Before the Great Recession, the average American moved 11 times during his life. One in six (16 percent) changed residences every year. Over the past few years, those numbers have slowed down quite a bit, though the exact figures are not readily available. Common sense, though, would tell us moving is much less common.
Betty and I have been in our last two homes 20 years. That is atypical and very unusual for me. While growing up I moved over 20 times before leaving for college. Between graduation from Syracuse University and getting married, I added another four addresses. Within the first several years of our marriage, we relocated six times.
I decided it might be fun to recall some of the places I have called home and what I remember most about those stops on the way to my satisfying retirement. Hopefully it will trigger some memories for you, too.
I was born in the section of Philadelphia known as Upper Darby, but moved to the suburbs within a few months. When I was 5 or 6 the family moved across the Delaware River into New Jersey and the town of Haddonfield. Our first home in that town said a lot about the times. We were less than two blocks from the railroad tracks that carried high speed commuter trains from southern New Jersey into Philadelphia.
I remember quite clearly that there were no fences or safety features to keep anyone from wandering around the tracks. In fact, to get to a nearby baseball diamond, I would simply cross the two sets of tracks to get to the park. My parents knew that was our route and simply cautioned us to look both ways. Every one of our friends did exactly the same thing.
The neighborhood boys would place pennies on the tracks and wait for trains to flatten them. Occasionally someone would be hit and killed by a train, but never any of the kids from the neighborhood. Oddly, it was always an adult who should know better. Such accidents never prompted any safety measures. I’m sure it wasn’t because parents in the 50s were less caring; there was just an overall belief that kids were smart enough to stay away from real danger, and one learned directly from life experiences. Today, can you imagine letting your children or grandkids play near the railroad tracks? I certainly can’t!
Another brief stop on the Lowry moving caravan was the small city of Cambridge, Ohio. For exactly one year we lived in a huge old home, complete with a wrap-around porch, a spiraling wooden staircase to the second floor, a full attic and basement, and a backyard large enough for a kid-size baseball diamond. The house was across the street from the local YMCA, housed in a huge brick mansion where weekly Friday night teen dances were held. This was also the town where I first caught the radio bug. I visited the local station one day with my mom, and the next 40 years of my life were determined.
Even though we only lived in Cambridge for one year, I remember the friendliest group of kids I encountered anywhere. We had parties at my home at least once a month and baseball games in the backyard almost daily. I had my first girlfriend experience with a cute girl named Joanne. I was heartbroken when we packed up after 12 months and moved to Massachusetts.
For the next seven years, we lived near Boston in the suburban town of Lynnfield. Unable to completely stop what we were so good at (packing and unpacking), we lived in three different homes in Lynnfield during that seven years! But, to their credit, my parents did finally settle in the last home and lived there for almost 20 years until moving to Arizona to be near Betty and me.
Lynnfield was a typical suburban town in the 1960s. There were a handful of stores clustered around the town square, complete with a colonial meeting hall and white-spired congregational church. Kids rode bikes everywhere without fear. The whole town turned out for the Fourth of July parade, Christmas tree lightings, and Easter egg hunts. I remember exactly where I was (in gym class) when JFK was shot, and I remember walking the mile to our house in shock.
About 30 minutes from Lynnfield was the first radio station I became involved with. I managed to land a job as their janitor, mopping floors and throwing out trash twice a week. Since I was too young to drive, Mom was conned into being my chauffeur. I have no idea what she did while I performed my duties and hung around the DJ and absorbed everything. But, she never complained for the two years before I got my driving license. Finally, with that ticket to freedom, I was able to take a job as a part time DJ on weekends at age 16. The thrill I had first felt in Cambridge was finally satisfied at this little station in Beverly, Massachusetts.
There were brief stops in places as far apart as Jacksonville, Florida and Wayne, outside Philadelphia (again!). From our backyard we could see Valley Forge just 2 miles away, where George Washington and the troops wintered in 1777. I remember there were train tracks there, too — just beyond our back fence — but I was never tempted to play near them. I had lost my childish innocence and gained an adult’s fear. By then, the constant train traffic was an annoyance, not a thrill.
As an adult I moved from Syracuse, to Nashua, New Hampshire, and then to Morgantown, West Virginia, where I met and married my bride of almost 36 years. In the following years, we relocated to Cedar Rapids, Iowa (an apartment and two houses), Salt Lake City (twice), Tucson, and Phoenix/Scottsdale (three different homes).
Betty reminded me I must mention our first dwelling in Cedar Rapids. Until our home was ready, we lived for about a month in an apartment over a sports liquidator and live bait shop. With only one car at the time, I would drive to my new job while Betty stayed above the bait shop, trying to remember why she agreed to move there after just six months of marriage.
Then there was the tremendous winter in Iowa, with temperatures well below zero, 24 hours a day … certainly too cold for her to even leave the apartment to buy food. She remembers that the only thing that kept her sane was looking forward every night to the TV series, “Roots.”
For someone who has stayed within a stone’s throw of where he or she was born, this constant change of address must seem as foreign as speaking a different language. But, in my case, it helped me mature quickly, taught me to adapt quickly to new places and people, and allowed me to experience firsthand the amazing diversity of this country.
Oh, and I know my way around moving boxes and packing tape.