Thursday, October 30, 2008

“At Home” in Indiana?

I’m one of those souls blessed, and cursed, with what can only be called a form of wanderlust. When I was growing up, we never went anywhere…except for a very occasional one-day trip to Indiana Dunes. My father apparently considered that enough “vacation” for the family. He took my brother to an occasional Cubs’ doubleheader—when those things used to be regular occurrences, on selected holidays—but, of course, my mother and I never went along on those trips.

That’s how it came to pass that, until I went to New York over one college spring break, I’d never been farther away from Chicago than a few inches over the Wisconsin and/or Indiana state lines. People who had summer cottages three, four, or ten hours away? Alien life forms, for sure. Families who thought in terms of “where are we going this year?” Speaking a foreign language.

So I’ve grown up figuratively Down on the Farm and couldn’t wait to escape—which explains why I’m one of those people who, if she is at an airport, a train station, or the like for whatever reason, longs to simply walk up to the counter and buy a ticket out of town. Wouldn’t even much matter where.

But the flip side of that wanderlust is a paradoxical mirror-image sentiment: the obsession to find “the best place” to live, put down roots, and stay there…perhaps even at the exclusion of trips to see the Rest of the World.

From time to time, you’ll hear it said that if you truly found the right place to live, you would be “on vacation” every day, in a sense, and thus have no real desire to spend any time anywhere else. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Life as a permanent vacation?

Getting to that ideal place, however, can be trickier than it sounds.

Back in the Chicago area, to live in a place I would have considered “ideal,” I would have had to have the income of a brain surgeon, (the late) Johnny Cochrane, or a drug dealer (or maybe all three). Even if one did manage to score the coup of getting the income in place, finding a great house in a great location, and protecting one’s environment so that some bright-eyed developer wouldn’t end up putting a strip mall behind one’s back yard…the hidden cost of a “perfect” place in an area like this is the lack of time to actually enjoy it. Many suburbs in the Chicago area are practically legendary as vast stretches of breathtaking neighborhoods that, during weekday daylight hours, are ghost towns. The irony of the fact that, during the week, the “help” spent more time in these gorgeous homes than their owners did was inescapable…and illuminating. Seeing such a thing, a normal person starts to think, “What’s wrong with this picture?”

I used to say I liked to be close to the city for the sake of “culture,” “concerts and plays,” and the like—until I asked myself how often we actually did those things. The fireworks downtown, maybe twice or three times; we went to one opera, no plays, no concerts. It was embarrassing to realize that this great “cultural” life I claimed was so important to be a part of, I wasn’t even using…but it was freeing as well. If you don’t “have to” be tied to a city for any particular reason, you can live anywhere, including a place where it doesn’t take you 25 minutes to drive three and a half miles.

Inertia is a tough thing, however—as is a job for the primary breadwinner located smack-dab in the city center. It’s a rotten tradeoff: you go to where you can breathe the air, see the stars, and afford a decent house…but you pay for it by commuting 4 hours a day to that job.

Until you lose that job…and suddenly, everything changes.

Long story short, we had a job in Chicago vaporize, one in Indiana appear, and so—swallowing my inborn revulsion to embrace all things Hoosier—I signed on the dotted line. (Although I will admit, I passed up this job listing at least once because I didn’t want to move to “godforsaken, where in the h*** is Huntington, Indiana?”) I got here on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, in the black of early-winter evening, was esconced in the Parish Center of a local church, was pointed in the general direction of the new office, fed dinner, and bidden goodnight…and I was on my way.

Fast forward to now, and an odd thing is occurring. I’m beginning to see that one has to be careful what one wishes for—because one might get it, in the most unlikely place one could imagine.

For the first several months I was here, when I was trekking back and forth between the still-unsold house in Illinois and the various apartment places I landed in as temporary housing in Huntington, I wondered approximately once a week what kind of insanity had prompted me to do this. I would get home from Illinois and just sob for a couple of hours. No doubt part of the emotional turmoil was missing the family, the cats, or just the fact that our ties were rapidly being cut with a church we’d been in for 17 years and an environment that was at least familiar…but interwoven in that conflict were a whole bunch of generous “pluses.”

I lived in a place where I commuted 5 minutes to work.
I lived in a place where I could walk to church, to the library, and to a grocery store…among other places.
I lived in a place where, bare minutes out of town, I had not one but two major reservoir/lake picnic and camping areas—including one with a swimming beach—reachable by country roads lined by woods.
I lived in a place where I was close enough to Fort Wayne to get a “mall fix” but far enough away that when I’m not in the mood for a mall—which is often!—I don’t have to contend with the incessant traffic of those who love them.
I lived in a place where most people in the local shops didn’t let you get away without a conversation.
I lived in a place where, for the last year of my son’s baseball career at Michigan, I was a full hour and a half closer to him than I was in Illinois.
And best of all, I lived in a place—eventually—that is as physically close to my “dream house” as I’ve ever been…a house I couldn’t even dream about paying for in Chicago.

When the rest of the family got here, and we began the real adjustment process—otherwise known as “no, we’re not living in Chicago anymore”—of course, things were a bit rocky once again. And more than once, after having visited some neat place in Illinois for some fun reason, I’ve wished that I could just transplant what I have here…back there.

But I knew I’d turned a corner of sorts when I drove to Illinois one Sunday to sing at a special anniversary Mass—requested by my former pastor—and realized, once I got to the church, that I was really glad I would “get to go back home to Indiana” that night.

Back home to Indiana. Four words that I never thought in a million years would be reassuring to me. Four words that I never, ever imagined would come out of my mouth. Four words that I still can’t believe I say.

But four words that are starting to really feel comfortable. Strange, yet comfortable.

Don’t get me wrong. You can take the girl out of Chicago, but you don’t take the Chicago out of the girl that easily. Any glance at the links here will tell you that. :-)

But, living as I am a “red” girl finally in a largely “red” state…has produced an ease of spirit I can’t say I’d readily want to give up. And I know this because, at one point in here, a job possibility actually opened up for my DH to go back with his previous employer on a contract basis…for scandalous money, in terms of what we really could use here. And it was tempting to jump at it.

Until we realized that would mean we’d have to live a commuter marriage again—because we couldn’t give up my job here and still make ends meet, even on what the potential contract job would give him. We had no reassurances that the contract job would last any particular length of time; it was a “permanent” position…but so was the one he was laid off from after 21 years. And knowing that we’d go from everyone living together to, once again, one of us having to set up new housekeeping somewhere else…with all that that entailed…

…we couldn’t do it. PM stepped back from it, making the decision to stay here and commit himself to his new career rather than trying to “play both sides of the fence”…and we are now rooted to our spot, for better or worse, for the duration.

I still don’t consider this necessarily the ultimate “perfect” place to live, not by any stretch of the imagination. I’d love to be on water. I’d love to be in the Snow Belt.
I’d love to be further north, with more pine in the woods than oak. And as far as “embracing all things Hoosier” goes…that ain’t gonna happen any time soon. In fact, I’ve taken to referring to this place as “the far east side of Chicago.” It makes things a lot easier to take. :-)

But when I drive down Route 24 to go sing at the beautiful new performance hall at IPFW…
…or I go swimming in the reservoir…
…or I take a jaunt uptown to look in the shop windows…
…or I walk to my church and, once again, am convinced it’s the most beautiful church I’ve ever seen…
…I do feel “at home in Indiana.”
And…in Chicago…not so much anymore.

Scary? Yes. I don’t know if I’m ready to consider the possibility of never being back in Illinois again…or living the rest of my life here, as opposed to any other “near perfect” place.

But for now, one day at a time, it’s not all that bad.
For right now, it’s home.



1 comment:

Deb said...

Phoop on Indiana. Not because it's the easternmost Illinois suburb, merely because it took you away from us.

We miss you. Cat Kelly says "Mip."