20 years in the same place? For us, that’s an accomplishment.
It’s all relative, right? Some families have lived here for many generations … descended from various groups (Greek, Polish, Irish, French-Canadian and others) who worked in the mills or became clammers and fishermen, or found other sources of work here in the mid-late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Some folks have names that go back to the founding of the English settlement over 375 years ago in 1634. Related to the first governor (Winthrop) or the colony’s first published poet (Bradstreet) and many other original family roots. Others are also descended from native people who lived in this region before English colonists set foot on these shores.
So 20 years in one place … doesn’t sound like such a long time in that context, does it?
For crusty folks who have lived in coastal New England towns for a few generations, anyone else (like Chris and I) is still considered new, even if you’ve lived in town for two decades. To some, we will always be “blow ins,” as the old saying goes.
Well, in our mobile society, someone is always the “blow in,” right? There’s always a new face, a new family, moving in and setting down roots.
By contrast, I moved every two years as a child, and continued that pattern as a young married adult. For me, it’s still a revelation to stay in one place for so long.
Once Chris and I were married, our apartments in Boston got smaller and smaller as we moved every few years, relocating into the middle of the city, paying rent while saving up a down payment for our first house … it took us almost a decade to do so. And our first home was on the North Shore, here in Ipswich.
Now I continue to have new experiences by remaining in this same town year after year … and that’s a good thing.
When I was young, although my family wasn’t military, my father wrote grants and founded social outreach services: kick-starting new halfway houses and alcohol/drug rehab programs in towns all over northeastern Ohio. That meant that we often sold one home and moved into another. Two years was the longest we ever stayed in one place. Consequently, as a child, I learned to relinquish connections. To start over in new schools. Make new friends, then let them go again. To re-invent myself every few years. In many ways, I never put down roots.
Until we moved to Ipswich, and stayed here, I’d never spent any extended period of time in one place.
By contrast, my children have only ever known one hometown. Sarah’s ready to break free, because she’s lived in Ipswich all of her life. It’s an experience that I appreciate, yet can’t quite imagine.
Ipswich echoes, for me, the best of growing up in small college towns in Ohio. It holds us here, because this community has heart and grit. We appreciate the intimacy of the town’s population size and physical scale (small enough to know people, big enough for a diversity of relationships). The rich and varied community, with many intellectual and creative pastimes, and a mixture of demographics: the legacy of many nationalities, languages, cuisines, cultural and religious practices, and socioeconomic levels. Many people have jobs here in town, many others commute to Boston or other areas to work. We have a variety of businesses, faiths, clubs and organizations. Our landscape is rich in resources … wetlands, river, beach, woodlands, working farms, open space, natural trails. Our town spans commercial, industrial, rural and village-center settings all within easy distance of each other. Good schools and public resources in close proximity, such as library, wharf, town hall, post office and others. The railroad comes through town, so you can hop a train and go into the city easily. Our town is intact and lively.
Okay, it sounds idyllic, right? And yes, once you’ve lived anyplace a while, it also has its oddities and eccentricities. Things we complain about or wish would change. Some things that will never change. Greenheads. Mosquitoes. Droughts in summer. People speeding in no-wake zones. Or large things on which we can have an impact, from who is elected to our town government to passing bylaws or spending public funds. Because we live here, and volunteer on committees, vote and invest in this community, we actually work toward whatever change is possible or necessary. We feel we can make a difference here, without wanting to alter the essential character of this town. We love much about it, just the way it is. But Ipswich isn’t a museum, frozen in one period of time; we’re a living and breathing community, always evolving and changing.
From where we live, Chris often says to Sarah that she can walk out our front door and down the hill, and the world is one train ride away. From Ipswich, she can board the commuter rail, then find her way by foot, bus, ship, car or plane to any destination she desires or imagines. That’s an inspiring vision, isn’t it?
Two decades may not sound long to others. To me, it is about half a lifetime (okay, a little less, if you do the math, because I’m 47, okay?). And here is where I have put down roots. Lived in two houses. Established layers of memories and experiences. Developed a rich network of complex relationships. Buried one child, one dog, and many friends. Dug in the earth. Watched life flower and return with the seasons. Launched dreams.
By contrast, the old elm around the corner, which was recently cut down, probably saw three centuries of life in Ipswich. When the arborist counts its rings, my span of time here will be a small measure of its circumference. The lifetimes of many Ipswich generations are encompassed in the circles of its growth and aging.
There is always a different perspective about how we measure our span of time in one place. It could be as brief as the lifecycle of a biting greenhead, full moon to full moon. Or an elm’s centuries of growth from sapling to sage. Or the human span of one person’s memories. It could be counted up in years at public school, summers on the beach, trails hiked, waterways paddled, crops or clams harvested, storms weathered, roads driven over and over, mornings departed and evenings returned, phone calls answered, families born and raised, and so many other fleeting or enduring experiences.
However you measure life in your home, and whether you reside here for a season or a lifetime, it is worth taking note of where you are, and who you are in this place, the connections and blessings that come to you, wherever you find yourself in this moment.