It’s been more than 15 years since I moved from the Midwest to California. I made my decision to move no-matter-what while on my way to work early on a January morning. I happened to be sitting in my car on a cold snowy day when I made my decision. Did I mention the car was sliding sideways down the highway when I made my decision?
I didn’t walk into the boss’s office to turn in my resignation that day. Instead, I began planning how I would sort it out. After all, I had neither a job nor a place to live in California. I soon learned that landlords in California would not agree to rent a place unless I was there, even if I promised to put a check in the mail that day to pay for the required deposit, any fees, and an entire year’s rent. The real problem might have been that I was going to bring two medium sized dogs along with me. However, if I could have someone who already lived in California stop by and vouch for me, then they would gladly accept my check and rent a unit to me. Since I knew no one there, that meant I would have to live in a hotel room for a week or two.
I planned to pack my car with the things I would need immediately: toiletries, dishes, a pot, a pan, air mattress, sleeping bag, etc. There also had to be room for the dogs. Everything else I needed, clothing, more kitchen stuff, a few books, and so on got packed in boxes to be shipped U.P.S. I figured it wouldn’t take long for a hard worker like me, especially one with a good record and good references less than a couple weeks to find work.
On July 1, 2003, I gave two months notice. The next day my boss offered me a 15% pay raise. When I said, no, he upped it to 20%. Again, I said no. “It’s not going to make any difference what I offer, is it?” he asked.
“Right, it’s not,” I said.
I think some of the people I worked with thought the reason I offered such a long notice was that I was hoping the boss would offer me a raise. They didn’t know he had and I turned it down. I gave a long notice because I valued the place and hoped to give enough time for a replacement to be found, hired and maybe trained before I left. That didn’t happen, though. I’m pretty sure most of my fellow employees, some of my friends, and a couple family members expected to see me back there before the year ended. The biggest reason given was the expense. It costs almost twice as much to live here as it cost me to live in Wisconsin. Nevertheless, I stayed. It helped that a few weeks before I left my brother called to let me know a friend had a place I could rent in Long Beach. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have survived if not for that because, although I found a couple temporary jobs, it was seven months before I found a permanent job. I never thought it would be so difficult to find a job, even though I was 57 years old.
“Even after you’ve kicked the dust off your shoes, one day you’ll realize you never really left.”
Now, about the homesickness. My daughter now lives out here along with her husband and they have a daughter, so I’m a grandfather with family nearby, but about six years ago I started feeling homesick. I started missing my brothers and sisters as well as the city I am most familiar with, Chicago. Last year I visited for a month and had a great time, visiting each of them, seeing some of the things the like to do, some of the places they like to go. I got to see two White Sox and one Cubs games. I wandered around the Frank Lloyd Wright neighborhood in Oak Park, a place I always wanted to see, but never took the time to go even though it’s within a couple miles of a sister’s house.
There are holidays I haven’t spent with them in years. There are many neighborhoods around Chicago that have grown up or changed drastically since I knew them and I’d like to spend a day wandering around them. I’d like to see more White Sox games, as well as watch the Bears, Bulls, and Blackhawks… whether they’re any good or not. I’d like to walk through downtown, along Oak Street Beach, through Lincoln Park, around Evanston, Waukegan, Elmhurst, Lagrange, the University of Chicago, Loyola University, Navy Pier and a host of other places I haven’t seen in 20 or 30 years or more. There is so much I’m missing being out here.
“Maybe you had to leave in order to really miss a place; maybe you had to travel to figure out how beloved your starting point was.” ― Jodi Picoult, Handle with Care
You’re probably thinking, “Why don’t you move back, you dunderhead?”
I’ve thought about that, a lot. It would be much easier to live there now that I’m retired, now that the days of having-to-get-up-to-shovel-snow-so-I-can-go-to-work-and-hope-I-don’t-slide-sideways-down-the-highway don’t exist for me anymore, and I could afford to buy a house, and gas is less expensive, and there aren’t soooo many people, and I still have friends in Chicago and Illinois, and Wisconsin I could visit. There are many reasons for me to go back there.
Every time I start thinking like this I remember the snow, and the ice, and the cold, and the thunderstorms, and the mosquitoes. Do you know… of course you don’t, but I haven’t gotten more than six mosquito bites here? That’s less than one every two years. Back in the Midwest I often got a dozen in one day. I never spent a summer day not slapping myself somewhere, not to mention all the scratching.
I’m sorry brothers and sisters, as much as I would like to, I just can’t do it. The things I like and the things I miss are just not enough to overcome what I don’t miss… at least not yet. As I grow older the desire to return grows stronger. Even now, as I write this I picture the six of you sitting there saying, “Nooooooo, don’t stay in California, we miss you.”
So, I’m writing this to let you know, I miss you, too.