When I was not even 21 I left my hometown of Rochester, NY (the suburban town of Irondequoit, to be exact and EAST Irondequoit, to be precise.) I left to start a new life as a wife. My new husband was also a Rochesterian, and of Sicilian descent, like me.
But our hometown couldn’t hold us.
There were things we aimed to do, careers to develop, adventures to be had. We saw our hometown (and our families) as insular. A place for narrow horizons. So off we went to have our adventure.
Less than 10 years later, we were divorced. That was the time when I could’ve returned home, but I didn’t. Actually, I couldn’t. I didn’t want to wake up one day and find myself trapped in a closed system. It was important that I build this new life by myself.
Finding my nirvana
I ended up in northern California. I knew no one, had no job and was forced to create my life from pretty much nothing. The only reason I was able to do that was that everything about California clicked, like a big sigh of relief: “Ahhh….I’m home.”
As it turned out, despite some hard years it was the right decision. I went on to have an interesting career and life mostly in California. It wasn’t traditional. It wasn’t always easy. Not a straight path at all. And there’s always a cost to being the one in the family to leave.
And then, out of nowhere, my first husband turned up again, 26 years later, we remarried and he joined me in the Bay area. California felt good for us both. That “Ahh…” I felt still happens. I love my state with a passion and especially northern California, where I’ve made my home (mostly) since 1984.
Stuff happened. As it does.
As time passed, my California life changed. Close friends left or even died. The truth is, I’m not a truly social animal. My interests are solitary and I’d rather talk 1/1 to someone than go to a party. Superficialities and small talk bore me. “Yes,” a good friend laughed, “you’ve always been one who wanted to jump right in the deep end with conversations.”
Which is great, but it certainly narrows the field of candidates for true friendship. My relationship ties to the area weakened.
Over the past couple years we’ve been spending more time back East with my husband’s family and also some of mine. Weddings and vacations and fun parties–quite fun. We’ve enjoyed our renewed closeness with those back East.
Did I hear that right?
Rochester is known for its lilac festival.
Then, one day last year, my husband said, out of the blue: “I think we should buy a second home in Rochester.” As in, Rochester, NY. Our hometown.
Did I hear that right?
Stunned, I had to take a few beats. This was big: he had never been a big fan of our hometown. I asked him to say more, which he did. –as we talked, I felt that same “click” that I experienced when I moved to California.
We knew we didn’t want to leave California. Not yet. Maybe not ever. But we also knew we were aging and wanted to spend more time with those we love. A place in our hometown would put us within driving distance of his brother, a few miles from favorite cousins and in the same town as my sister-in-love.
We weren’t sure we were ready for full-time in the Rochester area but extended parts of the year during better weather sounded like a good idea. The rest of the time? California. I am, at heart, a Californian.
An idea grows wings
It didn’t take long to start working with a real estate agent, but it did take a while–maybe eight or nine months–to find a place we thought we could afford and enjoy. The big bonus: It’s half a mile from the lake. That would be our Great Lake, Ontario. Lots of green space around the place, green space we don’t have in our California ‘hood.
We envisioned daily walks taking us right to the lake. I envisioned other pleasures, too. It was a lot to take in, and a bit nerve-wracking, but it felt right. As right as California feels.
When we first discussed buying a place we planned for me to fly up and see it and get things done. But we found our place in the middle of a pandemic. Flying now is scary. It’s a five-day drive from California requiring four hotel stays. To complicate things even more, our place was already in drywall stage. We’ve had to make all our selections without seeing them in person.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way
But if you know me, you know that I’ll always find a way. And I have: it’s all in progress with a hoped-for completion date in the fall. Together with a really good Rochester designer, the house is taking shape. It’s small, light and airy. The design elements we’re choosing are fun and joyful. We intend to make it a happy place.
Just to be be clear. I am still a Californian. It remains our primary state of residence. We’re giving Rochester a try part-time.
So back to my original question: Can you ever really go home again?
It’s something I think about all the time.
The things that were true back when I left are still true. Rochester is still pretty insular. Women in our culture there can be overly gossipy, secretive and even mean and even nasty. Small-minded.
I’m not so big on that. I’m a ‘WYSIWYG” girl (what you see is what you get). I don’t connect with all the intrigue. That part if it, well, I just won’t engage.
Other parts of life back “home” have changed. My family situation is different. My parents are gone. “Home” is not the same as it was, and that’s both good and bad. My mom would’ve loved to have had me back “home” when she was here. But it wasn’t in the cards.
And yet, there’s so much fun being with our nearest and dearest in Rochester. We’ve rather liked the luxury of culling our contacts to only those we really resonate with.
And as we build out our second home, we are meeting wonderful, salt-of-the-earth people who know our extended family there. Who can spell my last name, even! And we’re closer to other good friends in the northeast. We’ve already all talked about the back and forths we’ll likely do.
I think we’re always a bit attached to our hometown and even some of the people there. So although I’ve changed and home has changed, the prospect of reconnecting to the best of what home means –at this stage of our lives–appeals to us. The best. The rest, we can leave behind.
Can you ever really go home again?
I’ll let you know. Very soon. More news to come.