The boxes are packed and staged for the movers.
A decade ago, Leah and I settled on Manheim, Pennsylvania after we married. It was a decent halfway point between her teaching gig in Lebanon County, and my job in Lancaster.
Manheim is an old-fashioned, Friday night lights, blue collar Brigadoon, kind of town. It’s charming. It doesn’t know what it wants to be. There’s a group dedicated to main street improvements, but they’ll never accomplish much. It’s never going to be a “destination.” It’s going to be a place where you rent or where you buy because it’s close to something and has decent infrastructure. It’s not the kind of place where people would go on purpose. It is, and it always has been the kind of place you would visit or live because it is adequate.
People that believe otherwise are cute with their denial.
But outside of the City of Lancaster and Lititz, this is true of Lancaster County in general. People visit this county to see the Amish, but they do it on the eastern end of the county, where the tourist traps are. Towns like Bird-in-Hand and Strasburg will hold their interest. The rest of Lancaster, to anyone outside of the area, is bucolic Amishland. They’re not wrong.
I grew up in Lancaster proper, an urban island with urban problems in a diminishing sea of farmland. I think it may be one of the few cities where a hot, humid day brings in the smell of pigshit manure. I’ve watched as the suburbs began to meet many of the the rural communities and turned them into suburbs, like a Midas touch of progress. It’s an area being loved to death, especially by retirees from New York, Philadelphia, and New Jersey who come here to die in the growing collection of “retirement communities.” My wife and her family sort of represent that, people that implausibly think vacationing here is a great idea.
I never intended to move back, once I got away. I enlisted in the Army at 18, and even after that, managed to live in Texas, California, and New York, before I decided to be closer to my estranged oldest child. Leah and I intended to move away, too, after getting married, to New England, but we were forced to abandon that dream in favor of a custody battle.
Leah’s taking a job as the director of childhood education for a Maine synagogue. This is perhaps the best reason we’re moving. I’ve watched her for the past decade…her hands twitch every time someone else has managed a religious school. She’s been a teacher, but she’s always been capable of so much more. The reality is, we were never cut out for Reform education, which is more about “feeling Jewish” than cultivating Jewish domain knowledge. She’s done all the hard work, and even managed to struggle through bad leadership to produce good outcomes. Watching her be ignored in favor of people with limited or no Jewish education background was deeply discouraging to me, even as much as I loved the community.
Relocation is always hardest on kids, but Amelia’s ready. Most of her friends that she hangs out with already go to different schools. She has a few close friends, but she has a unique intelligence and energy that is unmatched in an area where academic and creative excellence are not as celebrated as athletics.
Nezzie just things the forest of boxes in our living room is fun to explore. She’s determined to undo all of our work, because she’s a toddler and that’s what toddlers do. I think aside from 10 hours in the car on Sunday, changing up the setting for her is going to be just fine.
For me, I’m still working for the same company, which I love, and I will drive back for the foreseeable future to fulfill my National Guard obligation. Lancaster was never close enough to wilderness. It always reminded me of a town of hobbits – a provincial and lovely area filled with navel gazers, unbothered by the troubles outside. For all its conservative values, there are very few veterans as compared to other areas. I’ve always felt like I’m stifled and choking living here. My family is all here, for the most part, so we’ll be back to visit, but as has always been true of me, I’m happiest when I’m someplace else. This area has always been stifling to me. I will miss people, but not this place.
The boxes are packed and staged for the movers, but a move is just as much defined by what you leave behind.