Edith/Maddie here, writing in a snow-covered Massachusetts.
Where I have lived for forty years. Wow! I realized recently I had missed the anniversary of my arrival in the Boston area.
But first: I almost didn’t schedule this post, which I had ready to go. The invasion in Ukraine has upset me greatly, and possibly, you as well. But what could I say, other than wishing the Ukrainian people safety and peace and an intact country? You might be looking for a little respite for the news, anyway. So I’m going ahead with today’s regularly scheduled broadcast.
Rewind to forty years ago:
On New Year’s Day, 1982, I rolled into the suburb of Medford, Massachusetts. I had a shiny new doctorate in linguistics and drove an old red Volvo sedan packed with books, houseplants, and everything else I owned (it had an infinite-capacity trunk).
Accompanying me was a brainy, absent-minded boyfriend in his own packed car towing a homemade little trailer (we lived on a grad-student shoestring). A Maine native, Henry was returning to Boston. For me, it was the farthest east in the US I had ever lived.
We settled into a rental apartment. He started his ethnomusicology doctoral research on the concept of talent. I commuted by bike or bus to MIT to a postdoctoral fellowship in the speech technology group, where some of the pioneers in speech synthesis (as in, your GPS voice) and speech recognition (as in, Alexa) worked.
This fourth-generation Californian, who had arrived in the Boston area via five years in Indiana and two in Japan before that, suffered SO much culture shock. I had crisscrossed the country solo several times in that old Volvo, but I was terrified to drive in Boston (unlike in California, it felt like there were no rules for drivers in Boston at the time, except “The biggest bully wins” – which might still be true). The little Girl Scout in the convenience store sounded like a gangster. When I called for a bus schedule, the woman on the line was so rude, I burst into tears.
But I stayed. I found a karate dojo and resumed my practice from five years earlier in Japan, eventually earning my black belt.
I found my nerve and started to enjoy figuring out the most direct route from point A to point B via four towns. I’d learned about snowy winters in Indiana (see previous photo), but in Massachusetts I also came to love cross country skiing, sledding, and making snow people, not to mention the rush of spring flowers, yummy summer produce, and the glory of fall leaves.
Time went by. I worked for one of the pioneers in speech recognition, a Kurzweil company. I was part of an active home birth support movement and gave birth to two baby boys (except not at home, as it turned out). I owned and worked a small organic farm, taught childbirth classes, returned to work as a documentation expert in hi-tech, and ended up writing mystery fiction in a historic mill and factory town.
Four of the mystery series I’ve written, plus another book not yet under contract, are set in the Commonwealth. I think I’ve kind of gotten the hang of writing New England settings, although I haven’t brought regionalisms into dialog as much as I do in the Indiana-based Country Store Mysteries. I still say rubber band instead of elastic, drinking fountain instead of bubbler, milkshake instead of frappe, shopping cart instead of carriage, and trash can instead of barrel.
Nobody asks me anymore if I think of going back to the southern Golden State to retire. For one thing, I have no plans to retire. For another, while I love the Pasadena area, it’s way too populated for me to feel comfortable living there after hanging out in small exurbs north of Boston for the last few decades. Third, all my remaining relatives (except my sisters, who live elsewhere) and college friends are northward, in the San Francisco area.
Still, when I fly west and cross the Rocky Mountains, I can finally take a deep breath. I feel at peace and at home in California. I do dream about living in one of the underpopulated areas, and maybe you’ll hear about a new series set out there sometime soon.
So, even though I’ve now lived in New England almost twice as long as in my home state, maybe I’m still not quite a Yankee!
Readers: where do you feel most at home?