Our Great American Road Trip – Part 2

This is possibly my most self-indulgent post (and I’ve had a few), but I have a big old box of memories and feelings that I just have to unpack. I know it’s a few weeks after the fact, but I’ve only been able to sit down to write it for short segments of time before I start crying and have to put it away. This is long and maybe not interesting to anyone but me, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Looking Back

In the summer of 1998, my husband graduated from college, we had our first child, and we moved to Pittsford, New York for grad school, all within two months. It was exciting to look forward to life in a new place, painful to leave our family and friends, frightening to learn how to be a mom far from my own mother, stressful for my husband to keep up with a demanding program and fulfill all of his other responsibilities, and monotonous and lonely for me to jump straight from being a full-time student to a full-time newborn watcher (quite literally – I had nothing to do but watch his every stretch and yawn).

Eventually my piano studio grew and we made friends. Our time in Pittsford was a time of learning. We learned how to be independent, how to be parents, how to serve in the church. I learned to sew and quilt, bake pies and bread, cut hair and keep a budget. We learned almost everything from observing the wonderful people in our church congregation, just trying to soak in as much of their wisdom and experience that we could before we had to leave. We knew moving was inevitable because grad school is supposed to be temporary but we secretly wished we could stay in Pittsford forever.

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In the summer of 2005, my husband graduated from grad school, we moved to Granville, Ohio for his first official job and we bought a house, all within two months. Again, we had mixed emotions: A job, a house, wahoo! Leaving Pittsford and all our friends, boo! The night we pulled into Granville for the first time as a family, we were greeted by fireflies in our front yard. Our boys had never seen fireflies before so it was magical. The next day, dozens of members of our new congregation showed up to help us unload the moving van. They invited us to an activity that night and we were welcomed and assimilated into the congregation more quickly and fully than I have ever experienced. We never had to wonder if we’d be spending Easter or Thanksgiving alone because the church there really was one big family.

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In Granville, we lived a few blocks from the University where my husband taught. I taught lessons there and accompanied the choirs. Every house in the village was adorable and everyone we passed on the street was friendly, so the walk to work was lovely.There weren’t any children in our neighborhood so our boys made friends with neighbors whose grandchildren lived far away. Our neighbors across the street called the boys over whenever they found something cool in their yard like a giant toad or a rusty old tool. She worked for a candy company and often had treats to share. Our other neighbors a few houses down explored the woods with our boys, finding animal skulls or other treasures and then looking them up in the encyclopedia. Our boys snuck over there often to play parcheesi or watch Jeopardy. They didn’t seem to miss having kids their own age around.

Since our house there was over a hundred years old, my husband soon got very good at home improvement. He expanded a few rooms, knocking out and re-framing walls, putting up drywall, and replacing windows. I spent every afternoon during my son’s nap time clearing out dead branches and poison ivy from the woods in back so we could make it usable with groomed trails, a hammock, fire pit, picnic table, playground, and even a zipline. It was boy heaven and we loved it. We were going to stay there forever.

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Then in the summer of 2007, my husband accepted a new job in Utah, we put our house on the market, and I went ahead with my kids to find a house while he stayed behind to finish summer term and sell the house. The decision to move was one of the most difficult we have ever made. We loved our home, neighborhood, friends, school and jobs. It didn’t make sense to leave it all, but we felt that it was time to be closer to our family. I remember second-guessing our decision a few times before we left, a few more times as we arrived in Utah and I found myself in daily traffic jams, many more times as we waited and waited for someone to buy our house, and especially as I sat bored and lonely again, expecting the same instant welcome from our new church congregation that we had experienced in Ohio (conveniently forgetting the year or so it took before we felt fully part of the Pittsford congregation).

For the first six months or so of living in Utah, I was miserable. I had a laundry list of complaints which got longer every time I recited it and our house in Ohio still hadn’t sold. My husband liked his new job and the kids loved living in a neighborhood filled with children, but I was beginning to think we had made the wrong choice by moving. After a while, I got a church calling and piano students to keep me busy enough to stop dwelling on my unhappiness, but there was always the nagging “Did we do the right thing?” in the back of my mind. Our home eventually sold (3 1/2 years and one short sale later), we made friends, got very busy, and I stopped pining for the East. But every once in a while I wonder if all my concerns were really resolved or if I just got too distracted to care anymore. I still catch myself thinking, “If we still lived in _____, then …..”

Going Back

Our 16-day road trip wasn’t really about church history or American history. Sure, we stopped to see other places, but really the whole point of the trip was our own history, to return to the places we loved so much and miss so much. Everything else was just icing on the cake.

When we got close to Pittsford, I asked my husband to turn off the GPS to see if I could find my way around without it. We were supposed to go right to our friends’ home where we were staying, but I couldn’t help taking an extra fifteen minutes just to drive to the village, past both of our old homes and along the Erie Canal. As my (usually unreliable) sense of direction took over, so did the feeling of being home. Every turn to a new street brought another memory.

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The feeling was even stronger the next day at church as we walked through the building. I passed an entrance and remembered a specific conversation, took a few more steps to the drinking fountain and remembered something else, sometimes from seventeen years ago. Every corner of that building brought back a memory like another wave knocking me over before I could stand up and recover from the last one. And that was just the building.

We’ve kept in touch with many friends through Facebook and we’ve seen a few when they visit Utah, so it was easy and natural to pick up where we left off, often continuing a conversation we started online a few days earlier. I saw one friend in the hall and said, “I haven’t seen you in ten years!” and he said, “You’re right. Hey, I liked the t-shirts your kids wore the other day.” There were other friends I haven’t seen or heard from since we moved. It was such a nice surprise to see them and remember, “Oh, you! I love you! I forgot how much I love you!”

My kids were reunited with their childhood friends and it was fun to watch all those babies I remember interact as grown people. Everywhere I turned, there was an overwhelming feeling of love and family. It wasn’t until later that day that I realized just how tired I was from the barrage of memories and hugs and just the mental exercise of putting names to faces for the first time in ten years. It completely wiped me out.

With each place we visited – my husband’s school, the babysitters’ house, the children’s museum we visited almost daily, the Erie Canal a few blocks from home where we fed the ducks, the church sites in Palmyra, our friends’ homes – more memories piled up, along with more feelings of home and love. We found ourselves saying more than once, “Why did we ever move? We should find a way to move back,” conveniently forgetting that we had to move, that we knew all along we would move.

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On the last day of our visit, on our way out of town, we stopped in to see one last Pittsford attraction: Wegman’s. If you haven’t heard of Wegman’s, you must not know anyone from Western NY, because that’s all they talk about. Wegman’s is a big deal. It’s also a grocery store. It may sound strange to include a grocery store on our list of must-sees, but that’s probably because you’ve never been to Wegman’s before, especially the Pittsford Wegman’s.

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While my husband and kids were using a compass and Sherpa to find their way through the produce section, past the bakery and olive bar to the deli, I searched for some ointment for my son’s poison ivy. Most of the store, as expected, has changed in the last ten years, but the pharmacy looks pretty much the same. I grabbed all the ointments (why is that such an ugly word?) I needed, then just as I was turning to face the pharmacy I was flooded with more memories, this time not the good kind. They were memories of all the times I stood waiting for a prescription for one of my kids, worrying about how much it would cost, worrying about how I would pay for the doctor we just visited for our son’s fiftieth ear infection. Standing in the ointment aisle at Wegman’s, I was filled with a feeling of panic and I just wanted to leave. I felt like I couldn’t scoot my family out of the store fast enough, and that we couldn’t get out of the parking lot or out of town fast enough.

The feeling was so strange and it came upon me so suddenly. Seven years in grad school with three young kids and no money wasn’t easy – all the pictures from that time show my husband and me looking tired. So tired. But my memories of that time are all good, almost like neatly framed pictures on a wall, preserved to show only the best of times. It wasn’t until my mild freakout in Wegman’s that I remembered the other side, the parts I’ve chosen not to remember. After days of nostalgia and wishful thinking, it was unnerving to feel the need to flee, to suddenly no longer want to go back.

We drove west to Ohio. Unlike Pittsford, I needed the GPS to find my way to Granville. As we were neared the exit, the nice GPS lady said, “Take the next exit to Granville.” Although nothing around me looked familiar, just hearing her say that made me cry. Leaving this little village was very difficult and I still looked back and wondered if we did the right thing. As Mormons, we believe that we can receive answers to prayers and guidance through personal revelation. In the past, we’ve prayed about decisions and have received answers, sometimes very specific answers. When we prayed about whether to leave Granville, we didn’t receive any of the direct answers we were hoping for, only a feeling that the choice was ours to make and that we would be okay no matter which place we chose to live. I guess that’s why I’ve felt so unsettled about it from time to time. If there had been a flashing neon sign telling us to move, I could have gone without ever looking back. But I do look back sometimes and wonder what life would be like if we had stayed.

The town was just as we remembered it but our house was not. The new owners had painted it bright blue. I screamed when I saw it. They were also selling it. I was tempted to call the realtor just so I could see the inside again, but my husband thought it would be too painful to see it and remember all the work he did just to leave it behind.

We loved seeing our friends and we arrived just in time for the town’s 4th of July carnival and fireworks display just as we did ten years earlier. We got to see the whole town gathered in one place. It was just as lovely a village as ever and we enjoyed our visit, especially our oldest son who spent lots of time with the good friend he had to leave behind. We also got to spend time with our church family at a barbeque with everyone gathered together in one place (we told ourselves they all came for us even though we knew better). Again, surrounded by friends in a place we loved, we wondered if we made the right choice.

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As I was packing up suitcases the night before we left Granville, I suddenly felt the same urgency I felt leaving Pittsford. I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was time to leave, that it was not where we belonged. It was an uncomfortable feeling, especially because we’d had such a great visit, but as we drove away the next morning, I recognized it as a confirmation of our decision to move. It was an answer to our prayers eight years later than we wanted it.

Even though we loved visiting the places we used to live and spending time with everyone we love so much, I finally knew that we had made the right decision, that we are where we’re supposed to be, and that, although it was wonderful to go back, it’s time for me to stop looking back. Besides, we live in a pretty great place right now with many, many good friends. I think that instead of pining for what might have been, I’ll enjoy what I have right now, including the neighbor next door who always brings me cake (hint, hint…) She’s the best.

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