My oldest brother said to me recently that after 30 years living in the same small northern town, he and his wife are moving to South Carolina. I questioned the idea, gently, I hoped. In response to my reservations he said, “I did what I had to do. I gave the kids a stable hometown while they were growing up.” He said other things, about what it’s like to live and work outside in a place where it is often 20 degrees below zero, and how the physical nature of his work grows harder with the years. But it’s what he said about his kids that resonated.
I have another brother who has moved his family around more than the rest of us, although he too, for most of his children’s formative years lived, in one house in Miami. Now his kids are grown, and an unexpected need for employment has taken him and his wife to San Francisco. This leap of faith and a continent, along with my other brother’s southern migration, form the bookends between which I ponder the way I cling to my hometown of Groton, and how things may go when my family’s time comes to move on.
“Second generation depression child” is an expression people my age understand. My father knew poverty in his youth, and by a generational process the effects left their marks on his children, to my own children’s occasional exasperation. As a boy my father was required to move frequently, usually every year. He entered fatherhood committed to live differently. He would give his children a stable hometown, which he did, at a considerable sacrifice to himself.
Years later I find myself infused with that same commitment, although without the direct experience to explain it. Now I can claim to have met the challenge, also perhaps not without sacrifice, but satisfied that the exchange was a good one. I sometimes think about this while watching my children relax around the house with friends they have known since their earliest years.
There is no question that family moves, even when involuntary, have advantages and unlooked for blessings. There is adventure in them, and probably a broadening of minds. To some degree it may be a mere matter of taste. I know of families that have moved frequently during their formative years, and they seem content with their decisions. Some may even have made money in the bargain.
The advantages of staying in one place are more subtle. They manifest in the little things: recognizing the faces one sees in the streets; knowing a neighbor’s history; a familiar smile from across the café counter. Even a geographical intimacy develops, wherein one has favorite places, or, as the case may be, favorite lagoons. One enters into a relationship with a place that is personal and that deepens with time. Such a relation can transform one’s daily commute into a rite of morning, and a rite of evening.
My father once told me about an old man he was helping come to terms with the need to move away because of failing health. He told me how the old guy said, with the words wrenched out of his gut like an exorcism, “But I won’t know where the good fishing holes are!”
The old man was more eloquent than he knew. He summed things up perfectly. When we move about we find adventure. We learn new things and grow more liberal in our views. Life in some ways stays fresher. But when we remain where we are we witness the cycles of a place that are transparent to those just passing through. We begin to know a town differently. The people feel closer. Even those we dislike or distrust have their place in our daily pantheon.
Living a long time in one place comes at a price. The day will come when the price will be too high, and we will move on, in one form or another. For now we remain, enjoying the benefits of staying put. We have an intimacy with the land and a familiarity with our neighbors. We know our way around. We know where the good fishing holes are.
Chris Mills lives in Groton with his wife. He has three adult children. Chris welcomes reader feedback at email@example.com