Some folks claim to be a “dog person or a “cat person.” Others say “I’m a people person”—I am particularly suspicious of these.
I am a place person. A recent trip to New England is proof.
My relationship with the region is not complicated. Having spent a chunk of my childhood in Connecticut, I am all rose-colored glasses and nostalgia. The evening I got home from an eighth grade trip to Boston, my parents broke the news: We’re moving to Ohio. Ohio sounded terribly pedestrian, even to my adolescent ears. My 13-year-old heart understood I was leaving some place special, with old stone walls and village greens and houses built almost 300 years ago.
For me, New England is the one that got away.
And so, this summer, it was with great anticipation I booked flights from Atlanta to Boston for my 20-year-old twin daughters and my 75-year-old mother, a hardy New Englander if there ever was one—never mind that she’s spent the last 25 years below the Mason-Dixon. Wait ‘til you taste and see, I told my girls, waxing poetic about fresh lobster and real pizza, rocky shorelines and saltbox homes.
Our junket was all that and more. Sure, there were awkward moments, akin to running into an old beau at a high school reunion and not recognizing him for a beer belly or bald head. I’d forgotten a thing or two about the Northeast, like restaurants sans a.c. (we visited during a heat wave). And then, of course, sticker shock. Thirty bucks for a few hours of parking? Though I haven’t yet studied my Visa bill, we forgave—nay, ignored—any trifling headaches.
Outnumbering the inconveniences was a lovely sense of homecoming. When I ordered French fries and a server unceremoniously plunked down a bottle of malt vinegar—a condiment only to be had in the South at pseudo Irish pubs—I announced: These are my people.
From Newport to Amherst to Cape Ann, the twins, in their words, were “enchanted.” I wondered if, on the brink of adulthood, my daughters’ thoughts turned to What if I lived here? I certainly spent a good part of my twenties in that mindset, entertaining notions of picking a spot on the map and setting up shop—for the sheer romance of the thing.
But life happens. You marry a Georgia boy, fall in love with his family, too. You build careers, raise children, form bonds that feel unbreakable. You congratulate yourself for putting down roots, and then one day you realize you’re sort of—stuck. Your relationship to your place smacks of co-dependency: you need it, and it needs you.
But at age 47, it’s silly—irresponsible, even—to imagine packing up for the sake of place, no? We have a special needs child, after all; she does not adapt well to change. And we have a support system all set.
Besides, the land of the perfect fit is not to be had. There is no true home, not on this side. Knowing better, I still squirm, restless and discontent.
In Rockport, I briefly met Doris, one of a group of senior women who gathered mornings to paint pier-side. Doris lives a hop, skip, and jump from the water in a small red house, her front porch adorned with paper lanterns and window boxes bursting with blooms. When I spoke with her, Doris was wearing a red gingham top, a straw hat, and a look of downright satisfaction. Suddenly I wanted all she had—acrylic-stained fingers and artsy friends and a community cute as a button. When I grow up, I’d like to be Doris.
More than TSA lines or diminished bank accounts, location-envy is travel’s downside. When our holiday ended, I felt like I’d been through a bad break-up. Place-love hurts, especially when you’re a displaced Yankee with a bent toward beauty, but with just enough sense to realize you can’t go home again.
It is what it is; I am what I am: an Atlanta suburbanite who lives with her husband and child in a house we built.
(It’s a Cape Cod.)