Tag Archives: moving

Staying Put

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Washington DC – Atlanta – Chicago – Calgary – Toronto – ? – ?

This is the map of my life thus far.  To me, it seems kind of boring – especially considering my husband’s roadmap.  But to some of our friends, we’re freaks.  For our vacation this summer, we’re visiting some of the places and people we’ve left behind.

Mind you, those people will not want to be called “those left behind” because that implies that they’re stuck or stagnant or stubborn or scared or…settled.

I will be packing plenty of gauze and Band-Aids – the tongue-biting will be epic as these “more stable” friends ask their age-old questions:

“Why do you move so much?

“Wouldn’t you rather just stay put?”

“Why do you insist on raising your kids in a big/dirty/dangerous/busy/foreign city?”

“Why do you live in Canada?”

Just for fun, I’m thinking of starting a rumour that we’re moving to somewhere really bizarre, even for us.  Like, Uzbekistan.

I can practically hear the howls and screeches now…ok, no.  I’ll behave.  Maybe.

Four of five Atlanta friends said they’d be gone after the 1996 Olympics were over.  Their roots are so deep now you’d think they were born and bred there.  Our Atlanta years were the years we “grew up”: got married, bought our first house, had kids.  To hear some tell it, once you have kids you have to settle down, put down roots.

My youngest was five months old when we moved to Chicago.  One whole box shipped (and lost, somewhere in Texas) when we moved to Calgary was full of Costco diapers. Kids are portable to a certain age.  Once they’re in school, moving gets harder on them.  That is why we’re stuck settled in Toronto  for the time-being.  Moving again – especially to Europe – while the kids are in high school would just be too cruel.

I’ve never understood that philosophy of settling down (geographically, anyway). I practically break out in hives at the mention.  I have friends in a certain city who don’t travel outside their zip code.  Upon hearing that we were staying in a hotel downtown, they told me “we don’t go downtown.  Ever.”  I have trouble keeping my furniture arranged the same way two weeks in a row.

Other friends have traveled abroad for business or pleasure only to scurry home bemoaning the fact that everywhere they went was so different.  Isn’t that the point? This time last year, I was sobbing as we left Barcelona.  If I’d had enough Euros, I’d have snapped up a flat in the Barri Gotic right then.

My wanderlust is evident in my writing.  For whatever reason I have a very hard time writing about where I am.  None of my stories are set in Toronto even though I live here.  My writing goes where I want to go.  This makes the travel itch even worse.  I would gladly fly away in the name of research.

I think of myself as forward-looking (as opposed to “unstable”).  I do not shed tears over places left behind.  I don’t think I’ve ever said “Let’s go back there to live!”  I reminisce about certain things of course – favourite parks, restaurants, and people.  Then I close my eyes and think of where to go next.  I want to be the eccentric old dame with “no fixed address,” hopping from Continent to Continent on a moment’s whim.

I do not blame my children for hiding the suitcases from me.  Not one bit.

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Different Plants, Different Roots

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I”ve been pondering roots for several reasons lately.  One is because it’s spring (allegedly) and I’m considering this year’s attempt at a garden.  Another is because I have The Itch.  No, not the Seven Year variety; with me, it’s more like the three-year kind.  The itch to change locations, to move.  I sit on my hands and bite my tongue, scrolling through real estate listings for distant cities only when I am alone…

I know a man, nearly sixty years old, who has never lived more than ten miles from where he was born. Our neighbours across the street have not lived more than five blocks from where they grew up.  They’ve lived in the same house for over 20 years.

My husband is living in his 22nd abode. I can’t compete with that number, but I lived in four houses before I left home.  One of them came to mind as I read a novel entitled, The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom which chronicles the lives of slaves and indentured servants on a plantation in Tidewater Virginia.  Google, I bow down to you; I found pictures of it yesterday (which are not mine so I dare not post).

My house, while no plantation, was located in rural Maryland. Built in 1785, it too, had a “kitchen house” and one slave house.  The buildings had seen battles – pieces of musket ball were preserved in a wall and local legend had it that a Civil War soldier had been shot in the dining room.

When my father bought it he nicknamed it “Fran’s Folly.”  Uninhabited for over 30 years when my mother discovered it in 1968, all that remained of the main house was piles of stone, rotten timbers, heaps of chicken feathers and discarded snake skins.  The first time I visited the “house,” I wasn’t allowed out of the car – it was too dangerous.

I remember my mother getting into the car, lighting a cigarette and saying, “We’re going to live here one day.”  I craned my neck as we slowly descended the steep driveway, not happy about that idea at all.  I was seven; to me a house had walls that stood upright, a roof, window shutters, and azaleas around the front.

It took two years – and teams of artisan stone masons, specialty carpenters, bricklayers (who were versed in 18th century brick work), and some snake wranglers – to restore the dwellings.  Acres and acres of jungle were cleared by my brother and his trusty bulldozer. My mother’s vision included painstaking attention to historic detail married with 20th Century conveniences like decent wiring and indoor plumbing.  The property became a showcase on historic home tours in the area and was my mother’s pride and joy.

However, the house was a far cry from “family” homes of today – there was not one inch of informal space.  If anyone wanted casual, one went to the enormous timber barn and lounged on a hay bale to commune with the pigeons, chickens and horses.  Or, one could wander fifty-five acres of rolling pastures and river meadows.

Scrolling through the realtor photos yesterday, my former home seemed largely unchanged although I am glad my mother can’t see the absence of historically accurate paint colours. I noted the property was for rent, not for sale.  I wonder about its circumstances and of its history since we sold it in 1976.  I am grateful it is still standing because I know that area is now prime subdivision territory. I wonder does my house on the hill stand like Mont St. Michel – an island surrounded by a sea of new homes?

My children are living in their sixth house.  We’ve had houses we’ve loved and houses we’ve hated (sometimes they’ve been the same one).  Unlike my mother, I’ve managed to avoid giving too much of myself to a house. My mother poured herself into her home, the restoration. They were inextricably linked.

After she died, my brother and sister asked the owners if they could scatter my mother’s ashes in the river meadow.  Of course, they said yes.  I didn’t go.  I had already moved away.