I’ve always loved being near the water and longed to live near it, so when I decided to move to the Monterey peninsula it was a dream come true. The idea that I could walk a couple of blocks and be on a beach? Heaven.
Thinking about that, recently, I really took in– for the first time– that I grew up near water. How is it I only now realized that I grew up about three miles from Lake Ontario, one of the Great Lakes? Because it had so little to do with our family life that it might just as well have not existed. I hardly ever remember that Lake Ontario is in my home town of Rochester, New York.
That blue on the map is Lake Ontario. Just in case you didn’t realize it. I lived in the town called Irondequoit. Yes, that close to the water. And yet, it didn’t signify, not in my upbringing. Not at all.
On the other hand, the lake was a big part of my husband’s life–although he was raised only a mile closer in a part of Rochester called Charlotte. My own family, though, might as well have lived land-locked in the center of the country. Irondequoit, a town of about 50,000 now, is on the shores of both the Lake Ontario and Irondequoit Bay, but other than driving over the Bay to get somewhere, we never went to the water. No beach picnics, sunbathing or swimming for us. I do remember a teenage bonfire or two, though, but those were anomalies in my life.
Now look at the red dot that signifies Charlotte. That’s where M. grew up. Only a few miles separated us, but our life experiences were very different. He was a “city boy” and I was a “suburban girl.” Our paths never crossed. But he did spend a whole lot of time on that lake, while I could count on both hands the number of times I went there as a kid.
My family never talked about it, but my sense is that the beach was considered “fun” and maybe a bit too frivolous. Fun was difficult for those who came up during the Great Depression, and especially hard for my father. He thought the primary purpose of life was work and that’s the way he lived. It’s also how he thought we should live. Of course, once we grew up, we made sure to live the way WE wanted and it wasn’t nearly as narrowly as our parents. But one thing we did hang on to was our parents’ work ethic. We just weren’t as rigid about play.
Today, parents are all about providing enrichment and so many different activities for their kids. But back then, at least in my family, parents did their thing and kids did theirs. I can’t recall a single time when my mother got down on the floor and played with us. It might have happened, but if it did, it was an exception. Even so, I didn’t exactly feel deprived; it was just the way things were. I didn’t know anything different.
And really, few parents of the 1950s and 1960s were as involved in their children’s lives as parents are today. M. says his father never went to a single one of his high school football or baseball games. Today, parents take off work to attend soccer matches and other activities their kids are in.
I’ve been away from my home town more than 40 years now, so much longer than I lived there. When I travel back to Rochester to visit, and all the time, really, I view it with a stranger’s eyes but a kid’s heart. I marvel at the lake and that I lived so close to it. And I think about all the different ways my family and my experiences as a child contributed to the life I built outside of that small, western New York area.
At this age, the connections are clearer and so are the paths, those taken and those not taken.