When I was a little girl we lived in south Texas twelve miles from the nearest town and six miles from the local “ice house” as Dad called it. It was the middle of nowhere. I loved living in the piny woods, full freedom to explore around our neonatal housing development. My family’s next stop was the antithesis of the piny woods; we lived on a mesa at the edge of the foothills in Albuquerque. But it was a wild place. By the time I grew out of wild places, we were back in Texas, in a firmly established bedroom community. If you wanted a wild place you had to get in the car and drive a few miles down the road and trespass onto someone’s horse farm.
As a young woman, I spurned the suburbs and lived in dodgy inner city neighborhoods; managing to trade up to a highly coveted and posh city enclave before running away to the suburbs where my children could walk to school and I could afford more than an 800 square foot bungalow in need of new…well…new everything. Frankly, I lived in the suburbs for my kids. And then I couldn’t afford to live in the city as they were older and could drive to their suburban high school. I was like Scarlett O’Hara my younger son’s last two years of school: “As God as my witness, I’ll never live in the suburbs again.” (picture me holding up a copy of the home owner’s covenants as you read that)
My Empty Nest plan was living in a small apartment across the street from my downtown office building. I would park my car and never move it because everything I needed was within walking distance. I would never leave downtown. Ever. I was going to be a city girl again. I hope I didn’t break something when I threw a hat up in the air a-la-Mary Richards.
Little did I know I that an invitation to friends’ fifty-three miles from downtown would lead me to tumbling head first, over my heels, gobsmacked in love with a place. A smallish town no less with only 63,000 people! What’s remarkable about this is I had driven by the exit many times: on the way to Wyoming or to see friends in the college berg just to the north of us. But I had never gotten off the highway to see what lay ten miles to the west. And I fancy myself an adventurous traveler. I had been to New Delhi but never here. Sometimes simple eludes me.
The road from the interstate is a well-paved two lane affair. I could take a big road lined with the usual big box stores and such but I prefer the country road. It moves in an almost straight line through green fields, dotted with trees, cows, and occasional houses before you enter the city. I love this road it always feels like your going somewhere or returning from someplace else. And it was so unspeakably beautiful that Indian Summer day, I had a lump in my throat. The light on the trees and grass had that impeccable golden tone to it, summer’s last call. A gift before winter’s early darkness. On my way out of town, I veered off into the downtown area; it was quaint with old buildings, locally owned businesses, bars and restaurants. It was peaceful, well kept, and had traces of a lively economy rather than desperately hanging on for dear life. As I drove through the town, I noticed how at ease people were behind the wheels of their car. Most people were smiling. As the sun was setting, the vista of the Rocky Mountains in my rearview mirror captivated me. This was a place where sunsets are an event. It was at that moment, my heart bubbled over and I had an uncanny feeling I was home.
I lived in a house I had poured heart and soul into but I was never wed to the house. I referred to it as “home”. But I always felt like a visitor. I lived with someone who’s love for me had faded as we drifted apart and knew we must part. We changed one another’s lives and would always love each other in a companionable fashion laced with history and sentiment. But I had recognized that wasn’t enough and for my own sense of self-love and care it was time to go. I lived in a city I wanted to fall in love with all over again. It was unthinkable I had lived there for almost 3 decades. I never saw myself living anywhere that long. It was time to move. Take my leave.
I would make my way to this place for visits and every time I turned off the interstate I would feel my heart grow light and a smile pull back my eyes and further wrinkle my cheek with the deep dimple that shows when I’m deeply happy. My breathing slowed, I felt the weight of whatever I was currently fretting about move off my shoulders. One day, I walked downtown and looked in shop windows. Imagined living in one of the adorable (and affordable) bungalows near the city center. I would work from home and have coffee with the regulars at the diner on the corner. We would all know one another’s first names. Or if not that, details of one another’s lives from blatant eavesdropping.
I put this piece together as I was driving through town after running an errand. But rather than going straight home, I took myself to the east to the interstate and drove the two lane that welcomed me that first trip into town nine months ago. I hadn’t had reason to drive it for a few weeks. It was a mercifully wet winter and spring; the fields are a bucolic early summer green and the air smells of grass, flowers and a hint of cow. T The mountains were the soaring backdrop as they always are.
My errand was done and I had removed myself from the computer and work for an hour before starting more work. This writing work I adore. But I didn’t go immediately home I drove down a short winding road to stop and look at the river that is miraculously not high like the other river just fifteen miles north. It was quiet and cool by the river’s edge; I could hear my neighbors the meadow larks and mourning doves. My heart bubbled over and I cried once again because I’m home.