Monday, June 17, 2019

My First Big Move

I’m not big on commemorating occasions. I’ve never attended a high school reunion for fear of being transported back to a world of awkward self-consciousness. Neither do I focus much on wedding anniversaries. My husband and I had been together for many years before we married, so the wedding was more of a footnote to a long relationship than a beginning. And yet, I may make an exception to my inclination to gloss over such events. This summer is the fortieth anniversary of my life in Minneapolis and it seems to warrant some kind of acknowledgement. After all, I’ve spent most of my adult life in the place that was my FIRST big move away from home.

It was meant to be the first of many. I envisioned a life of adventure and travel in my desire to become a worldly woman. While I did in fact find some of that, it was from a solidly anchored berth. After college I had returned to my mid-sized hometown in Central Illinois for my first job. There I married my now ex-husband, bought a house and began to build my life as an adult. After several years it became apparent to me that if I didn’t move away, I would become my parents, rooted in one place for most of my life. I was to learn that it was as much a matter of internal geography as external. I convinced my then-husband he would benefit from a move and announced my intentions to my mother on the phone. I remember looking out my dining room window as I twisted that phone cord around my fingers. Yes, that was the age of corded phones. It was one of those moments frozen in time, one which you know is momentous. “Oh, SUSan!” she replied as if I had just told a distasteful joke which she found disturbing. No doubt she did find it disturbing, I realize in retrospect.
With my thumb on the map atop my home town, I traced a five-hundred-mile radius with my index finger. Five hundred miles represented a one-day drive back, my tether to my family. I considered Chicago, St. Louis and Minneapolis, cities that fell within that radius. I already knew I was a city girl although I had little experience with large cities, but I wanted what cities had to offer.  My criteria included a city with a good university, a climate supportive of the arts and a good employment environment for our future careers, a city big enough to embrace the unknown and small enough to navigate. On my first visit, I fell in love with the Minneapolis landscape. I had a visceral response to the lakes and expanses of greenery and all those people so energetically enjoying them. It opened something deep within me.  I wanted in. Minneapolis felt accessible to me in a way Chicago could never be. Having an old college roommate in Minneapolis cinched the deal. I subscribed to the Sunday paper and began my job search.
Three months after that phone call with my mother, I was in Minneapolis for good. I still think of it as my “first” big move away from home. Perhaps it is time that I accept that I am someone who puts down roots.  I am but one repotting away from my parents after all. I didn’t get very far. I am chagrined to admit that I have lived in fewer cities than my parents.
We had fewer belongings in those days, less to tie us to one spot. A U-Haul carried it all to a second-floor duplex in Northeast Minneapolis. A stained-glass window cast its pattern of light on our new life.  After six months we bought a home in South Minneapolis on Columbus Avenue where I lived for sixteen years.  Now in my subsequent home, I have a room I’ve named the Columbus Room. It holds many of my belongings from that earlier home. I am not easily uprooted and carry the echo of my past in my physical space, slightly altered by new surroundings, but familiar at the core.

Today I am an artist and Northeast Minneapolis, where I began, is once again a home of sorts to me. For seventeen years my husband and I have had a studio in the California Building where we paint and invite the community in to visit during open studios. I tell stories through my artwork and that allows me a special access to the community in which I live and work. As I explored the topic of loss of memory, tracing my mother’s journey through that wilderness, I set out a memory jar and invited visitors to share a memory. I asked them to tell one that they once shared with someone whose memory had fled. Visitors sometimes tearfully shared their stories of loved ones and the treasured memories that they held close. I have learned that it is through story that we find connection and expand our community.

The trains pass beneath our window that overlooks the church towers of Northeast.  I often run to the window when I hear a train, turning off the lights if it’s evening, to fully savor the sense of mystery it still rouses in me. And sometimes I drive by that first duplex and crane my neck to see if I can spot that stained-glass window of memory.