Thursday, July 30, 2015

Supraterranean Homesick Blues

(with apologies to Bob Dylan for the title of this post!)

It's been just about a year since my wife, kids, and I moved to Pennsylvania from New England. The adjustment has taken quite a bit of time as both my wife and I had lived all but two years of our lives there, and those two years away were during my postdoctoral fellowship in South Carolina when we knew we'd end up back home once I got a job. Our kids were all born in New England and it's all they had ever known. However, I don't regret the move from the standpoint of providing for my family; I love my job and know that this is an opportunity that will allow me to provide for them in a way I would have struggled to do had we stayed in the Boston area (which is one of the most expensive in the country in which to live). Still, I think that out of all six of us, I've taken it the hardest as far as being homesick. We live in a really nice town, the kids go to a good school, we've made several really good friends, and we find a lot of fun things to do as a family.  Even so, as well as things are going, I really...REALLY...miss home. My wife and kids have made trips back to visit, but I haven't been able to because of work. The last time I went back home was Thanksgiving 2014, and we were going to take a vacation next month to spend time there to stay and visit with family, but it fell through due to conflicting schedules so it's not going to be until October before I go back, and only then for a weekend.

The weird thing is that the homesickness hits me at different times, seemingly at random, and can be triggered by the littlest things. Sometimes I overhear someone mention a town/city in New England that they've been to (for instance, a colleague mentioned a business trip he took to Boston last year). Other times it's when I see someone at a store wearing a Red Sox hat. It might be the emcee at a magic show we took the kids to last week who mentioned he grew up in the same town in Massachusetts where I was born, or someone at work asking me how far our company's facility in New Hampshire is from the town I'm from (it's only ten minutes away and I remember seeing it many times). Beyond these reminders, I find myself missing a lot of the little things you take for granted when you've lived somewhere for so long, especially when the place you're from has a unique and interesting culture of its own the way New England does.

What do I miss? A bunch of different things, really. I miss saying particular regional slang, words, or phrases and having everyone understand what I mean...no one knows what I mean when I ask for jimmies on my ice cream (chocolate sprinkles in New England), I found myself explaining brown bread in a can to some coworkers last week (a New England staple with hot dogs and beans!), and explaining the difference between a milkshake and a frappe is a losing proposition. I get teased for using the word wicked all the time, but always in a good-natured way. I miss being able to wear Red Sox/Patriots/Celtics/Bruins shirts or hats in public without getting funny looks (everyone here LOVES the Steelers and HATES the Patriots). I miss getting real, fresh seafood anywhere I want, real whoopie pies (they try hard here, but they're not the same), having Dunkin' Donuts everywhere, and grocery shopping at Market Basket. I miss never being more than an hour from the ocean, and I miss the different New England accents I've heard all my life, so much so that when I met a coworker who had a thick Massachusetts accent a few months ago, I struck up a conversation with him because it was so nice to be able to talk to someone about home. I miss listening to the sports talk radio shows on the Boston stations during my commute, with all of the passionate (and sometimes delusional) fans calling in to debate our teams strengths or (more entertainingly) perceived weaknesses. I miss being able to watch every Celtics, Bruins, Patriots, and Red Sox regular season and playoff game on TV because all of the teams have their own channels that are automatically included in every cable package. I miss seeing trees and mountains instead of endless rolling fields of corn, and I miss being less than an hour from a world-class city like Boston with its numerous museums, concerts, and sporting events (the dearth of live music and being way off the beaten path for any musician I would go see in concert is a HUGE killer for me here).

I realize when reading back that list, which by no means covers everything I miss, it seems as though I'm complaining. I'm not...as I said above, things are going well here and we're adjusting slowly but surely.  That being said, I spent 32 years of my life (accounting for the two postdoctoral years down south) in New England and always thought I'd live the rest of my life there and would die there. That's why it was so jarring for me, and for all of us, to move away. The good thing is that we've met some other New England lifers who are now living here; there's an instant connection when we discover someone else is from back home. Even better, we're only a 5-6 hour drive from home. In the meantime, while I don't think I'll ever stop being homesick, I've been embracing what it is to be from New England and how that makes me unique. The internet helps me keep up with events and news back home, and I'm able to get the Boston sports channels on DirecTV so I can watch my teams. All in all, I've found it's okay to be homesick as long as I don't let it get me down. I'm getting better at focusing on what we've got going for us here, still missing home without getting (too) sad, and realizing that like everybody else, I'm a product of where I'm from and that's something that I'll carry with me no matter where I am.

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