This weekend we made our way back to Utah via Moscow, Idaho.
For the record, Moscow might be the best small town America has to offer. Good people, amazing scenery, and fantastic eating. With two major universities planted right there in the wheat fields — eight miles and one state line between them — the town is packed with diversity.
Of all the coincidences, Jason’s little brother and his wife got a job transfer up there a few months ago. They recently had their first little baby and we couldn’t resist the extra 10 hour drive/two day trip to kill two birds with one stone: kiss the nephew and haunt our past all at the same time.
The past is a funny thing. We look back on our years there with intense feelings of fondness and pain. It was in Moscow that we tried so desperately to get pregnant. Those two years seemed to be the longest I’ve ever experienced, and the resulting baby brought more satisfaction and contentment than anything I can think of. We wanted to see it again from this angle.
We were prepared to be a little sad and nostalgic. The reality is simple; life will never plant us in that fertile soil again and we loved it there. Moscow offers a perfect mix of liberal and conservative lifestyles (hippies and farmers), the perfect weather conditions (so picturesque that the farm land requires no irrigation), and a town filled with mostly happy people. Who wouldn’t want to stake a claim there?
The day we spent driving our kids around to our old dives and places of employment was interesting. Yes, we were happy to visit. Yes, things were mostly as we remembered. But both my husband and I felt like a couple of ghosts, dropping into the Co-Op, spending a few hours at the town pool — everywhere we went looked great, but it was missing that old magic. We felt like interlopers.
It was like the city had gone limp on us. No pulse, no thrill, just a place filled with memories that only he and I share. All our old grad school friends have moved on, and apparently so have we.
Driving by our old duplex was the biggest shock of all. We bought the duplex as an investment; live in one side and rent out the other to help pay the mortgage.
When we bought it the place was trashed. Jason and I spent hours sweating and slaving and painting and flipping until finally it screamed, “HOME!” Coming from a small studio apartment, the 1,000 square feet was positively palatial.
We drove up to the duplex and parked the car in front. I looked around at the knee high grass and crooked house numbers. The house was as vacant as the day we’d pulled out of town in our moving van eight years ago. I slowly stepped out of the car and walked to the front door, cupping my hands to peer in that old, currently dusty front window.
Oh my gosh, it was so stinking tiny.
My husband and I just stood there, staring with our mouths hanging open. The front room wasn’t even as big as our basement TV room.
I learned something this weekend. I learned that life is made up of more than streets and houses. It wasn’t just Moscow that we loved, it was living in Moscow as newlyweds, surrounded by friends stranded in our same little life boat with no one but each other to hang on to. Take out the life lessons and the pain and the laughter and all we had to drive through was a nice piece of scenery.
We’re moving again this week. As I write this, the packing company is upstairs boxing up my world with brown paper and labeling it with magic markers. Kitchen, Bathroom, Books. My children are sad to leave “the brick house,” afraid they’ll miss their rooms and their hideouts.
But this time I am not afraid. I’m not leaving my life behind here, it’s coming with me. Even if our piddly posessions sink to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, we’ll all be just fine.
I’m taking my world, all five pieces of it. My husband, myself and our four little babies are all I really need to make it work. And like it says on the wall in my kitchen, “Together is our favorite place to be.”
Annie Valentine is a Layton wife, mother and columnist. Readers can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her blog at regardingannie.wordpress.com.