This morning, I took a walk with a friend who is moving with her family in a few weeks. She’s lived here for more than 30 years and is taking it hard. It’s the usual story — a good career opportunity for her husband — but that doesn’t make it easier for her. She’s thinking about dismantling a home they’ve lived in for years and saying good-bye to too many old friends. It’s hitting her hard.
I don’t know whether I’m a good person to talk to under these circumstances. Our father worked for an oil company when Ellen and I were growing up, and we moved too often. Just when we were well-acquainted in the community and schools, just when we’d finally made a place for ourselves, just when the spindly trees we’d planted had finally begun to give off shade, we’d move.
Our last move as a family, in 1965, was a combination menagerie and meltdown. I sat in the backseat, sobbing and holding a covered birdcage on my lap. Our mother sat with our insane dog, Bouncer, who’d been heavily tranquilized for the road trip. Bouncer had spent many years terrorizing my sister and me, biting us when he felt a little off-center, which was a frequent occurrence. Mother always told us it was our fault for moving too quickly around him. On this trip, for the very first time, Bouncer bit Mother. She started wailing, which drove the bird nuts, and Daddy clamped down on his pipe and stared straight ahead at the flat horizon. Through my tears, I had the distinct feeling that Bouncer’s days were numbered, which was fine with me. Sure enough, once he bit Mother, he was sent off to some kennel in the sky.
So, anyway, our family moved a lot worse than most other people did. Mother frequently got depressed and moving only made her moods darker.
Still, I think moving is a much bigger deal than people give it credit for being. It’s hard and wrenching to leave a sense of home and familiarity and community behind. Sure, you eventually make friends and settle yourself anew. But that doesn’t happen overnight for most of us; it takes time. And, I’m convinced, the older we get, the longer the time. (Bad deal: The less time you have left, the more time you need to feel at home. Who makes these rules, anyway?)
But I think we all live with a certain ethos that we’re supposed to be world-beaters who step out into the fray without anything pulling us back. We’re supposed to be independent and free and unfettered — especially, God knows, if we’re Americans, living in a country where roots are for sissies. Which is fine for some people and more power to them; I also have the distinct feeling many of those people are men and it’s a male-centered value — but maybe that’s just me.
The point is, I think rootedness and a sense of belonging are wonderful values to have. I love the fact that, after 11 years in our city, I know our neighbors, see people we know when we go out, have a large group of friends. That isn’t a dynamic or glamorous goal — to be a part of something — but, to me, it’s vital. I’ve just never gotten the world-beater zeitgeist down. It’s eluded me all these years and I doubt it will make an appearance as I get older. I missed the adventurer gene when they were being handed out.
“You know what? I hate change,” I told my friend, as we walked.
“What’s to like about it?” she muttered darkly.
We rounded the top of a hill we’ve walked over together dozens of times in the past, two women who hate change. What could be a worse thing to say about yourself? Hi, I’m neurotic and clingy and I hate change. Jeez, that’s a great opener at a cocktail party.
I thought about all the accept-change bromides I’d heard over the years (Everything changes; don’t get attached to anything; prepare yourself for change, because it’s inevitable). Then I thought about a billboard I particularly like on I-35 as it heads south to San Antonio. The town of Gruene advertises itself as “gently resisting change since 1872.” If I ever have to move, that’s where I’m going.
(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)