The Purple of Life

She told me to hold on to the purple in my life.

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Location: Chicago, United States

I'm a 37-year-old editor and city dweller, wife and mother, moderately liberal and radically optimistic. I would fill my perfect day with a cup of coffee and the Op Ed section, a flea market and the playground, a run along Lake Michigan, a walk through the neighborhood with my son and my greyhound, a Cuban dinner and a bottle of red with my husband, and an evening flight to some European city. I wouldn't be picky about which one.

April 18, 2005

Home is where

Originally posted to Diary-X

Last week, walking up the stairs to the el platform on a mild spring night, I smelled something—I think it was the tar on the wood, something pitchy and salty and warm—and I was immediately assaulted by a memory, sharp and clear, of walking on the boardwalk in Wildwood, New Jersey, at night with my parents, in the early 1980s, surrounded by colored lights and carnival barkers and the tinny music of the Ferris wheel and the smells of French fries and cotton candy and saltwater, with the sky big and dark overhead and the Atlantic big and dark to the east. I was 5, 7, 10 years old, and summer vacations at the Jersey shore were the closest I’d come to pure magic. Even now, the idea of the boardwalk at night just thrills me—it’s a place of wonder, where anything can happen. My family vacationed at the shore almost every year until I was 18, when we relocated to Michigan, and it was one of many pieces of my life that I had to leave behind.

Eleven years later, I’m finally returning to the part of Pennsylvania—Bucks County—where I grew up. John and I will spend six days out East in June, lounging around the beaches on the island of Cape May (with an excursion or two to Wildwood), staying at a B&B in historic New Hope, and visiting with my grandmother. Obviously, I’ll be visiting my past, too. A lot has happened to me in 11 years, between the ages of 18 and 29, and I’m curious to see how I fit now in the places where I grew up… how it feels to see my old house, with the tree my dad planted for me outside my bedroom window. To drive by the video store where I worked for two years, by the Catholic grade school where I dreaded gym class and had my first kiss. To see the expensive additions that have changed the face of my 1920s high school (of which my mother is also an alum). To walk the colonial streets of Doylestown, to stop for a drink in one of its wood-paneled pubs, to stroll around New Hope, the site of so many dates when I was a teenager. I can’t begin to imagine what it’ll feel like to experience all this as a woman with a college degree and a husband and a career, with a completely different life.


Moving to Michigan was the hardest thing I’ve experienced in my life so far. It seems silly—how traumatic is a move, for pete’s sake?—but no one in my family wanted to go, and our hearts broke in the leaving. My dad had been laid off, and the only real job offer he received was in western Michigan, so we left. I will never forget the total and complete sadness I felt when we closed the door of our empty house and drove away. That house was a member of our family, it seemed, and for months strange people had been tramping through it, asking about the furnace and the hardwood floors, and now it wasn’t ours anymore and we had to become Midwesterners. God, I get a lump in my throat just remembering it.

I still don’t really consider myself a Midwesterner, but in time the wound healed. And after four years in my Michigan college town, and three years in Grand Rapids, and now three years in Chicago, I haven’t gotten attached to any physical location the way I did to my hometown. Since 1994, I’m not sure where “home” has been for me. I suppose it’s where my parents are, in Grand Rapids, although I’ve never actually lived in their house. John grew up in Grand Rapids and his parents still live there, so to him it will always be home.


Now my parents are moving. My father was laid off once again, and in another utterly cruel twist of fate, he hasn’t been able to find a comparable job in Michigan, where the unemployment rate is the worst in the country (he’s an executive, and he’s 58—you do the math). After months of sending out 140 resumes and living off part of their 401(k) and going on interviews that lead to nowhere, my parents decided to accept a job offer from an old friend in Virginia Beach, who wants my dad to run his company. He’s a stand-up guy, and the company is solid, and my parents like that part of the country. So even though they’re devastated to leave my sister and me in the Midwest, their house is on the market. My parents are preparing to move back East.

So yeah, big changes in my family. Holidays will be different. True, visiting my parents will be like a mini-vacation, what with Virginia’s colonial history and the Outer Banks and the Chesapeake Bay. This June’s trip will be the first of many back East, and I have to say that the prospect makes me happy.

But home. Where will I consider home? The only thing that made Grand Rapids home was the fact that my parents had an address there for 11 years. Virginia Beach will never be home for me. After all these years, Bucks County is more hometown than home. So, of course, it’s Chicago. It’s Chicago, and it’s wherever I am with John. But it’s strange—for the first time, I won’t be saying “I’m going home for Christmas.” I suppose I’m old enough to create my own home now.

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