It’s been 35 years since I lived in the northwest corner of Connecticut. I have actually lived south of the Mason Dixon Line for more than half my life. Throughout the years I have watched my relationship to this small town of 3,000 people change and go through different stages. At first, I would come back and feel like I had never been away. I was greeted by Anna and Bam Whitbeck in the pharmacy, would see countless people I knew (and who knew me) on the sidewalk or in the ice cream parlor and know exactly who was singing in the choir loft at church. I counted on this consistency to ground me, to remind me that no matter where I went in this world I belonged somewhere.
After a few years I started noticing that some of the people in my parents’ generation would pause a moment before greeting me. I realized that since I was no longer on their radar on a daily or weekly basis, they took longer to come up with my name. This was disconcerting as I always knew who they were. And in the narcissistic way of the 20-something-year-old, I thought everyone would remember me too.It was during this stage that dad would start taking me to town and “introducing me” to people. (“Say hello to my daughter Virginia”). It was a really annoying ritual, but for some reason he enjoyed it so much and I couldn’t bring myself to override his need to do it.
Eventually, my parents entered the “twilight years” and the people who were my connection to “community” started dying or moving away to warmer climes. The landscape stayed the same (thanks to a bunch of particularly strict zoning regulations) but the people started to ebb and flow. The old guard were thinning out and I recognized even fewer people on my visits. About the same time, I reconnected with some of my friends from grade school and high school, the ones who had stayed or returned here. The ones who knew who I was at a glance and greeted me with a smile.
Now, once again, things are changing. My mom died and my dad has moved into the retirement center. I no longer relate to the town as George and Bunny Vincent’s daughter for there are few people around who knew them. The good news was that my small support system of friends and colleagues helped me through the tough times of my mother’s death and dad’s move into dementia. The town, which has always been a haven for New Yorkers, seems to be full of weekenders who have claimed the town as theirs. In some ways I have become somewhat anonymous in my hometown. To be honest, I am not as sad about this as I thought I would be. Yes, I mourn and grieve for the faces and personalities I knew and loved. But my life is elsewhere, my friendships are strong and I feel planted. It is nothing like living in this small town, but it will do. In the meantime, I can be grateful for the strength that comes from having grown up in the safety of a close community. And I can be grateful that there are still some people who connect me with who I was.
Why has this subject come up now? This is the weekend of my 35th reunion from high school. I will see lots of familiar faces (easy to do when you only had 150 people in your graduating class). And yesterday I went for a hike to the top of the “mountain” and sat on a rock surveying the land that I grew up loving. The people may be mostly gone but the land, well, that hasn’t changed a bit. And that’s where my soul belongs.