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The Pike Log: Random Entries About Making His Story Mine

Expats Unite!

My longest-running friend from high school and fellow Vermonter: Lindsay Cobb.
Like a first high school crush, some of us never get over the stories of Ernest Hemingway and his Parisian-based copains. While neither Vermont nor New Hampshire have cosmopolitan cities to rival Paris, they do have expatriates, none more obvious to me than the one-time New Jersey residents who voluntarily left home for the romance of living on either side of the Connecticut River. As today marks the one-year anniversary of my move from the Jersey Shore to the river valley, I wonder:

When we move anywhere, how far from what's familiar are we?

The juxtaposition, ironically, began with my first landlords. Steve and Elaine Dolch Pacholek grew up in one of the T towns of North Jersey: Tenafly, Teaneck, Teterboro. My framed copy of Bruce Springsteen’s Greetings From Asbury Park album sparked our brief conversation about 'back home' and concerts in Convention Hall during one very cold day that they came to tape plastic over the windows.

I was living in the 1979 ranch house with an oil furnace in Monroe, NH, built by her parents when they realized “the kids” weren’t coming back to Jersey. Elaine and Steve are original back-to-the-landers, having left uber crowded Bergen County to attend Lyndon State College, a school located on the country estate of AT&T’s first president Theodore Vail (about 35 miles from the Canadian border), and never looked back.

Elaine buried her parents in Monroe. After trying the suburban-one-story-with-attached garage, she and Steve put it up for sale. When I came along, they had already moved back across the river to an older two-story house with charm, surrounded by trees Steve could cut for heat and, of course, in proximity to their own grandchildren.

Five months later I, too, moved across the Connecticut to try my own edition of back-to-the-ancestral land, living in a winterized 1907 camp built when the Pikes were still farming Upper Waterford. To commemorate my homecoming, I threw a house warming party. Among the guests was my oldest friend from high school, Lindsay Cobb. Not only did we work on the newspaper, The Torch and its parody The Scorch, but I might have only the second cassette tape in existence of songs he wrote about Lucky Leo’s and Big-Eyed Maggie and the Chatterbox that sprang from his Seaside Heights-fueled imagination.

A Boston University grad, he pursued his MFA in creative writing at Goddard College in Plainfield, VT. A couple of moves around Boston’s South Shore, one to Keene, NH, then another to Brattleboro, VT, and now he’s living south of me in Bellows Falls. Most significantly, he’s writing again. Check out the quirky publication he’s attached to: The Vulture! My hope is that one day his gift at parody will resurface because as an adult he can’t be expelled from school!

Though I am haunted by my ancestors’ decisions, I’m not alone looking for connections to my past. Eleanor Leger and Beth Kanell are two Jersey Girls with roots so deep in the Yankee soil they turned their love of heritage into veritable cottage industries. Raised in Montclair, Beth is a gifted storyteller and sees herself guardian of many stories that might otherwise be lost as new history replaces old. She and her husband, Dave, operate Kingdom Books here in my new-old hometown of Waterford, on the far side of Jackman Mountain. I’ve written about her in earlier blogs, but click here for the latest about Beth’s new YA mystery Cold Midnight. It’s set in St. Johnsbury, VT and revolves around the still-unsolved murder of a Chinese laundryman. For me, that little slip of knowledge answered how my great-grandmother Mary Ellen Pratt Pike ever had business to do with a man from the Far East.

Though she’s from Princeton, NJ, Eleanor describes herself as “a recovering flatlander who traces her family back seven generations in the Northeast Kingdom,” on the ‘about’ page of Eden Ice, the company she and husband Albert Leger started in 2007. They’ve repurposed an abandoned dairy farm in West Charleston, VT, as an apple orchard, with a small-pressing operation and bonded winery.

I first met Eleanor at the annual “après fall foliage” fund raiser for the Davies Memorial Library here in Waterford, and have since bought Eden’s dessert wine as hostess gifts for Jersey friends. The fund raiser’s smorgasbord of tasting plates and sipping cups is nearly orgasmic, so of course I returned in 2012. So did Eleanor, who also does the St. Johnsbury Farmer’s Market, a fair-weather outdoor market that runs Saturdays, spring through fall. This year she had a new brew in a wine bottle with a bold black label and the name Orleans Apple Aperitif, after her home county. Delicious!

"The Jersey contingent has arrived! Let Christmas begin!"

The most difficult accomplishment to have when you move is finding a community to belong to. I’m more fortunate than most in that I have the New Hampshire family of my childhood who graciously invites me to spend the cultural holidays. But did I mention there are a lot of them? Three generations’ worth? And, every one of them proud to be Granite State natives.

For Christmas I called for reinforcement. Kate Kelly stepped up to the plate. She’s one of my memoir-writing students at the Village Book Store & Café, the indie in downtown Littleton, NH. She started writing about her Maine experiences, even though she lives in Bethlehem, NH. But her lack of accent gave away that she wasn’t from either place.

The fact is, she’s had quite an adventurous life, voluntarily living away from home, according to the expat definition. Her family hails from Fair Haven, NJ, and she wasn’t going there for Christmas any more than I was going to Eatontown. Ironically, both are boroughs in Monmouth County. I briefly covered Fair Haven for the Asbury Park Press as part of the preppy beat, a subtle dig from my boss about my Ranney School diploma.

Yep, two Jersey Girls walking through a door, with a bottle of Orleans Apple Aperitif in one hand and food in the other. As attitude goes, it's not too far from what’s familiar.

Does this mean I’m home?

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