The final leg of my journey, I can practically do in my sleep. After almost two months on the road, I am ready, SO ready, to go home to Boston. And this final leg from my hometown of Dover, Delaware to my current home and village where I have lived for over 30 years, Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, is one I have taken at least once a year, sometimes more, for many decades.
The route rarely changes: Rt. 10, to 1, to 295, 95, Henry Hudson, Hutchinson, 684, 84, 90, 9 and back streets to my house. This journey usually takes about 7-8 hours depending upon traffic, and during this time I can zone out and not think about navigation. Instead, my mind can wander and reflect and digest.
And so, I leave my mother’s house, glad to have had the time with her, despite our political disagreements and cultural differences. While I was visiting, I sunk into frustration and bitterness when she refused to see things the way I did. Not even the news of one more hate-fueled shooting, this time at a synagog in Pittsburgh, would sway her from her stedfast support for our current administration. After turning red with anger and sadness, I had to check myself and realize I would never change her mind. Just like she could never change mine. I had to re-adjust and focus on the things we had in common, not our differences, for the short time I was there. Yelling at her about my disgust with Trump didn’t help either of us. So, I let it go.
Now, pulling out of her driveway, I had regrets for my behavior and a sudden realization that I my visits here are finite. She is 82 now and not in the best health. I have to remember this and try to forget politics while I interact with her in the future. It’s hard for me, since I am so passionate about protecting our democracy, but fighting with an octogenarian in poor health is not going to resolve anything.
So, I turn my attention to going home. It has been a while since I have seen my son, my friends or walked through my house. What changes have been made to my community since I left? Have new luxury condos gone up while I was away? (Almost certainly.) And has anyone cut their hair or started dating anyone new? (Maybe, but probably not.) How are things in JP? Was I missed? (I hope so.) All of these thoughts are blazing through the synapses. I am almost home and this has been the longest I have been away from my home ever. It feels strange because I feel like I only just left on this journey, and yet, I have been away for 54 days.
Time warps when you are traveling. Especially, when you are driving in a big circle around the country. I feel like a time traveler. I left in the summer and have re-entered in the late fall. Leaves have changed from green to red, orange and brown. I gained a couple of hours as I traversed westerly, then lost them again as I headed east once again. I followed the changing leaves, experienced heat, smoke, blizzards, sunrises, and sunsets. Driven over mighty rivers, hiked along streams, peeked over cliffs, gazed at the aurora, and watched the sky turn all shades of red and orange as the sun set behind mountain ranges. I passed more road kill than I care to count, and even contributed to this toll myself when I hit a pheasant in Washington State.
And all through this journey, I have contemplated what “home” is. One goal of the trip was to think about whether I want to stay in the same house and town where I have lived for the past 30+ years. Should I move to a quieter town? Give up the sirens of the city for the howls of wolves? Being a small town girl, I will always crave a quieter place than where I live now, but after all these years I am still here in my city of Boston. And I ask myself “why.”
Soon, the answer reveals itself as I turn off the highway, the sun setting, and drive along the streets that lead me home. By the time I turn my car onto Centre Street, I know.
Jamaica Plain is a unique place: it is the home to young, old; rich, poor; black, white, hispanic, asian; Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, Atheist; straight, gay and everything in between. I immediately see a group of young Somali women walking down the street, and then a lesbian couple and their son, followed by a interracial couple holding hands. This is why I live here. My home is inclusive and accepting. It celebrates the unique, the daring, the artistic. We shun chain-stores in favor of small, independent businesses and reward mom-and-pop pizza stores that have survived generations.
Now, this is not to say JP hasn’t gone through some changes. It has. Gentrification has brought in younger and wealthier people into our community. And some of these people have demanded Whole Foods markets and Nero Coffee shops. They got them and we have survived. The old-timers like me, still speak up and hold onto our values and bring along the new-comers to our way of thinking as best we can.
But some things have been lost to rapid development and greedy landowners. Our pub that was the neighborhood anchor (see my post on Third Places) was lost to condo developers and while I was away, our last food co-op closed, losing it’s struggle to compete with Whole Paycheck. So, all is not perfect. Change happens and you have to learn to grow with it. Nothing stays the same.
I pull into my driveway off of the cul-de-sac for the first time in 54 days and get out of my car, stretching my aching back. As I pull some of my bags from the back of my car, one of my new, young neighbors passes me. He moved in next door a month before I left and I had a conversation with him about my road trip back in August. I smile at him attempting eye contact and say “Hello!” He stops, looks at my bags and asks, “Oh, are you leaving on your road trip now?” I am floored.
“No,” I reply, “I just got home. I’ve been away for two months.” He stares blankly back at me, not sure how to respond. “I guess you didn’t miss me,” I add. I can see he is now embarrassed. Well, not that much, but some. “You just got back?” he asks incredulously. “Yup.” “Oh. Welcome back,” he says dully and then walks away. That’s all I got. This is the new JP. So blind and uninvolved that they don’t even notice when a neighbor’s car disappears for two months. Sigh.
But I gather my pride and some of my belongings and head up the stairs to my apartment. The phone rings as I unlock the door. It is one of my friends. They are heading over to welcome me home. And they are bringing beer and pizza. NOW, I know why I live here: home is where the heart is. Yes, that is a corny sentiment, but it is true.
Soon, my son arrives, my friends follow, and within an hour after entering my house, it is once again filled with laughter, good will, and love. I live here because those I love also live here. Home is being a short walk or drive away from the ones I love. Knowing that when I am feeling alone or depressed, all I have to do is call them and they will come running. And if I am really lucky, they will bring beer and pizza, too.