I was that girl. The girl who dreamed about the day she would finally leave this boring coastal town and make something of herself in place far more exciting than this. My senior year of high school was spent plotting my exit. Nothing grand. No bon-voyage or graduation party. An Irish goodbye. I would slip out the back, find myself, and become a name that sort of sounds familiar, only to return (under the radar) for quick summer trips and occasional holidays.
I had never given much thought to what it might be like to live “back home” with my husband and four children, because, in my mind, that was NEVER going to happen. I left this place and there was no scenario in existence that would result with me willingly returning to live here. But life happened and here we are, 20 years later, approaching the one-year anniversary of being back in our small hometown.
Over the years, I have become an expert at “making the best of it.” Sounds like a complaint, I know, but all of that practice prepared me for this part of my life – the good part. So, rather than reverting to my 17-year-old-self who was focused on the escape, I’m embracing my humble return and sharing a few insights on how to gain (and hopefully maintain) a change in perspective.
YOU THINK YOU KNOW, BUT YOU (LITERALLY) HAVE NO IDEA
Prior to our return, we lived in Bend, OR for almost ten years. If you are familiar with the Pacific Northwest, you’ve probably heard of Bend. For those who are not familiar, it is a booming city in Central Oregon filled with entrepreneurs, ski bums, fitness enthusiasts, innovative restaurants, and beer...lots of beer. It’s incredible and the setting, at the base of snow-capped mountains, is even more incredible. Our family was in LOVE with living there and thought we would never leave, but life happened. My husband and I found ourselves smack dab in the middle of a “personal growth crisis” and part of getting through it meant simplifying what had suddenly become a very complicated situation. Moving home to Florence, would allow us to focus on ourselves and our children with the support of family in a less chaotic environment.
Sounds ideal, right? Indeed, but for comparison, Florence is a retirement community. The median age here is 60 – in Bend, it’s 39. There are two grocery stores here, very few places to shop for clothing (that aren’t second-hand), and not a single Starbucks drive-thru. Living in Bend, feels like you are a part of something exciting by just being there. Florence, on the other hand, can feel like all progression has stopped or is at least advancing in slow motion.
Shortly after our return, I became hyper-focused on figuring out how I could put Florence on the fast track to catching-up with Bend. I thought that’s what this little coastal town needed and I was the person to lead the charge. It didn’t take long for me to realize that while there are definite updates and improvements to be made throughout the city, they don’t need or want to be Bend. Florence has its own identity and who am I to tell them it’s wrong or unenjoyable. The community here is real, raw, and quaint in all the ways that count.
Since getting down off my high horse, I’ve been able to embrace what makes this place special and accept that this is where we need to be. I still miss Bend and I’m not fully adjusted, but we are learning to love life at a different pace...even if it is slow motion.
MAKE NEW MEMORIES AND KEEP THE OLD
My childhood and teenage years were complicated (as were everyone’s, amirite?). Mostly good, but definitely some tough stuff scattered throughout. The good has held a pretty special place in my memory. Special enough that I’ve managed to preserve it by leaving it untouched like a Special Edition Holiday Barbie that never left its box. If I didn’t try to recreate or revisit the good, it would stay just how I remembered and nothing could unravel the hem of that elaborate Barbie sized gown.
It turns out, I was wrong. Embracing the people, places, and experiences that shaped me has made them even more special. It’s added a much-needed layer of fulfillment and strengthened my relationships with my husband, children, sisters, and mom. There are so many memories here. Infinite firsts and lasts, it’s almost overwhelming at times. Having the opportunity to face those memories has brought a sense of peace that I had been keeping at a distance.
Overall, I’ve realized that these memories are for sharing. Left untouched, they become brittle and their color fades, but when they are taken out of the box, handled, touched, and talked about, you expose yourself to amazing things. And by the way...this coastal town and the surrounding communities, are every bit as beautiful as living at the base of snow-capped mountains (pics below).
TALK TO PEOPLE...EVEN IF YOU DON’T WANT TO
I’m a private person. I’m guarded and often cynical (which I’m working on). If you were to see me in the grocery store, I might not see you because I’m making a conscious effort to avoid any unsolicited social interaction. Very few people know the story of what prompted our decision to move home and I didn’t want to risk anyone decoding my tone and body language during an accidental conversation in the produce section.
Being back, I discovered very quickly that part of reconnecting with this place means connecting with the people here – say hello, smile, ask about their family. No one wants to hear my personal saga in the grocery store, they just want to say “Hi” and ask about my mom. And you know what? Most days it actually feels good to have those little interactions, no matter how desperate I am to avoid them.
On one particularly tough day, I was in one of our two grocery stores. I was lamenting the life I had left behind before we moved back, buzzing through the isles and looking straight ahead. “Hi Angela”, I heard from behind me. Crap. It was one of my former teachers, who also happened to be my husband’s wrestling coach and possibly the nicest person you’ll ever meet. I stepped away from the checkout line and engaged in a short, but pleasant, exchange. He asked about my husband, he asked about our children, then he looked me right in the eyes and said: “And how are YOU?” It was the simplest of questions, and I probably just said “I’m good” or “I’m keeping busy,” but it was exactly what I needed in that moment, to connect with someone in a real way.
Now, I’m not saying that every grocery store or coffee shop convo is going to be life altering or that you should spill your guts to anyone who makes eye contact, but I am whispering in your ear that accepting where you are is the first step. This town does not define me and neither did the city we left. It is not a measure of my life or my value, but if I cannot be at peace with my physical location and the other humans who reside here, I’m going to walk through my entire life buzzing through the aisles, missing out on genuine opportunities to connect.
So, maybe I’m still that girl...and maybe I am making something of myself...just not in the way I expected and, more importantly, regardless of my location.