Sometimes you have to move to France for a while. In October 1976, my newly married parents squeezed all of their belongings into two metal trunks and bought stand by tickets aboard the Queen Elizabeth II. They moved to Lille where my dad was in medical school. They weren’t certain when they would return.
Growing up my mum would tell us kids about their tiny studio apartment in France. How they were so poor my dad assembled a desk out of a glass pane from a bus station shelter that he anchored onto cement blocks. They hung the toilet paper from a nail in the bathroom. A blanket served as a window curtain. At Christmas they baked cookies because they couldn’t afford ornaments and made a star out of tinfoil. They hang that same star on their Christmas tree every year.
Because mum didn’t speak French, my dad posted a sheet of phrases spelled out phonetically on the wall beside the intercom in case she was home alone and someone came to the door. During moments of boredom she counted the giant red poppies on the wallpaper. (There were over 300.)
My parents spent a year together in that room. They had no television, no telephone. If they wanted to call home they waited in line at the post office to use the public phone. So they wrote letters and waited weeks for a reply to come in the mail.
“I think it was good for our marriage,” mum said recently. “We had to talk to each other.”
I can understand that. When D and I first moved to Utah it often felt like we had landed in another country where I didn’t speak the language. Our community of friends was a largely transient group of other graduate students and people just passing through that somehow wound up sticking around for 20 years. Everyone always seemed on the verge of leaving. So we leaned on each other. Over time we became best friends, got married, and eventually moved to Texas.
The Lone Star state was home for about two and half years—long enough that we visited every state park within a three-hour drive at least once and traveled to Big Bend National Park twice. In that span, I went back to school, we adopted a homeless cat named Huey, and made some really amazing friends we were sad to leave behind when we moved back to Utah last month.
Over the last three weeks we purchased our first home, bought a table saw, and have started to build a new life here. It’s good to be back in the mountains. They were what I missed most. In Austin, there was no place to just be alone and yell and throw rocks at the sky. I know because I tried to find one.
There are a lot more reasons why we moved back to Utah, which I am sure I will write about in later posts. But for now, I am just enjoying sitting in front of my new fireplace with my favorite little furry Texan at my feet.
The woman whose house we bought moved back to her native Paris. She bought the house sight unseen as a place where she could make pottery and hike in the mountains. After 10 years she said it was finally time to go home.
For me, Boston will always be that place I keep trying to get back to. I’m hoping someday I will find myself inking cardboard boxes bound for Massachusetts. My dad says that sometimes you have to move to France before you can come home again. I guess we will just have to wait and see.