After 38 years in the same place, it would seem like a safe bet that you’d found your permanent home and weren’t headed anywhere else.
For me, that simply wasn’t the case. And the question is, what suddenly gives someone the itch to switch?
I was born in Fall River, an aging textile mill city on Mount Hope Bay in Southeastern Massachusetts, rich in history, ethnically diverse and deeply religious, but also very eager to reinvent an economy that had never quite shaken off the impact of the Great Depression. I was raised there, in the same house on High Street that my father had purchased just months before I was born in 1963 – and which he still lives in today.
And with the exception of five years away at college and graduate school, I never left. I made my career in Massachusetts as a journalist, first at a small weekly newspaper in the quaint fishing town of Ipswich on the North Shore of Boston, before graduating to an urban daily – right back in Fall River. By the time 2002 rolled around, I had 11 years of seniority at the paper, I owned a home, had family and friends all around me, and could probably have been expected to stay put until I retired. It would only be then, in my mid-60s, that I might have decided I too old for cold winters and snow shoveling, and started packing for, say, the tropical shores of a state like Florida – as so many other New Englanders had done before me.
It didn’t work out that way.
In February of 2002, I sold my home, and on the day of the closing, I loaded myself, my belongings, and my six cats into a U-haul truck. I made the journey down to the Sunshine State decades before I hit retirement age.
Why? Why give up the familiar, the comfortable, the well established routine of my daily life there – not to mention a job I had enjoyed for more than a decade – to drive down to Florida and start all over, without a home to move into, a job to work at, or any friends to welcome me?
It’s interesting to look back and ponder what makes us take that gamble that if we give up what we have and go searching for something new, it’s all going to work out. It actually seems like more of a gamble than a Las Vegas slot machine.
At the time, I told myself I was leaving because the high cost of living in Massachusetts had priced me out. When $300,000 become an “affordable” price for a house, I figured I was definitely in the wrong state. This was around the time when the high tech boom of the late 1990s had brought the Bay State’s unemployment rate down to near zero, fueling by an information technology bonanza in Boston and its suburbs.
The problem is, I had no clue that within a few years, Orlando would be undergoing a similarly sharp escalation in home prices, thanks to the building boom between 2004 and 2006. I had no crystal ball around the time I left.
One thing that prompted me to leave, however, is I had also decided to follow my sister’s example. She, her husband and daughter had left Massachusetts in 1999 for Orlando, and she was urging me to move down there and stay with her until I could find a job and place to live. So, on a cold April day, I drove out of Massachusetts, only to arrive in Orlando on a very hot spring day. Now I know the weather patterns down here by heart: hot and dry through early May, soaring heat and humidity through September, milder from October on …
No more of the four seasons that I had grown up with. But at least 98 degrees feels better down here in an air conditioned house than it did in Fall River in July, in a home with nothing more than a dinky window fan to create the semblance of cooling down.
Today, I’m doing something I haven’t done for nearly a decade: returning to Massachusetts. A flight will carry me from Orlando International Airport to T.F. Green Airport in Providence, Rhode Island, just 15 minutes from Fall River. I’m going back to see my home city, my father, and the house that I grew up in.
I’m also going back there to revisit my past and once again explore a beautiful and, I think, underrated city. I want to know how it’s changed since I left; when I was growing up, it rarely felt like much of anything ever changed there.
Fall River was not like Orlando, where developers can transform a particular neighborhood virtually overnight; Fall River always had the same historic spots, and landmarks, and familiar places as one year moved to the next.
There are places I want to visit, and introduce to a larger audience that might not be fully aware of — particularly if they think of Massachusetts only in terms of Boston and Cape Cod.
On Tuesday, I plan to tour the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast and Museum, the house in downtown Fall River where the infamous Lizzie Borden was charged with taking an axe and using it to murder her father and step-mother. As history notes, the jury that heard her case refused to believe a woman like that could have been capable of such brutality, and she was acquitted. It’s been said, though, that the house remains haunted to this day. I’ll let you know what I find out.
On Wednesday, I’m planning a trip to the Southeastern Massachusetts version of Clearwater: Horseneck Beach in the town of Westport, and East Beach, a spot with a stunning view of the Atlantic Ocean, and an array of charming cottages that line the sandy shoes …. only I’m told that East Beach got washed out by Hurricane Irene, the Bay State’s most recent version of our Hurricane Charley from 2004.
I’ll report back on some charming restaurants available in that area, and more from a city of mills and hills, where the Taunton River separates the city from the town of Somerset, and where Battleship Cove is the home to a historic naval ship from World War II. Fall River’s economy struggled, even during the boom years in the late 1990s when high tech swept through the state. But it still has a lot of gems hidden away on its vast streets, parks and older neighborhoods. Not everyone knows about this.
Hopefully, if you keep reading the pages of Freeline Media, you’ll learn a bit more about this city and, perhaps, make the decision to one day do exactly what I’m doing: take the time to go there, and discover it for yourself.
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