We are in our fifties, my husband and I. From the day we met, we have talked about getting out of this town. We have spent years wondering where our perfect place would be, flipping through atlases and travel books, browsing the internet for our dream spot. He loves big cities. I prefer the shore. He likes it cool. I long for tropical climes, the hotter the better.
But we have thirty years of marriage behind us, three kids and six grandkids, and here we are still, living exactly two and a half miles from the first apartment we shared. How’s that for progress?
No place like home
There is nothing wrong with where we live. Maryland is a perfectly respectable state. It is alive with American history, which played a crucial role as we homeschooled our children. Its sales tax is on the high end of reasonable, although we do pay one of the ten highest income taxes in the country. Geographically, you couldn’t ask for a more varied and beautiful home. Mountains, rivers, plains, big cities, and rolling countryside, as well as the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay, offer options for every living preference. And since Maryland is one of the smallest states in the union, traveling from one destination to the other is fast and relatively easy.
But this is not a travelogue, nor is it a tourism ad for the great state of Maryland. In fact, if you recall, I began this post stating our goal was getting out of here. I just want to clarify that I do appreciate the finer points of my home state.
Until recently, with the exception of the rare trip to Cleveland for family reunions, we had not even visited beyond our four-state area. So when our son finished Army Basic Training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, we decided to take advantage of the opportunity and drive the nearly thousand miles to his graduation, if only to see new places.
The grass is always browner in the next state
Before I am accused of being unfair to the states through which we traveled, I offer the caveat that few states are at their loveliest in December. I do not find snow inviting and still less a cold, dreary rain on already brown fields. Yet this is what West Virginia, Kentucky, and Indiana offered us. I felt myself longing to be home.
But from the back seat, our youngest daughter would sigh, “I would totally live there,” as we passed over bridges looking down onto Illinois hamlets and Missouri neighborhoods.
“What is it about that place that attracts you?” I asked. Because truthfully, they looked a lot like our town.
“I don’t know,” she answered dreamily.
Our oldest daughter has talked for years of moving to the west coast. She loves coffee and the grunge scene. But when pressed to say why she wants to move so far away, she says, “Because it’s not here.”
I remember being young and desiring newness, change, a chance to get out and make a fresh beginning. I recall backseat trips to the beach with my own parents, passing through cities and towns, rejecting some as unacceptable for future living, unable to name what it was that attracted me to another similar place. “I would so live there.”
Getting out or staying put?
We are not fooling ourselves. It isn’t the state of Maryland we want to escape. It isn’t the weather or the taxes. It is the expectations that have chained us to the Mid-Atlantic. As a girl, I was sure I would be a Broadway actress. My husband expected to be an artist in demand. We married with high hopes and little idea how to achieve them. Like many, I guess we thought the answers were out there somewhere, and we had only to go in search of them.
As each year has passes, we burrow deeper into the Cumberland Valley. We joined a church, bought a house, got a dog. We shake our heads at the changes we see: Many once-beautiful areas are now concrete jungles, crime is rising, jobs are disappearing. Yet we make no move to leave. Here is where we have raised our family, planted our roots, and made countless lame excuses why it just isn’t the right time for getting out of town.