of seeds fell back into the box. Gathering them up, I spotted the poppy seed heads that once had filled a vase in my old study – never dreaming that they would have been wrapped up, too. I have not seen mention of poppies in any of the books or magazine articles I have read about Texas wildflowers, but as San Antonio lies on a limestone escarpment I imagine they should do rather well. We shall see. Funny to think that something of my old garden might be replicated here. Remarkably, the seed heads, along with every other item in the container, suffered no damage at all.

‘It’s just like home!’ Mattie said that night when she got into her Victorian iron bed. In many respects, Mattie’s bedroom and adjoining ‘study’ do now have a feel of her old bedroom and adjoining playroom. Mattie and I loved that house – ‘I could walk around it blindfold and know exactly where everything was’, she recently told me. And seeing all our things here in Texas brought back many memories, perhaps made a little more poignant at Christmas-time when one thinks of family and friends left behind.

Many of the houses in our new neighbourhood have beautifully decorated front gardens – live-oak tree trunks covered in tiny blue lights, candy-stick edged lawns, twinkling leafy wreaths on front doors… What I find touching are the tiny houses owned by ‘poor folks’ as they’re called here, where they have hung up little ornaments, scraps of tinsel and hand-painted signs wishing all a ‘Merry Christmas’.

Christmas for me began last night when a cold front arrived and Mike lit a fire in the grate for the first time. The three of us sat in front of it, chatting, and Mattie then recited a story she had read at school and played Jingle Bells on her flute. Reflected in the glass of our patio doors were the mauve, red and green lights of our Christmas tree, and it occurred to me that this was our first Christmas together when we could truly call ourselves a family.

Thanksgiving

Perhaps appropriately, the start of Thanksgiving week was marked by the next stage in our emigration process. Early on Tuesday morning Mike drove Mattie and me to a nondescript building in the north of San Antonio to have our fingerprints and yet more photos taken (our fifth set of photos so far, I think, since Mike initiated the process two years ago.) So, all being well, at some point in the next few months I hope to receive my ‘green card’. Even then it may still be a year or so before our emigration process is officially over, but at least I will be able to work, if I wish, and Mattie and I will be allowed to leave the US – currently we would not be allowed re-entry if we did so.
The next day Mike, Mattie and I set off excitedly to spend a few days in Galveston on the south Texas coast, about 50 miles south of Houston. Galveston is actually an island, and like so many seaside towns it sports that mixture of history, decaying elegance and gaudiness. ‘It feels as though there are a lot of ghosts here,’ I remarked to Mike, and indeed a hurricane decimated much of the town in 1900, killing several thousand of the islanders. Without means of burial, the bodies were dumped in the sea – only to litter the beach the next day when the tide carried them back in. Fearing an outbreak of disease due to the sultry weather, survivors were forced to burn the bodies in funeral pyres where they lay.
Before the hurricane Galveston had been the main port of Texas – and the most important shipping and financial centre west of Wall Street. This was mainly due to the cotton trade, most of which was exported to the mills of northern England. A contributing factor was that Galveston was the principal port of entry for hundreds of thousands of immigrants arriving from all over the world. Luckily, the town still sports a large number of beautiful Victorian gothic-style buildings once constructed for banks, merchants and as private residences, though many of these have been turned into museums, restaurants and curio shops over the years. I would have loved to step back in time to experience the town as the bustling major commercial centre it once was – complete with opera house, ballrooms, pleasure piers and coffee and peanut butter processing plants.
We ate our Thanksgiving meal in a charming century-old restaurant called Gaido’s on the seafront. The grilled shrimp dusted in light cornmeal, the ‘blackened’ scallops and the pecan pie for dessert were exceptionally good. Mattie, having a penchant for turkey and ham, instead chose the buffet, occasionally dropping on Mike’s and my plate a fried oyster. During the meal Mike looked at us at and said with a smile, ‘Well, it’s our first Thanksgiving together.’ It did indeed seem like we had passed another milestone in our story. Perhaps my sweetest memory is when earlier that same day Mattie had come up to me and said ‘I’m thankful for you, Mum’.

Trick or Treat

On Halloween, our neighbourhood was pretty busy with lots of mums, dads and children in fancy dress going from house to house for candy. I was in fact surprised by how many there were because our neighbourhood is not exactly flush with kids. Then I found out that many of these ‘Halloweeners’ were in fact Mexican families from poorer districts who had come by. I found this quite touching: it was sweet to see the glow on the children’s faces as they were given a treat.
When I and Mattie returned from ‘trick or treating’ later that evening, Mike announced that the candy bowl he had been dishing out to children was empty. We therefore ‘encouraged’ Mattie to put half of her loot into it for late evening callers; she grumbled a little but did so and it was gone in 15 minutes.
At my Spanish class the following evening, our teacher brought yet more goodies left over from a Halloween party she had attended. Each time we asked a question, or gave a response, in perfect Spanish we were offered the candy bowl! I like our teacher, Rosalinda, very much. In her early sixties, this tiny Mexican woman has a big booming voice and a very engaging personality. During the classes she often relates an amusing anecdote about her (much younger) American husband, and to me the pair (he comes in at the end of the evening) make a good double act. A few weeks ago, Rosalinda revealed that her ambition, when she shortly retires, is to babysit for her first grandchild. The problem: her only daughter (who lives in San Antonio) is forty and has just completed her final IVF treatment. Rosalinda asked us to pray for good news. If it is not, I have it in mind to give her daughter a copy of my book, Dear Mummy, Welcome. Who knows – out of bad news might come good.
That is the way I have viewed the recent hurricane disaster that has hit New York and surrounding areas. In a long and extremely divisive election campaign we have finally seen Republicans – in the form of New Jersey Governor Christie, and New York Mayor Bloomberg – come together with Democrats: in recent days, Christie has praised Obama effusively for his handling of the crisis; and Bloomberg, believing Obama to be a better option than Romney to tackle climate change and women’s rights – has endorsed him for the next term. One can only hope that this last-minute coming together will not only convince undecided voters next Tuesday, but that it will endure throughout the following four years.

The More Things Change…

2 October was National Night Out in the US, its aim to promote neighbourhood spirit and police/community partnerships. The head of our own San Antonio neighbourhood had planned a get-together at Mamacita’s restaurant, a short drive away. It is a popular Tex-Mex eating spot, though I am surely not the only person who finds the life-size Davy Crockett figure, playing a fiddle on an overhead stage set, bizarre to say the least!
The highlight of this fun evening was the appearance of our own San Antonio Mayor, Julian Castro, who, as well as wishing our neighbourhood well, urged us to vote for his proposed 1/8% increase in city sales tax for improved early school teaching. A popular, highly articulate Democrat in this mainly Republican state, Castro literally sprung onto the national stage this autumn when Barack Obama invited him to make the keynote speech at the national Democratic Convention in Colorado.
Mattie was particularly thrilled to see Castro at our gathering, and at the end of his short speech raced to get his autograph and photo.‘I know your brother!’ she excitedly exclaimed.‘Do you, how come?’ he asked, with a big smile, and Mattie replied that he had visited her elementary school to talk about careers. Castro and his identical twin lawyer brother (who is aiming for Congress this year) come from a poor, single parent family, but worked their way through the San Antonio school system to gain scholarships to Stanford and Harvard. ‘Where are you from?’ Castro then asked Mattie. ‘From England,’ she beamed, and he informed us that David Cameron had invited him and a team of businessmen to the UK in November. I then told the Mayor how much we had enjoyed his keynote Convention speech, at which point Mike turned round, with a grin, and announced: ‘You do realize I’m the only one of the three of us allowed to vote?!’
The 38 year-old Hispanic mayor is of a far more diminutive stature than one would have guessed from his Convention appearance, but this is compensated with a big, rich voice and plenty of enthusiasm. On Saturday evening, Mike pointed out to me the former mayor of San Antonio; Henry Cisneros was standing in front of us in the ticket queue at a local cinema. Much taller than Castro, the chisel-featured Hispanic had once also been the darling of the Democrats, working his way up to Clinton’s Cabinet. An extra-marital affair, Mike said, put an end to his career; and I remarked, quietly of course, how many high-flying political careers finished that way.
The former mayor sat on the opposite aisle to us during Ben Affleck’s ‘Argo’, a film about the CIA attempt to free six of the US Embassy hostages in Tehran. Not a particularly good film, in our opinion, though its timing was apt, given the recent attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi. One had a certain sense of déja-vue.

All Kinds of Everything

The other day I noticed an Asian supermarket as I was driving home. Curious as to what they might sell, I decided to stop and take a look. Inside was a treasure trove of goodies: apricot jam from Armenia, small bottles of Egyptian mango juice, Turkish delight and other sweetmeats from Istanbul, fresh goat meat, jasmine teabags from Iran … to mention but a few – and not forgetting a wonderful array of flours, grains and spices.
Asians represent just 2.3 percent of the city of San Antonio’s 1.3 residents, although more live in outlying areas. Many of them come from India, Turkey, China and Bangladesh. Amongst other things at the supermarket, I bought some freshly made wholewheat pitta breads and gave one to Mattie when she arrived home from school. I grilled the pitta first and then filled it with cheddar and tomato. It reminded me how, back home, Mattie’s Aunty Molly often used to make these as a snack. Funny, the things that remind one of home! I thought the same thing on Saturday night: I was listening to the radio and someone requested Bach’s Goldberg Variations. I had bought the CD not long before emigrating and remember discussing it with my friend, Wei Ping. Suddenly, it was as though Wei Ping were actually there with me. I remembered her exact words. If someone had asked me, before emigrating, what might recall England I would never have suggested pitta bread and Bach!
Earlier on the same Saturday, Mike and I had watched a program about John Lennon and his fight with the Nixon government, back in the 70s, when he lived in the US. I had forgotten about how much a protest figure, and bastion for peace, Lennon had been. Not surprisingly, he had a long battle with the Nixon government and immigration services about his right to abode in the US. This was finally settled only after Nixon resigned. During the program we saw a copy of Lennon’s passport and I discovered his middle name was Winston.
This evening, I am about to start Spanish lessons at the Winston Churchill High School, not far from our house. With Hispanics making up about 60% of the San Antonio population one hears Spanish almost everywhere – in restaurants, the post office, on the bus. I asked one of our Mexican workmen whether it feels like home here and he said it was indeed like living in a little Mexico. Mike and I passed by Churchill school today. It has a large Union Jack on the building. I recalled that the Asian supermarket also sells Bird’s custard powder, Brooke Bond tea and mint sauce! One comes to realize what a truly cosmopolitan city San Antonio is.

Snowflakes In Fall

It seems that autumn is upon us. Last Monday, when Mattie and I opened the front door to walk to school, she yelled out, ‘It’s freezing!’ and rushed for her hoodie. In fact, it was probably only in the late 60s, but having been used to morning temperatures well into the 80s throughout the last 2 months, it did feel pretty cool.
The first signs of autumn occurred a couple of weeks ago, when large flurries of seeds from our Texas ash began to fall onto the back garden and pool. At times, the seeds resemble large, golden-brown snowflakes, and there have been veritable drifts of them on the patio, causing much exasperation from Mike who has been extracting them from the pool filter.
Fall in San Antonio is lovely. Mike noted this week that the light is different: the sky is a deeper, clearer blue and everything seems to enjoy a golden tinge. With the lower temperatures, we are not so reliant on air conditioning, keeping our patio doors open for most of the day, which means that I now can hear those noisy cicadas, and chattering squirrels, from the kitchen. There are more butterflies around now. In our garden I spotted the beautifully-marked orange Monarch butterfly, millions of which will fly through Texas to northern Mexico over the next couple of months. And along the creek, situated a short drive from our house, are other varieties, some with large flapping wings of pale apricot; others are lemon or shimmering black and midnight blue.
Several pathways run in and about the creek. Slightly undulating and stony in places, these pathways enjoy dappled shade from mesquite, live oak, persimmon and juniper trees. All of San Antonio’s creeks are stone dry except when there is a rainfall and then they rapidly fill up. We are lucky here to have avoided the drought that has affected much of the US. During my walk along the creek this morning, I came across a pond sheltered by a high bluff, and startled a bright-red crested cardinal, as well as a family of five white-tailed deer that cocked their heads at me through the tall grasses before running away. I stayed a while to observe the bright-orange and scarlet dragonflies hovering over the pond – Texas has the largest variety of dragonflies in the US, as well as the largest bird population in the world, many of which use the state as a stopover whilst migrating north or south. I have to brush up on my knowledge of south Texas birds, though during my walk I did recognize a humming bird hovering above the scarlet blossom of a scarlet Turk’s Cap shrub; white-winged doves; a mocking bird; and a flurry of lemon-yellow breasted warblers. But the pair of larger, clay-coloured birds sporting burnt-orange stripes on their wings will have to await a check on the internet for me to find out what they were.
Earlier in the summer, I was thrilled to see a large red-shouldered hawk sitting nonchalantly on a rock before me. At that time of year, the vegetation is more colourful, with wildflowers in abundance. Even now there still remains the odd splash of shocking-pink mallow blossom, and clumps of Texas lavender which look particularly lovely set against golden daisies and the prickly pear cactus, now bearing its maroon-coloured fruit. What I particularly love at this time of year are the grasses; the most common variety in this particular creek sports beige-coloured seeds which dangle daintily in the breeze, reminding me of tiny Christmas trees.

Building New Roots

A beautiful wooden plate, finely painted in the German naïve style, lay for weeks gathering dust in the charity shop where I used to work back in the UK. I pondered whether to buy it, but Mattie and I were in the middle of the emigration process and I could not imagine how something so German would fit into a south Texas home. In the end, I decided the plate was too lovely to be taken back to the charity storehouse, along with all the other unsold items, and my plate now lounges somewhere in my container in Houston.
During a recent trip to the Hill Country, I learned that most of the 19th century pioneers who settled in this region between Austin and San Antonio, hailed from central and northern Germany. Mike, Mattie and I were travelling along a remote, undulating road and I spotted a row of mailboxes. I looked around but could hardly see the houses tucked far back from the roadside, hidden by trees. A little later and another set of mailboxes appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. The mailboxes are exactly the same as the one at the bottom of our front garden, which Mattie likes to empty every day. That letter from Mum, or a parcel for Mattie, are always a treat. How different it would have been for those early German settlers; and as we continued our drive I wondered how they felt having to leave their homeland knowing they would never return, and building a home and community from scratch in a region that was not only extremely isolated but rife with warring Comanche Indians.
The Sunday before Mattie and I left for the US, the vicar at our local church spoke about the importance of roots. ‘You’re losing your roots,’ he announced to me after the service. ‘I can build new roots,’ I replied, and he agreed. But does one ever lose one’s roots? In comparison to those early Germans, Mattie and I were lucky: we left the UK knowing we would see family and friends within the year and could call home whenever we wished. I brought a clutch of favourite photos, too. Photography had barely been invented when the Germans arrived in the Hill Country. They had been told they were coming to good farming land and instead found themselves on shallow, rocky soil, sandwiched between high plains and desert. But they buckled down and set to, building orderly, efficient farms, and churches, houses and shops that would not look out of place in an elegant Duesseldorf suburb today. The German language is still prevalent: ‘Willkommen’ is written on the sign that greets you at Fredericksburg; in Boerne, the main street is called ‘Hauptstrasse’, and shops have German names. For better or worse, German cuisine has penetrated the Tex-Mex menu via the Wurst. And the hand organ, which has a surprisingly melodic and haunting sound, is played by south Texas rock bands and Mexican Mariachi bands alike. Though when I saw a poster advertising an Oompah band, I decided that was one to miss …

Margaritaville

One early evening last week, Mike and I went again to ‘Sol Luna’, the restaurant we visited with Mattie the day we got married. The patio of ‘Sol Luna’ is always beautifully shaded, assisted by large hanging baskets of lush green foliage. At this hour, the restaurant was heaving and a happy din of chatter rang around. A smiling waiter brought us blue corn tortilla chips and delicious salsas made from serrano and chiplote chiles. Mike and I ordered the same dishes that we had eaten on our marriage day – small tacos filled with bean, cabbage and avocado; enchiladas stuffed with lobster, red snapper and shrimp. Mike drank his favourite Dos Equis beer and I a Margarita, of which Mike had a sip. ‘It has too much tequila in it,’ he remarked. ‘It’s still good,’ I smiled, though I noticed that after just a couple more sips I found it difficult to enunciate my words and my voice sounded very loud in my ears.
The best Margaritas in San Antonio are actually made by Mike. They have just the right amount of tequila and they are neither too sweet nor too sharp. He occasionally makes them when we are having a barbecue. Mike got his well-thumbed recipe from an acquaintance in Austin. I’m usually the one who hand-squeezes the juice from the limes; Mattie used to do this until she became bored by the procedure. Mexican limes are much sweeter than other limes but if the finished result is still a little sharp, we add a few drops of agave nectar to our drinks, which Mike pours into recycled Mexican glasses that have a band of navy blue around the rim. I like a little salt on the rim of my glass.
Whilst the chicken is grilling, Mike and I sit down with our drinks and pass the time of day with Mattie. It is a nice way to wind down after a day making the inevitable trips to Lowe’s – the DIY store up the road – and overseeing our workmen, Jorge and Nico. Last Saturday, we invited Jorge and Nico to have a drink with us before they left for home. These Mexican men are two of the nicest people you could meet. Jorge hails from a town called Musquit, close to the border. He is quite tall and handsome, wears a small beard and a baseball cap turned backwards, and speaks excellent, heavily accented English. Jorge goes to church with his wife early each Sunday morning, is sensitive, well read and learns German in his spare time. He also has a small terrier whom he dotes on and even equips with small boots during rainy weather. I like to think Jorge would be a poet in another life.
Nico has one of those faces I think Robert Capa would have liked to photograph. It is a timeless face. His skin is dark and sun-roasted, he has big white teeth, a perpetual smile and always wears a straw cowboy hat. Nico hardly speaks English even though he has lived in San Antonio for many years, so Jorge translates for him; Nico’s six grown-up children are all perfectly fluent. Nico’s smile is broadest at the end of a working day, when Mike offers him a beer. He was thrilled with an old sixties wine cabinet we were about to throw away. He said he would store his tequila in it. Tequila, Nico grins, is his religion.
When the two later left, Mike said he feared we would likely lose touch with them once their work on our house is done. It struck me that neither Jorge nor Nico has much money; they live very simply on the Mexican (poor) side of town – and yet they always seem pretty happy and contented with their lot. The same goes for the other Mexican workers who pass through our house – the tiler, the plumber, the glass and mirror man … What a good antidote these Mexicans are to our over-commercialised western world.

That Three-Month Milestone

Earlier this month Mike, Mattie and I celebrated my birthday at Paesano’s, an Italian restaurant in north San Antonio. Paesano’s is a very pleasant and restful place, with a bubbling fountain, a pond full of goldfish – and usually at least one large, wealthy Mexican family chatting at a long table, which always reminds me of a scene out of ‘The Godfather’.
After the waiter had brought our drinks, Mike smiled at Mattie and me and remarked, ‘Well, you’ve all been here a little over three months now, what do y’all think of it?’
Mattie promptly replied that she definitely wanted to stay, and that there was no way she wanted to go back to school in England. She added, later, that she wished she could have brought cousin Mei with her, and Nannie. I said words to the effect that if we were half-way through a house renovation project and still getting along, then things must be going all right!
Mike’s words reminded me of a passage in ‘Dear Mummy, Welcome’, when I noticed how Mattie, three months after moving in with me, seemed to be so much more settled. I have just managed to find a copy of my book, in amongst all of our still unpacked bags, and turning to the respective page, I read how Mattie’s confidence in her new situation grew back then, how by three months she became more confident, and that although she still would bring out her clutch of photos of life at her foster home, it was less frequently.
Strangely, all these years later, I see some parallels in my own situation in coming to the US, with those of Mattie coming to live with me. I realize how my own confidence in my new situation has grown since arriving; how, at almost exactly the three-month mark I felt more settled and my pangs of homesickness diminished. There had been times – opening bank accounts; obtaining social security IDs; dealing with unfinished administration in the UK; the ongoing emigration process; finding a hairdresser and dentist, etc – when I would think how much easier in some ways it would have been to have stayed put. But just because something is easier does not mean it is necessarily the path to follow; and I am reminded of the Dr. Seuss book that my sister, Caryl, gave Mattie as a farewell gift:
‘You have brains in your head and feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.’
Turning back to ‘Dear Mummy, Welcome’, I remember, too, the words of Mattie’s lovely play therapist, Fiona: ‘There’s been a lot of change in your life. A big change, but it’s only a change.’ An obvious thing to say, but sometimes it’s the obvious that one overlooks. Emigrating is nowhere near as big a change as adopting a child on my own, but much change there has been … and for all three of us.
I read on a little further: ‘Mattie is like a flower that’s blossomed,’ smiled my neighbour, Jo around that three-month milestone. And Mattie is blossoming yet again! At a recent get-together at a local restaurant, one of our new neighbours complained that Mattie hadn’t been by to see her recently. And yesterday, when Mike and I went to pick up a piece of furniture we had put aside in a shop Downtown, the shop assistant asked, with a disappointed look, ‘Where’s your little girl? … She’s too cute!’

Feeling Spooky In Downtown San Antonio

I was recently in Downtown San Antonio, taking photos for my website, and found myself outside a Goodwill (charity) shop. Deciding I needed a bag (several are packed away in my container somewhere in Houston so I didn’t want to spend a lot) I entered the store and immediately, took a double take. There, on a bag stand, hung a shocking-pink, woven handbag – exactly the same as one I had pondered whether to buy back in England. Call me obsessive but I had had a few regretful thoughts about not purchasing that bag since arriving in San Antonio – how lovely the colour would be in this hot climate, what a perfect size for my camera and glasses, etc, etc. Why had I not bought the bag then? I don’t know, but here I was, thousands of miles away, staring at the exact same one. Feeling a little spooky, I carried the bag to the cash till and stood in line behind a black lady carrying a huge box of Christmas tree lights.
‘Are you buying early this year,’ I smiled at her.
‘Yeah, if you don’t buy somethin’ straightaway you never find it later,’ she drawled.
Outside the shop, my new bag tucked under my arm, I entered ‘Marti’s’ next door, one of the most expensive shops in San Antonio, and asked the owner if I might take photos of their gorgeous Mexican fabrics, glassware and furniture for my website
‘Yes, of course,’ he beamed. I then spotted the lovely Mexican pine rustic dining table I had seen the last time I had been in there. Mexican pine is a different colour to English or American pine, it’s like a mud brown and this piece was beautiful but there was a hefty price tag on it. After checking with the owner I was told there was a third off.
‘It’s a period piece,’ he said, ‘and we can transport it to England.’
‘Oh, my husband and I live here,’ I explained. (Married less than a month, I still find the sound of the words ‘my husband’ quite strange to the ear.) ‘We’ve visited your shop several times before.’
‘Then did you ever visit our branch in Nuevo Laredo?’ he enquired.
‘No, sadly I didn’t,’ I said, though I had heard that ‘Marti’s’ had been forced to close their Nuevo Laredo branch some years ago because of the border drug wars.
‘Nuejo Laredo is just like a ghosttown,’ the owner said. ‘But Laredo on the US side of the border is worth a visit. Lots of Mexicans cross over to Laredo to buy US goods. It used to be the other way round.’
When I arrived home, later that afternoon, and showed Mattie my shocking pink bag, she exclaimed, ‘Oh that’s not just spooky, it’s scary!’ She then announced proudly that she had made lemonade while I was out and had taken some round to the neighbours. ‘I wanted them to buy it from me but Mike wouldn’t let me,’ Mattie grumbled.
‘Oh, were you intending to put the money towards a charity?’ I asked.
‘No, I would have kept it for myself,’ she grinned, and it occurred to me how well Mattie suits living in the US!