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Village life: If I had only moved to …

Oh, no, it's happened again. I went someplace glamorous and began to imagine a whole new life.

What if I had moved to Seattle when I was 31 and belatedly launched my grown-up life there, instead of Flint?

What if I had cooked up some Pacific Northwest version of my bouillabaisse career and fallen in love with Starbucks, rainy days and a dot.com billionaire?

Instead, of course, I homesteaded in an Avon Street walkup, hooked up my restless aspirations to a first husband I met in a downtown Flint bar, cultivated a band of quirky characters, made my way through a series of jobs and complained day after day about a town that's mostly still ashamed of itself.

I should be used to this by now.

Lord knows, it has happened so many times before — like when I went to Tuscany, where everything smelled like lavender and I loved drinking wine in piazzas. It happened when I went to Boston, where the winding old streets touched me. It happened when I went to Quebec City and Albuquerque and Reno and even the resuscitated Cleveland, the city of my conception. It happened when I went to Washington, D.C., where everybody in the Mayflower Hotel looked intelligent. It happens when I go to Chicago, my city soul mate, or Traverse City or Grand Marais.

It happens when I go to Los Angeles, actually my mid-life second home. But LA is a city to which I have so far been unable to commit. It's like this. LA and I hook up from time to time but neither one of us are talking marriage — yet.

(Yes, you may remind me — I actually DID marry Ted in LA, on a windy cliff. The joke was, in case either of us changed our mind we could end it all right then and there. But though neither of us jumped, we kept our house in Flint.)

Most of us veteran Flintoids, especially those of us who came from somewhere else and thus can only regard our lives here as a matter of "choice," go through phases of exasperation and regret.

We all have our Flint sweet spots, griefs and vindications. We make them, we find them and we cherish them with recurring dollops of hope.

For me, one was walking into the stylish and wonderful Flint Crepe Company recently on a Saturday night and actually finding it open — with customers. For a moment I thought I was in Ann Arbor or Redondo Beach or some such place that takes naturally to easy elegance.

But sometimes, it feels like we're on what the behaviorists refer to as a "thin reinforcement schedule." We go along just fine, we commit ourselves to the place and do our part to make it better. But then, we happen to drop in on another place and it hits us — what have we've been missing?

So it goes. Such is life. There's a measure of adolescent wishfulness in second-guessing. Or maybe it's a condition of people of a certain age, when we realize our time on earth is running short. It's hard to resist the mental masochism of imagining another life.

At moments like this, I consider a family story. At 80, my Grandmother Worth, she with a white braid down to her sturdy coccyx and the piety of the Nazarenes in her DNA, picked up stakes in Indiana, her lifelong home, and moved to L.A.

Even after all these years, it shocks me. How could she have done that? In this season of resurrections, revisions and refurbishment, I find myself wondering how many "second acts" a person can reasonably expect. Still she went for it. What gumption! I wish I knew what hunger drove her. I was too young back then to ask or know.

I have a single photo of her from that era.

She's standing in a lacy old-lady dress and sensible shoes, squinting into the sun outside her little house trailer. She planted flowers all around it and lived for another 10 years. I don't know if she really liked it. She wrote to my father soon after that she felt as if her prayers "weren't getting through."

That poignant confession worried my dad greatly. The next summer he took a bus out to see her, stopping at glamorous tourist spots all along the way. When he got there she was okay and they went to Knott's Berry Farm and he put his toes in the ocean up the coast near Pismo Beach.

And he was restless, too, and came home imagining a new life in the West.

But he already had a life, a good one, in Ohio, and that's where he stayed. That's the way it is for most of us. We settle into the lives we've made.

When my grandmother died, her body made the long trip back to the deep soil she knew in Indiana. She had told my father it was what she wanted.

The night I got back from Seattle, I admired my living room rug and made myself a cup of mint tea, letting it steep on the coffee table while my cats purred in my lap.

There was nothing more I had to do except go upstairs to my familiar bed, the late night trains crossing Court Street offering their lonely lullabies.

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Columnist and poet Jan Worth-Nelson has lived within walking distance of East Village Magazine since 1981. Her 2006 Peace Corps novel, Night Blind, is widely available. You can find her essays, fiction and poetry on her web site, www.janworth.com and her blog, http://nightblindblog.blogspot.com/index.htm. She is the director of the Thompson Center for Learning and Teaching and teaches writing at UM-Flint.

 


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