I fear it will always only be a place to visit, at least for now, as we make the plans (sort of?) to go to Alaska, and I dream about visiting friends in Washington and Oregon. And of course, we cannot forget California. One of the hardest things I ever did, was to leave New Jersey for California, but it wasn’t as hard as NOT leaving New Jersey for California had been. And another hard thing I’ve done, is to leave California before I was ready – and before I was able to fall comfortably into the rhythm there. It wasn’t the city of San Francisco itself, but it was wine country. The stuff of all my dreams. Enchantment.
When we were kids, my maternal grandparents were snowbirds. When they got older, they were pretty much locked in the Fort Lauderdale area, but my parents and siblings and I remember our New England summers well. They weren’t as flashy as our annual Myrtle Beach, SC or Ocean City, MD vacations. Those were filled with hot beaches and amusement parks and junk food galore. Our just-as-annual but not-as-riveting New England summer vacations were more subtle, in ways I didn’t fully appreciate until I got older. The houses changed over the years. Sometimes they’d get the same one in Grantham, NH a few years in a row. Once or twice the house was in Vermont, surrounded by golf courses and moose. Often, the house was in New Hampshire amid quiet highways and what I used to think were very tall mountains, until I moved to the west coast.
Creaky hardwood floors. Breezy summer nights with the windows open. A breakfast bar to gather around. The constant smell of pine. A loft area we loved to stand up on and yell down to the first floor from. Sometimes we even threw things down.
I always knew we were close when driving through the tall trees, we could see windows of light from the houses deeply nestled in the woods. I always knew we were close because the radio would go down and all we’d hear was the sound of tires on a gravel driveway. Then we had arrived, truly. What would follow were long days of book reading or going to the lake, or for the more adventurous of us, we’d go all the way into town to the one restaurant – a pizzeria, and the one place of entertainment – a lonely arcade. Sometimes we’d drive an hour on the suspiciously empty highways to go to a children’s museum that was somewhere..in the middle of nowhere. I honestly don’t know where we were. I love the air of mystery.
On a somewhat related note, during the summer after my father died we did make our trip up to New England. Instead of five siblings, this was back when it was just me, my sister and my mom. This was a year or two before the Brady Bunch marriage. We stopped somewhere in nowhere, Massachusetts at a diner. I really wanted a waffle but they only had pancakes. I was a grieving but adorable four-year-old and the waiter actually somehow made me a waffle. I don’t know what he used. I think he put pancake batter in the grilled cheese maker. He was quite proud of himself as he should have been. Years later, no decades, we would still bring up that memory sometimes. After I moved from Jersey to California to Massachusetts, my mom, uncle and I pieced together where that diner was. In Florence, Massachusetts. Florence is part of Northampton. I live in Florence now. We went to that same diner, years later, when I was pregnant with Scarlet and sat in the same booth.
I don’t know the towns and cities we stayed in or trampled upon in New Hampshire and Vermont all those summers ago. However I’m sure somehow I have retraced some of those steps in my adult life. I’m sure I’ve been drawn to them like mosquitoes to the light. Somehow I always find myself back in meaningful places, without having any conscious way of knowing how to get back there. I do remember that every year my grandfather would take us to Dartmouth to browse the bookstore. It was mainly my thing so sometimes he would take just me and we’d eat at a Dartmouth dining hall.
We were restless and easily bored kids, I think. I don’t think that’s unusual. The pace of life in a remote New England town was something I had to grow into. These weren’t your beach New England vacations with clam chowder or lobster in a pot.
Not so long ago, Scarlet went out with her Grandma while I stayed home with Des. She was brought back to us near her bedtime, when darkness had fallen. We heard the telltale sound of tires on a gravel driveway. I looked out the window to the tall, tall trees. I heard footsteps on the wooden-planked ramp to our front door. And then she was returned to us, sleepy putty in our arms. I was overcome with memories of being that slumped over, half-asleep child being handed from the car to the bed under the watchful New England sky. The same sights and sounds. The same smell. Just 20-30 years later in a different state but with the same geography and atmosphere. I closed my eyes and barely could tell that time had passed.
It’s funny how we find ourselves back to the places we once found ourselves in but never imagined we’d settle. Maybe my summers in New England planted the seed in my brain that this was where I wanted to be. Maybe I would have found myself here anyway. It didn’t seem likely in the fast-paced and populated Jersey life I was so accustomed to. It didn’t even seem likely when I was about to move to California and I was pretty sure I’d embrace that lifestyle forever. (I still might)
Yet, here I am in a house in the trees. With a gravel driveway and no visible neighbors. Grown up and grown in here, finally.
That is my family’s history. It spans generations. In 1883, German immigrant, C.H. Wente, immigrated to America with the dream of creating a better life. He studied winemaking under Charles Krug in Napa Valley, and then moved to Livermore with his wife to pursue his new career. It’s now five generations later, and Wente is still the oldest continuously-operated, family-owned winery in the country. They are proud to be recognized as “California’s First Family of Chardonnay.”