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Moving House: The Places I've Lived

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Like most Americans of the baby boomer generation, commentator Marion Winik has bought and sold a couple of homes in her life. Each time, the change was hard and gut-wrenching. With kids off to college, she is facing another possible move — and has this meditation on the places she has lived.


Like many baby boomers, commentator Marion Winik has bought and sold a couple of homes. Each time, the change was difficult. Now, with kids off to college, she's facing another possible move and thinking about the places she's lived.

MARION WINIK: At the first back-to-school night I attended after moving to Glen Rock, the teacher looked out at the parents wedged into the desks and asked, how many of you had me for math? Fifteen people raised their hands. I was amazed. Having emerged from my youth on the Jersey Shore with just one thought - get me out of here. I've lived in five states and one foreign country by the time I was 30.

Homeownership came upon me abruptly at that point. I was pregnant and had just moved with my husband, Tony, and our toddler to a funky rent house in Austin, Texas. We got the call. The place was up for sale. Rather than hoist myself off the couch for a stampede of realtors, I decided to buy it.

We repainted the exterior blue, tore out most of the interior walls and turned the mud room into a beauty salon for Tony so he could stay home with the kids.

I had a child in that house and watched a young husband die there.

I spent so much time in it during my years as a single mother working at home -I felt we had exchanged molecules. I was part sheet rock, it was part flesh.

Though a house and the land it rests on are neutral, disgorging residents and receiving new ones with the steely indifference for which inanimate objects are famed. The people who come and go may have endured something primal. Territory brings up the dog in us, and even as we put away our books and hang our curtains, something in us wants to break out like the pets in "Homeward Bound" and make our way back, dreaming of those old bones we buried in the yard.

Perhaps this is why I ended up feuding with both the couple to whom I sold my place in Texas and the one I bought from up here.

Meanwhile, I fingered the penciled records of five children's heights I found in my hall closet. Their parents had stopped taking my calls. My friend Jim(ph) tells a story about returning years later to look at the house he grew up in outside Philadelphia. A middle-aged woman answered his knock. I used to live here when I was a kid, he told her. Can I take a quick peek inside? Your brother was just here a few years ago, she snapped. Are you guys going to be coming around all the time? Then she slammed the door and called the cops.

Moving takes far longer than it might appear. Years after the 18-wheeler pulls out of the driveway, your home is still in transit. Your loyalty slips through the narrow waste of life's hourglass one grain at a time.

I originally came to Glen Rock because my husband's kids lived in Baltimore and his work was in Harrisburg. There we found a house on a hill big enough to blend a family in with wide-plank floors and a view of sunset from the living room. Soon we had made the place our own. But nearly a decade later, our children were leaving for college, the job situation has changed and soon there may be no practical reason to remain. It is our skeletons that lurk in the closet now, measured in outgrown coats if not in pencil, and our dog has been very busy in the yard.

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SIEGEL: Marion Winik currently lives in Glen Rock, Pennsylvania.

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