Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Routine, tradition and the Mayberry Experience

Sometime earlier this month − we're not sure of the exact date − my mom celebrated 50 years of living in the same house. That's a long time. Long enough, in fact, that she's on her 10th U.S. president since she and her family carted all of their stuff through the front door for what would turn out to be a multi-decade stay.

This is not, you understand, at all uncommon in Wickliffe, Ohio, the city where I grew up and where I still live. People move here and they stay here. It's a nice community. Different than it used to be in many ways, but still a very nice community.

Quite often you read obituaries of people who have passed away at 80 or 90 years of age and are characterized as "a lifelong resident of Wickliffe." More often than not, these people have a vowel at the end of their last name denoting Italian or Eastern European ancestry. Mine is one of the few WASP families allowed to live here. (I kid, I kid!)

Not that everyone stays in Wickliffe, of course, but real estate agents will tell you they're always stunned by the number of people who move away from our town in their 20s and decide to move back in their 30s or 40s. And even if they don't actually live here, they still hang out with childhood friends in what used to be called The Geranium City. I have no idea why they called it that, since I never noticed an overabundance of geraniums. But I guess you have to be known for something.

Speaking of which, we do have a few somethings for which to be known. One is that Wickliffe is the hometown of Jayne Kennedy, a former host of CBS' "NFL Today" program, Miss Ohio winner in 1970, and a Miss USA semifinalist that same year. We also lay claim to Terry Mulroy, a writer and producer on such TV shows as "The Drew Carey Show" and "According to Jim."

But for the most part, we're a pretty standard, blue-collar, Northeast Ohio community. We have about as many bars as churches, and eight more parks than grocery stores (eight parks, zero grocery stores). Good people live here.

I often wonder whether it has been a good idea for me to spend my whole life in the same city. There's a lot to be said for the sense of love and loyalty I feel for good old Wickburg, but there's also the very real possibility that my perspective is unnecessarily limited by living 43 years in the same four square miles.

I have traveled, of course. Used to do it quite a bit when I worked for a public relations agency. I've set foot in six other countries and have visited something like 35 of the 50 states. So it's not like I never stray from the 44092.

But I am unavoidably colored by living in and among so many people I've known since the Nixon Administration. We have our own language. We all talk about the same things. We had the same teachers. That's both good and bad...and I can't decide whether there's more good or more bad to it.

Still, I'm comfortable here. It's familiar and safe. And that desire for familiarity and safety extends to the way I spend my days. Whether at work or at home, I tend to follow set routines, which I think make me feel more in control.

Doctors say you should vary your experiences and change up your habits in order to keep your mind sharp. If that's true, then my mind is mush.

But would I be any smarter, any more insightful, or at all a better person if I had moved to, say, Chicago? Or Phoenix? Or Beijing? Maybe. I don't know. All I know is, I like it here. And there's no prospect of us leaving any time before Jack graduates from high school in 2024.

That's the year I'll turn 55. By then I'll be so set in my ways, you won't be able to get me to move three houses down the street, let alone to another town.

But by gosh, my neighbors and I will still be talking about life with Mrs. Lucci as our teacher in first grade...

(By the way, gotta give a shout out to an old friend − yes, a Wickliffe native − for inspiring the topic of today's post. You really need to check out her excellent blog, The Forgetful Genius. Trust me, it's worth your time.)

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