Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Where the Heart Is

Today, twenty-two years ago, I found the home we were to live in as a family (of various sizes) to this very day. Unlike a lot of people you and I encounter on a regular basis who were apparently sentenced to live here as a punishment, I chose Norwich for me and my family to settle in and have settled for nothing ever since.

I will confess for about two weeks after I moved into our house near Chelsea Parade and waited for my wife and children to join me I was less than entirely accurate in explaining to the people in Groton with whom I worked exactly where it was I lived.

I told them I lived in Norwalk. Growing up in New Jersey, Norwalk was a city in Connecticut I had heard so I went with it-it made sense, at least to me. My co-workers' reactions were more often than not variations of the hundred yard stare when I'd tell them that and more than one would ask me how long it took me to get home.

My response, 'about twenty-two minutes,' would get me a stern talking-to, mostly "you do realize you don't live in Germany anymore" and "remember, I-95 isn't the autobahn." My reaction to the lectures led me to fear at one point that I was the only sane person on this side of the Connecticut River until I passed the 'Welcome' sign just outside of Backus Hospital at the Route 2 and 32 connector and realized I was residing in Norwich. To this day, I still haven't overcome my fear of speeding tickets.

But what I have overcome is my tendency to wait for the other shoe to drop. I had to ditch that habit as the realtor drove through Laurel Hill and past the shuttered Thermos Factory. As a school kid, I had a lunch box and a Thermos and look at me now-at the nest. My Thermos always amazed me.

It kept hot things hot and cold things cold and I always wondered how could it possibly know which was which. About a decade and a half later, the 'abandoned' factory became the home of one of the first new educational initiatives in Connecticut in a generation, the Integrated Day Charter School, and it's still going and growing strong.

When we got to the foot of the (old) Laurel Hill Bridge, I came face to face with the fate of many New England Mill towns. I could see the buildings of a bygone and more prosperous era, almost perfectly preserved but empty sidewalks and vacant storefronts.

There seemed to be a buzz behind us on what I was told was the "Harbor" as we headed up Washington Street and later as I walked around I could see why. Between the beautiful vistas and all manner of pleasure fishermen, and lots of out of state plates, even if I knew nothing about economic development, I could see potential at every turn.

Our soon-to-be house, as I said, was across Chelsea Parade on a side street just seconds from Washington Street and a three minute walk from what I thought was a college campus but actually was our children's high school, Norwich Free Academy.

As we moved in an settled down, we found the grocery stores, the schools and the library, the best place to get ice cream in the summer (now gone but not forgotten) and all kinds of people from the neighborhoods, large and small who lived in the villages that comprise Norwich. There's something a little bit tribal about how we interact and work together, fitfully sometimes and often more successfully than we first hoped when we started.

These days when people ask me where I live, I tell them "home" and know exactly what I mean and where I am.
-bill kenny

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