Forty Years in New England

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).

1980 Edith learning about snow at Indiana University, on her way to her doctorate

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.

Henry, 1981

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 like to call that my Baader-Meinhof head shot, for those who get the reference.

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.

California cousins (from the tall branch of the family), brother, uncle – and me, December 2021

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?

59 Thoughts

  1. Funny you mentioned you’re “still not quite a Yankee!” When my bride and I migrated from Oklahoma to Texas back in the day, we arrived in the Dallas area on the weekend of the college football rivalry between the states. With OK plates on our car, the Texans honked constantly, treating us like Yankees! Forty-plus years later, we feel most at home in our adopted state.

  2. I am a New Englander who has lived in 4 of the 6 New England states. I grew up and went to school in Tewksbury and Lowell Massachusetts. I moved to eastern Pennsylvania when my children were all quite young. I’ve been here for over thirty years now, but I still have a funny reaction when I drive over the line from New York into Massachusetts when I travel there. I suddenly need the Golden Oldies on the radio and I start thinking of everyone I knew in high school and college. I yearn for golden onion rings and New England Clam Chowder at the beaches. I want to drive through all those old haunts I knew growing up. It may not be home anymore but the need to visit still pops up from time to time. Even now, I imagine a good weather day when we would drive up Route 495 to see how the beaches made out over the winter as they shake off the snow. Many homes, many good times.

  3. I’m a New Yorker and feel comfortable here (okay, not right now with the rise in subway crime and other crimes). When I visit my family down south, I love the slowness of it, but then the concrete jungle calls me home.

  4. Born and lived in Massachusetts my entire life. So I don’t have any comparison to make for where I feel most comfortable.

    But more importantly Edith, I’m glad to learn you have no plans to retire or leave New England.

  5. Edith, I was born and have lived in Massachusetts my entire life so I have no comparison to make for where I feel most comfortable.

    But more importantly, I’m glad that you have no plans to retire or leave New England.

  6. Maine! Born in Bangor, raised in Manchester, took a job in Long Beach, California, then Virginia, then moved back home. Here’s where I feel comfortable and safe. I like the feeling of knowing the roads and small towns. I dread the long winters, but that makes Spring all the more special!

  7. My career plan has taken me across the US (including but not limited to Ohio, Missouri, Texas, Maryland, N Carolina). But a friend mentioned that no matter where I lived at the time, when I was referencing home, I was talking about the Western NY area I grew up in. I moved back here 16 years ago & while I still travel extensively for work – this area is home.

  8. Love your post. I am just the opposite. I have been in the San Francisco/Bay Area for 40 years, and I do love living in Oakland. Even so, my heart still calls out for New England. From the moment I first visited the Cape as a teenager, to the last day in Watertown when I moved, and all my road trips through Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, my soul knew it was home. Unfortunately, my body would no longer be able to withstand the weather.

    1. I’m aware that I made the reverse migration from most folks! And agree the weather can be brutal. Enjoy my home state for me – and I’ll say hi to the Cape for you when I go down in May.

  9. Back in the 1980s I attended a psychic street fair on Lincoln Road in Miami Beach. A woman there read my tarot cards and told me that I would live in a cold climate. I laughed. I’d been born in NJ, came to Florida at 5 and adopted it as my home. I returned permanently, I thought, in 1970. I had no thought of going to the cold. Fast forward to 2005. My then boyfriend and I moved to the Crown of Maine. The prediction came true, and I couldn’t be happier.

  10. What an amazing journey, Edith! While I’ve lived in Indiana my whole life, I’ve called a number of different spots in the Hoosier State home. At the end of the day, Indianapolis is Home, with the capital H, for me.

  11. Salem born and raised, I moved to Florida forty-odd years ago–so it’s about half and half. Love Florida and also enjoy visiting family in Massachusetts and New Hampshire every year. But Edith, you should have learned by now the difference between a milkshake and a frappe! No ice cream in the milkshake!

  12. Having lived all over the United States and having visited a few other countries, I can say with certainty that the best advice I ever received was “love where you live.” We have been here in our present home for almost 30 years and we do love it! We also enjoyed all of the other places we lived and visited. 😉

  13. As an Army brat, I was born in Arkansas. My Dad retired to Arkansas. Other than a few short years when I lived in California when Dad was stationed at Fort Ord and a few years as a adult that I lived in Texas, I’ve lived in Arkansas all my life. Most of it in the SW part, but we often visited the Ozark Mountains. We loved it so much that after retiring and the passing of my parents, we sold out, downsized and moved to the mountains of Arkansas. We have now been her almost 6 years and love it as much as we did on all those vacation trips. I can’t see us ever wanting to be anywhere else. Which is a very good thing, because I don’t think I could go through another move. 🙂
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

    1. I’ve loved your stories about your move, your intentional new life, Kay. I’m so glad it’s making you both happy. (Also, moves can be tough.)

  14. I feel most at home here in Pennsylvania, where I was born and grew up and have now lived for 30 years. However, in the meantime, I married a solider and we lived in NY, MA, GA (twice), Germany and Guam. I found that I am comfortable most places once I have met some people, which I wasn’t sure about since I am an introvert. Leaving Germany was the most difficult for us, as we had a great group of friends and lived in Bamberg, which is a lovely and welcoming city in Bavaria. We are settled here near Pittsburgh, and though it isn’t where I grew up, it has become home. (Though I have to say, if I had the money and could live another place part of the year, Monterey and Pacific Grove, CA, would be my choice!)

  15. What a life so far! Impressed with all and especially the dojo. Chapters keep unfolding… having recently moved to Portland Maine from Pasadena CA (originally from Fargo North Dakota, but Pasadena was the last 20 some years) I know of what you write –

    I was one of the few “Hollywood writers/Hollywood “trash”” that moved to Pasadena in the late 1990s, our new old-Pasadena, ultra-conservative neighbors kept their distance, made fun of our “liberal” Prius and were aghast that we add solar panels to the back of our house (not visible to the street but oh yes – they were still aghast).

    A year later, through the miracle of our kids ending up riding bikes with their kids and planning lemonade stands together, the new neighbors became friends. (We just weren’t invited to the Republican fundraisers, they knew better than that.) Lovely Pasadena called to other die-hard Sunset Boulevard and Hollywood Hills types because it still felt “small town” and traffic was do-able, there were good schools (public and private) and valet parking was pretty much non-existent because there were parking lots and free parking on streets until 11 am.

    Pasdena’s “face” changed and the politics began to change a bit. And the Rolls-Roycers and Escalades became Priuses and Teslas … I miss Pasadena (going at 6 am, at sunrise, to the Rose Bowl Parade route and seeing those flower filled floats!), walking the concrete river (old fishing grounds of Teddy Roosevelt) and super good friends… but I ain’t ever going back for longer than a quick visit. New England has my heart.

    1. I’m glad New England captured you! We used to watch the floats set out in the wee hours up Temple City Boulevard from the hangar where some were built in El Monte. When I was at a conference in Pasadena about eight years ago, I absolutely loved it. I hadn’t spent any time there since high school, and the air was clean that weekend. Seeing “my” San Gabriel mountains made me weep.

  16. I am a Toronto native who lived there for 35 years but I have no desire to move back! I miss Toronto’s ethnic diversity, unique neighbourhoods, eclectic food choices and mild winters. But I hated the 2+ hour work commute, the crime and unaffordable housing.

    I have also lived in several smaller cities (under 250000 population) in Ontario and Quebec (Burlington, Waterloo, Hull) and enjoyed the slower pace of life and sense of community. But when I moved to Ottawa in January 2014, I hoped this would be my last move. I had briefly lived in Ottawa while on assignment twice in the 1990s, and enjoyed it. During my last 3 years working for Environment Canada, I had a 3-minute walk to work (each way) and I love living in the historic Byward Market neighbourhood. And I learned to embrace the LONG Ottawa winters by joining a walking group that walks all year round, including during the cold, snowy winter months. I do plenty of solo walks and also enjoy snowshoeing. I do go on an occasional skate on the Rideau Canal but I am a bit gun-shy about skating on the rutty ice post-broken ankle.

    1. I’m so glad you found a place to settle, Grace! But Toronto having “mild” winters? I attended a conference there decades ago in the winter and was astounded at the amount of snow! They did a great job of clearing it, though. I guess mild is relative… ;^)

      1. EDITH: You must have been in Toronto during an abnormal winter. Really, they don’t get much snow. When I moved to Ottawa, I was wearing running shoes & a thin coat in late December since there was NO snow. When I landed in Ottawa, there was over 40 cm (15 in.) of the white stuff on the ground and it was -35C! I had to switch to my -40F/C boots and buy a heavy-duty North Face parka that week.

  17. I realized just the other day that I’ve lived in my current house for almost 24 years (this July), and in the Pittsburgh area for close to 26 (this August). That’s almost half my life and longer than I lived in Western New York.

    I like the Laurel Highlands area, which is where we are currently looking for a new house. I don’t refer to it as retirement. It’s the “post-children” phase of our lives.

  18. I’ll admit that I do miss some things from California, like good Mexican food, but my “hometown” isn’t the same place as where I grew up. Changing population, more crowded, more hectic lifestyle. After only 3 years, I think of Des Moines as home now. My immediate family is here and I love the seasons. Even snow. But it’s the space, less people and much less traffic.

    1. I hear you, Tina. I could never live in Temple City again, or anywhere in the LA basin. Glad you have found a quiet place to land, snow notwithstanding!

  19. I’ve lived in Southern CA now longer than I lived in Northern CA. But I consider both home, especially since I head north a few times every year since my family is still all up there.

  20. I was born in Southern Illinois in the same town my parents were born and raised in. When I was four we moved to Missouri and lived in a throwing town in St Louis county. The summer between my junior and senior year of high school my parents moved my sister and I to a rural area just outside of a small town in Franklin County, Missouri. For me that was culture shock. No shopping malls. One movie theater in town, at that point in time no fast food restaurants and lots of farms. I felt like a fish out of water.
    I met my husband when he worked the fields on our farm with his brother. We still live on part of what was his family’s farm. I learned to can vegetables from the garden and make jelly and preserves. I cut up deer for the freezer after he got one for us during hunting season. I’ve fixed fish he caught from the lake on our property and became comfortable no longer being a city girl. I’ve been here for almost 50 years now and this is where I feel most at home. I would never want to move back to city life. I am home!

  21. I’ve heard of this story before, but I never get tired of hearing how much you have accomplished in your exciting life.You are truly amazing.

    I was born and raised in Fort Wayne, Indiana, but was never comfortable there (way too conservative). I’m now in Lancaster, PA by way of Connecticut (8 months), Massachusetts (18 years), and the other side of PA (14 years). There were things I liked and disliked about the various places (big cities and very small towns). It didn’t take me long at all to realize how much I love where I live now. We’ve been here 15 years and don’t want to ever live anywhere else. This is definitely home to me.

  22. I too moved across the U.S. from Virginia to California. I still call Virginia “home” and visit often, but have no plans to move from Southern California, since our kids and grandkids are here and I love the area we live in. I really enjoy reading your books, especially the Country Store series, and look forward to each new title. Thank you, and please keep writing your mysteries for all of your readers!

  23. I feel most at home in my hometown of Toledo in the house that I was born and raised. As a matter of fact, that is the house that my husband and I are living in. Thank you so much for sharing. God bless you.

  24. We are native born Texans and still feel that. Hubby dearest got transferred to Georgia under duress. It is beautiful here, but it is not Texas. Fast forward 28 years and we are still here. Being retired, it would cost us too much to move back to our beloved Texas at our expense and Texas is being inundated by so many people from everywhere. So here we are.

  25. I feel most at home in Washington. My husband is a 6th generation California and I am only a first generation. My cousins are in Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska. We moved up here in 1996 and I learn to adapt to snow quickly. There were no real seasons in California. My husband found a place to live and I followed bringing our two sons, (age 2 and 10), a dog and a goldfish in an Oldsmobile. I ended up at a truck stop and got the last room after the woman saw me with the boys and decided that I needed the room more than anyone else. We lived in the townhome till my older son moved out on his own and then we bought our first home in 2006. We have been living here since and we now own it which is so nice. We do have seasons in Washington and we have had some interesting weather. I still like it here better than California and it cost less as well.

  26. I was reared in CT and moved to AZ when I was 15 years old. I spent a year in IL, 3 yrs in South Dakota, and 27 years on the Central Coast of Calif. I moved then to AZ again and spent 24 years there. Now I am living in VT, but CT is still home!

  27. My husband and I (married 54 years, come November) have lived in Maryland all our lives. He has that wanderlust bug, so we’ve traveled extensively throughout the U.S. and Europe. I find that most of my favorite memories are of small towns and villages, especially in Europe. We love getting the chance to speak with people native to the area we are visiting. But it’s always great to get home to our little piece of Eden!

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