We now live in a transient society. People can drive here and there, move on a dare, and what took months of travel by horse and buggy in the 1800s, can now be done by flying across the country on a whim for dinner.
Times have changed since the founding of the country. As they should have.
I started having wishes to leave the backwoods of Pennsylvania for the sunny shores of California when I was about three years old. That was about the age when my Grams started telling me about her one and only visit to San Francisco to bail my Uncle Bill out of San Quentin. His story is for a later date, but Grams romanticized San Francisco in much the same way as my Granpap Bures romanticized Prague. Which made me want to go to both places even more.
It wasn’t until after art school that I actually left and traveled across the country for the first time, on a Greyhound bus, with ten dollars in my pocket and a rucksack with a couple of changes of clothes, my photography portfolio, cameras, and a tripod. A heavy tripod. I don’t know why I dragged that thing with me on that first trip – I can count on one hand how many times I’ve used it in the last thirty years.
At the time I thought I was just traveling, that I would go to live in California until something better came along. The only thing better (I thought) that came along was Paris, but she has always been outside my realm of affordability, so I still call California home. Over the years, I have come to realize that I did not just travel, and stay, and hang out in California. I migrated.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. Grandma K. always gave me grief over my leaving Butler, Pennsylvania and the big vast circle of our extended family. She and I finally verbally duked it out on this subject during my last visit to see her, and I think she finally understood why I left all of those years ago.
If a kid is observant while they are growing up, they see things. They see the intricacies of their family dynamics and how everyone relates to each other, they see how other people outside the family relate to each other, and then they see a world of endless possibilities. I did see all three of these things, but it was the world of endless possibilities that that was my golden ring. As soon as I was old enough, I grabbed that ring and swung from it.
On some level, albeit subconscious, I knew that if I was going to be the person I was meant to be, I had to leave. I had to give myself the opportunity to develop my own self.
It wasn’t that I wanted to leave my family by walking out the door and not looking back. That wasn’t my intention. It wasn’t that I was even planning on a permanent move. That wasn’t my intention either. Yes, there were details of life that were difficult when I was growing up. Yes, I did deal with the stress of it all by doing exactly what my Dad did – a lot of drugs and drinking. But that stopped for the most part once I left town – on some level I knew that if I was going to survive in this life, and grow into being my own person, with my own thoughts and likes and dislikes and opinions, if I was going to grow into a healthy person, if I was going to find my own spirituality rather than being fed one, I had to leave.
For some reason, living in Butler, Pennsylvania has a way of making one want to escape. Some people manifest this by escaping through drugs and alcohol. A lot of us just moved away. I don’t know why this is. I had a great childhood and growing up there was just fine, you know, except for all the crap.But crap happens everywhere, not just in WestPA.
I think about my ancestors that have immigrated before me. A few had the opportunity to go back and forth to Europe, so they weren’t completely cut off. But many of my ancestors did leave their homes and relatives and friends and they didn’t look back except to reminisce. They went looking for a better life. Not because they wanted to leave or abandon their families and friends, but because the places where they were born and lived and grew up in were not working for them.