Monday, January 25, 2010

Half New Yorker, half New Jerseyan, 100% Nutmegger

I'm a member of the New England Bloggers, and this week, they're celebrating their first anniversary. Elizabeth, our founder, has asked us to write posts that have something to do with New England.

Well, this is rawther tough for me...for I really don't identify myself as a New Englander. You see, while I grew up here in Connecticut, I wasn't born here. I spent the first four years of my life in South Salem, New York.

My family lived in a house atop a huge hill, with several hairpin turns. It was a LOT of fun to shovel in the days before snowblowers. Did I mention that the driveway was also 800 feet long?

We lived by a lake. During the summers all of the neighbors would gather round and go swimming, followed by barbecues at each others' houses. During the winters all the neighbors would gather round and go skating, followed by hot chocolates at each others' houses.

We moved March 3, 1980. My fourth birthday. My mother cried all the way to Connecticut. My father worked for Aetna, and his job got transferred to the company headquarters in Hartford.

My mother, when we moved, had never lived in any other state. She had never lived twenty minutes away from her family. My father had never lived an hour away from his. So the move was tough for both of them for that reason.

Add to this the fact that they both grew up in the New York metropolitan area. My mother lived in a small town called Millwood. She is still in touch with her best friends from elementary school. It was the kind of town where you could walk wherever you wanted to, leave your doors unlocked all the time, and not have to worry about your kids' whereabouts. Yet it was close enough to New York City that there was a lot of diversity, cultural opportunities, and public transportation.

My father grew up in Linden, New Jersey, just outside of Newark. He lived with my grandparents and my uncle in the bottom apartment of a two-family house. My grandfather owned the house and rented out the VERY small one-bedroom apartment on the top floor. The bottom floor was a two-bedroom apartment--that is, if you could consider my dad and uncle's room to be a bedroom. They slept on a fold-out couch and shared a closet.

I mention my parents' background because, when we first moved to Connecticut, the culture shock they experienced was enormous. My father, about a month after we moved here, suggested to one of our neighbors that they go to a local high school football game. My neighbor laughed; our town did not have a high school football team. They ordered a pizza, opened the box, and were shocked to see that the slices weren't cut into triangles. They still complain about the dearth of good slices in the Nutmeg State (although we have managed to find much better pizza; you just have to look very carefully).

But my point is this: When you take two people who are used to growing up in urban areas, and transplant them into a tiny, quiet, rural Connecticut town, cultural differences WILL ensue. And people WILL notice.

I have very vague memories of South Salem; my sister, however, does not. She was nine months old when she moved. I was pretty much raised with New York sensibilities. I grew up rooting for the Mets when everyone else cheered for the Red Sox. I knew what it was like to have the Italian relatives who cooked endless mountains of pasta for you. My friends couldn't understand why people would have plastic slipcovers on their couches, as my grandmother did.

So basically, what I'm trying to say is this: I've never really identified myself as a pure New Englander. Growing up, especially during my high school and college years, I focused on all of the negative things about Connecticut--Hartford, especially. If some colleges are considered to be "suitcase schools" because the majority of their on-campus residents go home for the weekend, then Hartford is a "suitcase city." My sister and I went to see a Theaterworks production one Sunday afternoon, and I felt LESS safe walking through an empty Hartford downtown than we did during the busy, bustling downtown of the work week.

As a kid I grew up in a neighborhood full of people my age, and for some reason, my house was always the focal gathering point. We spent a lot of time outside. We made up our own games. We chased each other often. We all walked to school together. But these are more innocent childhood memories than they are strictly New England ones.

I now live in a mid-sized Connecticut city. I really enjoy living where I do right now. There are lots of good places to eat, Wesleyan University's nearby, and New Haven's not that far away, so I can hop on the Metro North and go to the city whenever I want.

As I have gotten older, I've found new things to appreciate about our fair state, and my hometown in particular. But even though I tell people that I'm from Connecticut, I don't consider myself a New Englander. Probably because I don't know what really constitutes one.

P.S. Even though I've lived here 30 years now, I've only been to Boston three times. One time per decade. And as much as I enjoy it, I still prefer New York.


Diane said...

What a interesting post (loved it), and I'm a big cat fan as well. Adding you to my blog feed!

Here is my New England Blogger link:

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I lived in a big city for almost the first thirty years of my life, so moving to a small one in rural Eastern NC was a bit of a shock!

Jenners said...

You know, I wouldn't think it would be that big of a difference going from NY to CT ... but I would be wrong I guess. Weird about the pizza!

Alyson (New England Living) said...

My husband and I moved our family to Connecticut 4 years ago from California. So, you can imagine the culture shock we experienced! :) New England is almost like a different country from the west. So fascinating. I love it! Though I'm hoping to move up to Boston in the next couple of years. It's my favorite city!

By the way I saw your comment on Elizabeth's blog. I actually live in a neighboring town to where you grew up. :)

Momma Hunt said...

I grew up in CT too, more of the rural Northern part and moved away to college. When I came home I just could never seem to settle back into that super small town life. We currently live in a suburb of Hartford and love the fact tha we are five mintues from everything, have a moderately diverse neighborhood, and yet still have a yard for our son to play in.

Also, I have always preferred the term Connecticutter :-) to Nutmeger!