"Would you ever want to retire to South Carolina?"
"What? No! Of course not."
"Why not? We could get away from the winter... winter down there, summer up here."
"Why would I want to get away from the winter? Besides, I don't want to move. Ever. This is home."
We left it at that. My wife thought I was crazy.
Saturday I was driving one of my favorite stretches of road. Route 146 winds through wooded hills. The leaves are just starting to turn. Every now and then you catch a glimpse of cows on a hillside, a peek at a farm, a spire in the distance. The sun was low and yellow. I had to pay attention to the road and make sure I took my exit. It was one of those days where I could have just kept driving.
It's happened before. I've driven a hundred miles out of my way, looking at the scenery, driving down the road on an early autumn day. Watching the birds and the play of light on leaf. With the radio on and the windows down, I forget I am going somewhere. A green exit sign catches my eye. I realize I missed my exit 50 miles ago. There's nothing for it but to turn around. I'm late and I don't care. The road back is just as beautiful. It's happened to me before.
More than once.
My son brought home a worksheet for history class. He needed to find out when his family came to America. He asked his mother first. She is half Sicilian, half French-Canadian. All four of her grandparents were immigrants and she knew them all. She answered his questions easily. Then he came to me.
"Dad, when did your family come to America?"
"I don't know."
"What do you mean you don't know?"
"I don't know. It was a long time ago. I don't think anyone knows. Do you want me to ask your grandfather? He knows more than I do."
He did. I called my father. No one home.
"Well, Grampa's not home. But I'll tell you this, I've seen colonial-era graves of some of the family. Why don't you just put 1750." He misheard me and wrote 1715. I looked at his paper.
"It's close enough. Don't bother to change it. I'll ask your grandfather another time."
"Did any of our relatives fight in the Civil War?"
"Yes." I told him what I knew.
"Did any of our relatives fight in the Revolution?"
"Probably. I'll be very surprised if they didn't. But you'll have to ask your grandfather. He's the one who would know."
He asked his grandfather on Sunday. In 1685, we were already here, fishing off Cape Ann. No one knows when those ancestors arrived. Sometime before that. He showed us handwritten notes on fishing vessels lost at sea, land transfers, marriages, deaths. He showed us military records on Col. Jabez Merchant from the Revolution, and Sgt. Thomas Donahoe from the Civil and Indian Wars.
And I could see in my son's eyes that he was finding his sense of place.
I live 72 miles from Gloucester, where my family first lived, in what was then the Massachusetts Bay Colony. My parents live closer. Some of the family has never moved. The drive is under two hours. They think I live far away.
He told his mother that night all the things he had learned. She gave me a funny look. And it seemed like she was beginning to understand why I won't retire to South Carolina. And why I don't complain about the winter. And why I get lost on the highway on beautiful autumn days. This is home. I want to live here and die here, just like all the others. This is where I belong.
This will always be my place.