The First Move, December 1, 1972

The first time I moved was a big move in several ways. My parents moved our family of six from Carlisle, MA, to San Rafael, CA, leaving on December 1, 1972, and not arriving until December 17, 1972. It took me a long time to realize what an extraordinary journey that was.

I’ve moved to a new county and city about ten times since then. I phrase it that way to consolidate two moves within Broome County, NY right after I got married and started a new job; the moves within St. Joseph County, IN about three years later; a move within Bloomington, IL;  two moves within Austin, TX (one city, but across county lines!) ; and even the move within Dane County, WI (within the same zip code, but between cities!). They add up quickly if I count the moves from clearly temporary housing to “real” homes. Carlisle to San Rafael was the longest, at about 3,000 miles if we’d taken the shortest route, but we didn’t. We took about ten days longer than necessary and visiting twice as many states as we might have had we been in a hurry, and there’s the whole business of a week of skiing in Utah.

In more ways than miles and days, this was the move that dwarfed all others. For one thing, I was in the middle of fourth grade. I wasn’t equipped to change schools over the Christmas break at that age. Maybe it wouldn’t have been any better at an older age; maybe the first move was always going to be rough. Moving from the four seasons of Massachusetts to the Mediterranean climate of the San Francisco Bay Area was also a big change. Sure, there was snow on the ground the second or third night we were there — but that was the only time I saw snow at our house in the decade that followed.

Massachusetts and California are both generally liberal states, and San Francisco and Boston are both cosmopolitan cities, but I doubt I’d have been keenly aware of what became known as “diversity” had we stayed in Carlisle. I also had no idea at the time how unusual it was for someone to live so far from their first home. I’d already been in ten states by the time we made that move, partly because my parents grew up 1000 miles from each other, so we had reasons to visit both New England and the South, not to mention Dad’s mother, who had relocated to southern California before I was born. For a long time, it was jarring to meet someone who thought that going from a childhood near Chicago to college 100 miles to the east in South Bend was a big move, just like I wasn’t sure my high school classmates who didn’t have to change radio stations upon “going away” to college had really gone away. (Admittedly, this was back when AM radio stations with their larger broadcast areas were more popular.)

So, three thousand miles, three time zones, and a visit to Grand Canyon, all done at a “deliberate” pace. None of my moves since then have been anything like it. Moving from Austin to Madison was nearly a sprint: two days of hard driving to cover 1200 miles, because ten-year-old cats don’t travel as well as grade-school aged children. Bloomington to Peoria or Vienna to Germantown were mere rounding errors on the maps I use to track my moves.

I probably can figure out the dates I left an area for most of my moves, but December 1 is an anniversary I always notice, and not just because it was the start of a month. It really was that large of a change.


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