Everybody Who Lives Here
I grew up in upstate New York’s lake effect snow belt. Over any given weekend between October and May, six feet of the stuff could come down in impenetrable clouds. In whiteouts, car headlights bounced the light back at blinded drivers. After one storm my brother and I jumped out second story window to shovel out our banked-in front door.
One college winter break a friend and I agreed to meet in New York City to see a play. It was December, and it was snowing. My dad offered to give me a lift to the train station in East Syracuse. Ten foot drifts covered some of the tracks heading south and the train plows weren’t making much progress. My dad sat down to wait with me, unwilling to drive back to collect me later when the train never arrived and never left.
Lots of time went by. I was going to miss the play and I was cranky. My dad sat patiently. “Why do you live here?” I cried! “The second I can get out of here, I will!”
“Sharon,” he answered, tipping his chin to the window on my left. “Look out there.” I did. “Now,” he said, tipping it in the opposite direction, “Look out there.” I did. “Do you see any bums?” he asked. I shook my head in the ‘no’ direction. “Exactly,” he said, contentedly. “Everybody who lives here has a reason to live here.”
I went off to a southern university, where I sat on my front porch during the single snowfall we got each year and watched the hapless drivers skid off the road in two inches of fluff. I graduated and found a job in a town with a hundred fewer inches of snowfall per year than the world I’d grown up in. I got married, had a kid, and recently said goodbye to her when she moved to Alaska to work in Donali National Park.
“There are bears,” I complained, via text. “In fact, recently a 600 pound grizzly ate a hiker.” My hardened child shrugged it off. “The man got too close,” she texted back. “They aren’t stuffed.”
“How much light will there be in December?” I ask innocently. “I guess you’ll look for a job in the lower 48 when this is done.”
She ignored this tack. “I found a new room-mate,” she texted back. “She’s got a truck, and a dog, and wilderness fire-fighting certification! Can you believe it? I should have gotten that certification when I was working in the Delaware Water Gap!”
This from the child who has been trying to get my husband and I to drive around with a dog (I have allergies) in a truck (Are you kidding?). “I don’t know why this place is so special but it is,” she said when we last spoke. “Maybe I’ll stick around and find something to do here after this job ends. “
“What does ‘special’ mean?” I asked her, hoping that if she examined that generalization more closely she’d realize that she meant the exact opposite. She said, “I was in a bar last night full of people who worked for Big Oil, with hunters, with guys from a soil lab. . .” She stopped, uncertain herself where this train of thought was going. Finally she figured it out. She said, “Here’s the thing, Mom. Everybody who lives here has a reason to live here.”
I told her I understood. I think I did.