Monday, May 15, 2006

The Accidental Town

It’s three weeks from today that the movers will arrive, load up the truck and lead us out of the town I’ve lived in for the past almost 17 years. It’s occurred to me these last weeks as we go through the leave taking processes, that somewhere along the way I stopped being a visitor and became a resident. I’d never meant to stay in Houston; when I arrived here I was still of the mindset that I never intended to stay anywhere. There were too many places to experience. I gave myself two years tops to absorb whatever the city might have to offer before I moved on.

Later, I couldn’t figure out if my perpetual restlessness here was the result of arriving with the notion that being here was temporary or if I just never quite clicked with the city. I resented the seeming disregard of esthetics by city planners, if there had ever been any planning, and the willful unattractiveness of so much of the place. A year after being here, I quit my job, gave up my garage apartment (dubbed “Rickety Shack”by friends), put my meager possessions in storage and decided I’d head out west and wander around until some city or town tugged on my sleeve saying, “This is where you should be.” At the last minute, my college friend Sherry, who’d become a flight attendant and had the liberty to visit often from NYC, decided she’d go with me. We ended up camping from Texas to California, with me dropping her occasionally in one city where she had to make a flight and picking her back up in the next city or state to continue our journey. When we finally U turned at the Pacific Ocean and made it to Colorado six weeks later, I realized I was headed right back to Houston. Maybe I’d had too good a time to pay attention to any particular town calling out to me. Regardless, I got back to Houston, enrolled in grad school and decided to freelance rather than take another full time graphic design position.

I kept the thought of the next place in the back of my mind. As I approached what should have been the final year of my slow trek through the MFA program at U of H, I met my husband to be. Wayne came for a visit and never left. We married eight months later and not long after that, he took over the business side of my barely profitable graphic design business and we slowly morphed into a real design firm. But he, too, suffered wanderlust and frustration with Houston’s lack of esthetics. Every time we’d leave town, we’d consider not coming back. But we always did. It’d taken us years to build our business up—many long, difficult and unappreciated days and nights. When each of our daughters was born, I was back at work within the week, Wayne within a day or two. With my first, I was talking with our print rep when my water broke; he quickly excused himself, we jumped into the car for the hospital but first stopped to drop off a job that was due and then drove to the bank to make a deposit, both of our mothers in tow.

We finally have it running on auto pilot. We no longer have to pound the concrete for business, it comes to us. In that sense, we have it made. We could cruise. But. This nagging thing.

Christmas before last, we went to Colorado. The girls saw snow. They saw mountains. We thought: yes, Colorado. We came back to house hunt two months later. There were maybes, even almosts. But it was like snow that doesn’t stick—each possibility melted for one reason or another and soon enough, again, we found ourselves living life as usual in Houston. Then Anthony and Dyan, Canadian friends of ours who shared some of our sensibilities, were transferred to Columbia, Missouri. Anthony (read Anthony’s online essay, The Thin Place) had helped initiate the writing group I’d become a part of two years earlier and I was going to miss his contribution to our close knit circle. After returning from their house hunting, Anthony described what Columbia had to offer: the cultural amenities afforded by college town living, four seasons, hills, trees, rivers, natural beauty, quality of life, good schools, clean air, etc. Enough to make us want to investigate. They graciously hosted us as we looked around the area and convinced ourselves this move was doable.

We decided if we were going to do this, we would go all the way. To find a property where we would be able to see the stars and be unable to hear the highway. We bought ten acres outside of Columbia. We’d have the city close enough when we needed it (albeit a "city" of 4 million less than the one we’d be leaving) and far enough away to experience semi rural living. Although our kids would attend Columbia schools, our address was in a town called Rocheport. It was not until we went back up for inspections a couple of weeks later that we went to visit the town we would technically be living in. We’d brought the girls with us this time, to see where they’d be living and to visit their new school. My parents also met us up there. All of us piled in the rental for a tour of Columbia. Then we decided to head 30 mins south to Jefferson City, the state capitol, and V back up to Rocheport along the Missouri River. It was February, probably as uninviting as the place will ever be, and yet we were thrilled with the landscape. Nothing dramatic like Colorado, but a quiet, lolling beauty. We followed the winding, sparsely populated road all the way up to I-70, where we crossed the interstate and went another mile into Rocheport.

We were stunned. The town of 200 sits on the Missouri River, a trailhead for the The Katy Trail. The over 200 mile long rails to trails path on which you can hike or bike, crosses the state. It links Rocheport to Columbia. The tiny town center features several bed and breakfasts, gourmet restaurants, a winery, galleries, antique shops, and even a blacksmith shop. An old pharmacy is being renovated as a coffee shop and is slated to open just as we are due to arrive, complete with internet hookup. The town was voted the favorite day trip destination for people from St. Louis to the east and Kansas City to the west. Frommers named Rocheport “one of the ten coolest towns in America” the following month. We are moving to a postcard town! Accidentally.

In the meantime, I’ve come to realize that Houston has gotten under my skin. Leaving will not be as easy as I had imagined. In spite of the man made eye sore the city must endure, the scents of jasmine and magnolia blossoms, the hot pinks to reds of the hibiscus and bouganvillea, the pastels of the crepe myrtles, break out everywhere; the Art Cars parade, the traffic bleats, the patios and plazas fill. Somewhere along the way, this place became home. A home made beautiful with family, friends and neighbors. And I now know I will always love Houston.

I’d mentioned in Tuesday’s post the myriad events and decisions that must conspire to bring about any wonderful thing in your life. This next move has been a long time coming. I think the last domino just got in line.


Karen Miedrich-Luo said...

You've made me appreciate Houston more. It's not that I hated the city (well, I did.) Or the weather (doesn't everyone?) I just knew the city so well. Every little nook and cranny of the southwest corridor into downtown. All those special places that took years to find. Running into people I knew everywhere I went. I thought I couldn't be blasted out. But For the first time in my life, I haven't looked back. It's a chapter that's closed and that, too, was a long time in coming.

Edna said...

you are beautiful, will you marry me?!

Barry said...

you are my magical majesty of histories mystery.
the wondering and wandering has only just begun, again.

take my hand, for the first time we shall be strangers together . . .

hunney, you have caught it awl.

there is nutthin like cutting a trench then having the courage to walk away.

anthony said...

Thanks for the mention.