Most Americans have roots elsewhere. The people that led to us lived in faraway places, either hundreds of years ago, or for some, maybe only weeks ago. We are adventurers by nature, seekers of the new. Our blood is tinged with the melancholy of the generations before us, the troubles that brought them here, but also with the hope that better things were ahead for them, and for us.
Many, many Americans have stories like these: My Irish great-grandparents passed through Ellis Island in the 1890s. They were born in County Cork, married there, but bore all seven of their children on American soil. My grandmother, born in 1914, was their youngest child. She met and married my grandfather in Wisconsin in the 1930s. They had three daughters, my mother the youngest. In 1949, they moved to Evanston, Illinois from a small farming town in Wisconsin. My grandfather’s family had a farm there, where his mother, father, brother, sister-in-law, nieces and nephews lived and worked. Their family, of Scottish descent, had lived there for generations. But my grandfather did not want to be a farmer. He took his family and moved, symbolically, as far away as one can get from that lifestyle. He worked in downtown Chicago, as the vice-president of a gas company. As a very small child, my mother recalls playing at her friend’s penthouse apartment in the early 1950s. There was a sunken living room, and all the walls were windows, where she pressed her nose against the glass and watched the dizzying city lights that seemed hundreds of stories below.
My grandparents’ intersecting lives were both touched by the decision to move and explore other options. My grandmother grew up very, very far away from her parents’ homeland in a quick generation. My grandfather exemplified the American dream. He didn’t live in Europe, so he didn’t have to be a farmer just because his parents were. In America, you really can be anything you want.
Today, we are all born into stories like these, families who made their way because of brave choices. But these are different times. Possibilities are even more endless for most of us, leaving us with a feeling of discontent and an unnamed restlessness. Our nomad blood surfaces in us if the gene is turned on. When we have this desire, stasis makes us nervous. Change is how we mark the passage of time. For me? I have always had constant desire to travel, to move, to experience new things. It’s the same drive of past generations, but maybe for more contrived reasons.
Yet, even when you feel like a modern nomad, sometimes there comes a point when you just know it’s okay to stay somewhere. Peter and I have both moved around a fair amount during our adult lives, and we are quite sure that the next move, to Seattle, will be the last one for awhile. Getting settled into a city I love with someone I love definitely sounds like a better plan than continuing to be a nomad, especially now that I’m in my thirties. I like to think that each of our moves, and the life changes that led to those moves, were necessary to bring us to this unique nexus of time and place. We know we’re ready to make a real home. And of course, that doesn’t mean we give up exploring. If anything, having a solid home base will lend itself even more to continuing travels and adventures.