June 15, 2012

Constant Moving: A Lifetime of Memories

Before the Great Recession the average American moved 11 times during his life. One in six (16%) changed residences every year. Over the past few years those numbers have slowed down quite a bit, though the exact figures are not readily available. Common sense, though, would tell us moving is much less common.

Betty and I have been in our last two homes 20 years. That is atypical and very unusual for me. While growing up I moved over twenty times before leaving for college. Between graduation from Syracuse University and getting married, I added another four addresses. Within the first several years of our marriage we relocated six times. 

I decided it might be fun to recall some of the places I have called home and what I remember most about those stops on the way to my satisfying retirement. Hopefully, it will trigger some memories for you, too.

I was born in the section of Philadelphia known as Upper Darby, but moved to the suburbs within a few months. When I was 5 or 6 the family moved across the Delaware River into New Jersey and the town of Haddonfield. Our first home in that town said a lot about the times. We were less than two blocks from the railroad tracks that carried high speed commuter trains from southern New Jersey into Philadelphia.

I remember quite clearly that there were no fences or safety features to keep anyone from wandering around the tracks. In fact, to get to a nearby baseball diamond I would simply cross the two sets of tracks to get to the park. My parents knew that was our route and simply cautioned us to look both ways. Every one of our friends did exactly the same thing.

The neighborhood boys would place pennies on the tracks and wait for trains to flatten them. Occasionally someone would be hit and killed by a train, but never any of the kids from the neighborhood. Oddly, it was always an adult who should know better. Such accidents never prompted any safety measures. I'm sure it wasn't because parents in the 50's were less caring...there was just an overall belief that kids were smart enough to stay away from real danger and one learned directly from life experiences. Today, can you imagine letting your children or grandkids play near the railroad tracks? I certainly can't!

Our own baseball diamond
 Another brief stop on the Lowry moving caravan was the small city of Cambridge, Ohio. For exactly one year we lived in a huge old home, complete with wrap-around porch, a spiraling wooden staircase to the second floor, a full attic and basement, and a backyard large enough for a kid-size baseball diamond. The house was across the street from the local YMCA, housed in a huge brick mansion where weekly Friday night teen dances were held. This was also the town where I first caught the radio bug. I visited the local station one day with my mom and the next 40 years of my life were determined.

Even though we only lived in Cambridge for one year, I remember the friendliest group of kids I encountered anywhere. We had parties at my home at least once a month and baseball games in the backyard almost daily. I had my first girlfriend experience with a cute girl named Joanne. I was heartbroken when we packed up after 12 months and moved to Massachusetts.

For the next seven years we lived near Boston in the suburban town of Lynnfield. Being unable to completely stop what we were so good at (packing and unpacking) we did live in three different homes in Lynnfield during that seven years! But, to their credit my parents did finally settle in the last home and lived there for almost 20 years until moving to Arizona to be near Betty and me.

Lynnfield was a typical suburban town in the 1960s. There were a handful of stores clustered around the town square, complete with a colonial meeting hall and white-spired Congregational church. Kids rode bikes everywhere without fear. The whole town turned out for the 4th of July parade, Christmas tree lightings, and Easter egg hunts. I remember exactly where I was when JFK was shot (gym class) and walking the mile to our house in shock.

About 30 minutes from Lynnfield was the first radio station I became involved with. I managed to land a job as their janitor, mopping floors and throwing out trash twice a week. Since I was too young to drive mom was conned into being my chauffeur. I have no idea what she did while I performed by duties and hung around the DJ and absorbed everything. But, she never complained for the two years before I got my driving license. Finally with that ticket to freedom I was able to take a job as a part time DJ on weekends at age 16. The thrill I had first felt in Cambridge was finally satisfied at this little station in Beverly, Massachusetts.

There were brief stops in places as far apart as Jacksonville, Florida and Wayne, outside Philadelphia (again!). From our backyard we could see Valley Forge just 2 miles away, where George Washington and the troops wintered in 1777. I remember there were train tracks there too just beyond our back fence. But I was never tempted to play near them. I had lost my kid's innocence and gained an adult's fear. By now, the constant train traffic was an annoyance, not a thrill.

As an adult I moved from Syracuse, to Nashua New Hampshire, and then to Morgantown, West Virginia, where I met and married my bride of almost 36 years. Subsequent moves to Cedar Rapids, Iowa (an apartment & 2 houses), Salt Lake City (twice), Tucson, and Phoenix/Scottsdale (3 different homes) have all seen my moving boxes.

Betty reminded me I must mention our first dwelling in Cedar Rapids. Until our home was ready, we lived for about a month in an apartment over a sports liquidator & live bait shop. With only one car at the time I would drive to my new job while Betty stayed above the bait shop, trying to remember why she agreed to move here after just 6 months of marriage.

It was during a tremendous winter cold snap in Iowa, with temperatures well below zero 24 hours a day...certainly too cold for her to even leave the apartment to buy food. She remembers that the only thing that kept her sane was looking forward to the TV series, Roots, which was on every night.

For someone who has stayed within a stone's throw of where he or she was born, this constant change of address must seem as foreign as speaking a different language. But, in my case it helped me mature quickly, teach me to adapt quickly to new places and people, and experience firsthand the amazing diversity of this country.

Oh, and I know my way around moving boxes and packing tape.

22 comments:

  1. I' m taking on this post as a challenge. Off to write about moves and how they have made me settle Ina Satisfying Retirement. I'd love to hear about everyone's moves and stays!

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  2. I had no idea you started out in Philly. Our paths crossed many times it seems. We spent 8 yrs. in Stow, MA. This is our 2nd (and last) go round in Philly. I grew up in Toledo, Ohio and even though I never left that town til I was 18 I went to 14 schools in 12 years. My mother married a lot.

    I sometimes feel bad for people who never leave their hometown. I think moving can make you aware of the differences that are at the heart of this country. It gives you an appreciation and reason to celebrate those differences.

    That said, I'm not planning to move again anytime soon.
    Thanks for getting this started Bob.
    b

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    1. Yes, Barbara. I wonder if we ever met: both from the Philly area, lived in Massachusetts, and worked in radio in the same town.

      Now, even the thought of packing up and moving again is terrifying! We'll shift to a condo sometime in the next 5-7 years, but I've had my fill of packing and unpacking.

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  3. This brought back memories of all my moves. My dad worked for an oil company, so we moved all over Texas when I was young, then we spent 6 years in Fort Worth. After my parents divorced, we moved to East Texas, where I went to junior high and high school. After college in Dallas, I joined the Army, and spent the next 10 years moving about every 3 years with my Navy husband. We ended up back in Dallas, and although I divorced him, I'm still here. I've been in this house for 21 years and have no plans of moving again. It was exciting for awhile, then I got tired of having to start over all the time.

    I may downsize at some time in the future, but housing prices are so bad right now that I can't even get a good-sized apartment for my small mortgage, so it will be awhile.

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    1. My question is how can you be in the Army and married to someone in the Navy? Besides the obvious conflicts during the annual football game how did you manage to get the same duty stations?

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    2. Sorry, I just now saw your reply. I didn't really explain it well, and it is an odd story. I was only in the Army for 4 years. My first duty station, as a personnel clerk, was at a joint-service school. It was on an official Navy base but they taught all 4 services - explosive ordnance disposal, bomb disposal in civilian terms. That's where I met and married my husband, who was in the Navy. We were stationed together there for a year then I got sent to Germany for 18 months, alone. When I came back stateside, I got out, and a year later went into the Navy Reserves.

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    3. OK..that makes perfect sense!

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  4. Thanks to google street view I was able to revisit two of my inner city childhood residences. Sadly, both are gone. One transformed in housing development and the other an empty lot.

    Must agree with you on things we did that wouldn't dream of doing now. I rode my bicycle on what would a major highway several times. Long solo bus rides at the age of ten to downtown Newark NJ.

    I enjoyed your suburban remembrances.

    Warren

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    1. Looking at the old neighborhoods with Google Map and street view...fun idea! Now, if I could just remember the street addresses. I do remember the one near the train tracks. I'll check that out and see if a safety fence has been erected in the last 60 years.

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  5. I find after counting them up that I've lived in fourteen residences over the course of a lifetime. They have all been within a hundred mile radius, within twenty miles of two major East Coast cities. I've lived in a hundred and sixty year old house in the city, in apartments in the suburbs, in a brand new suburb when suburbs themselves were new, in an older home on the edge of a just-being-built community while a new house was being built for my family, and spent years in several different houses watching a planned city take shape around me. I suppose you could say I've lived my whole life within a stone's throw of where I was born, but there's nothing at all foreign to me about change. Adapting to new circumstances is a great way to learn about the world outside the door.

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    1. I love the diversity these comments have shown. Jean, you move a lot but never very far from one spot to the next. I have moved a lot, both near and far. Others have moved infrequently but great distances including overseas. Add to the mix different types of housing and virtually all options have been accounted for. And, in each case I sense a contentment with the choices.

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  6. Both DH and I were born in Galveston, Tx and grew up there. I lived at the same address from the first grade until I left for college. Same for DH. But then the moving started. First moves associated with his time in the Army--Ft. Benning, Ga., Fort Jackson, S.C., and then I went back to Galveston while he visited scenic South Vietnam. We had two homes in Houston, one in Midland, Tx, one in Katy, back to Houston, and now in Richmond. And here we stay! (I suppose that's tempting fate though.)

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    1. Galveston is one Texas city I have never visited. I bet you had some close calls with hurricanes during all those years right on the coast! You most certainly saw changes over the 18 or so years until you left for college and then came back while hubby was in Vietnam.

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  7. I read the whole article...but I will admit that the Sports Liquidators/Bait Shop stopped me in my tracks but then I guess "bait shop" attached to any business would do the same. Maybe it's just me! Oh, and isn't moving so much fun? :)

    b

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    1. Betty tells me the men who ran and frequented this particular establishment were a bit scary. She preferred to sit in a dingy, rundown one bedroom apartment all day rather than venture downstairs.
      Ask her about it when you see us next month!

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  8. Bob, in my Air Force career, I moved on average (no exaggeration) every 18 months in the course of 32 years. This doesn't count moves before I enlisted or after I "retired". About 2/3 of the way through, we just stopped opening all of the boxes. It was easier just to unload the basics: kitchenware, bathroom stuff, uniforms, and clothes. But putting curtains and blinds up and pulling them down was unavoidable and got old. And me with it.

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  9. Post script: I still haven't opened all of the boxes and I retired from the military 10 years ago. They're in my barn shed. One of these days when I retire from my second career in academia, I hope to open them slowly and hold old memories.

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    1. Right there with you Nik! Ten moves in sixteen years (husband had been in a while when we met) provided plenty of unopened boxes. We started opening them because we need to distribute to kids. A military career certainly provides treasures!

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    2. OK, Nik and Janette, you make my history look like that of an amateur! Complete moves every 18 months? No wonder our military budget is so high. That type of constant reassignment sounds incredibly inefficient and extraordinarily expensive...not to mention the wear and tear on the people involved.

      If you never move again it will be completely understandable. Maybe you should decide one Christmas that your presents are those unopened boxes!

      Thanks for sharing another reason why we need to support our military, present and past. You guys gave up a normal life to serve.

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  10. What a fun post. I enjoyed walking down memory lane with you. I moved a lot as an adult until I moved here, where I've lived in the same home for 20 years. However, the kids and I have switched rooms within the house several times, which felt like moving!

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    1. I know a little about your history and know you've had several careers in several different locations. I imagine you have your own stories. I bet your weekend cabin holds a lot of them. We'll share in a few weeks!

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