On a beautiful sunny day in May 2006, my husband and I loaded a U-Haul truck with extra furniture from our Vermont house, most of my clothes and files, and some crockery, cutlery and cooking items and set off for Pennsylvania. We were taking a leap of faith. A decade later, our hearts are filled with gratitude for having been led here, a place where we’ve never been happier.
The path that brought us to Lancaster was bumpy and sometimes obscured, but we stayed on it despite worries and doubts. It started when, at the end of our children’s high school years, we realized we wanted to live closer to my family in Maryland. My father was elderly and beset by health problems, and I regularly traveled south to help my sister deal with him.
For the 16 years we’d lived in Vermont, in fact, my husband and I had annually carted our family down to visit him and my sister’s family. While we loved Vermont’s beauty, and our children had thrived there, all of us–kids included–loved the mid-Atlantic region, too. Our children, in particular, were attracted to the career, shopping and arts opportunities in the area compared to those in the sleepy Green Mountain State. Oh, and the milder weather, as well.
But securing employment more than 400 miles from home is tricky business when you’re a certain age. My husband had done several interviews hither and yon over the years preceding our move. None of those opportunities panned out. Now, looking in the rearview mirror, we’re relieved they didn’t. The locations weren’t great in some cases, and the jobs were sketchy in others.
On each of our visits south during the years we’d set our sites on moving, we gathered information about where we wouldn’t mind living. Baltimore City/County was high on my list. I was born and raised there, and it always called out to me. So, our preferences roster included Charm City and its environs but also a couple more northeastern Maryland counties — Cecil and Harford — and some areas in Pennsylvania — the I-83 corridor north of Maryland, Gettysburg (I’d been a finalist for a college job there) and…Lancaster, a little city we’d been through twice as two of our kids had considered Franklin & Marshall College.
Lancaster ended up in the lead when an arts organization responded to a query I’d sent out about job possibilities. One late winter/early spring day, we traveled to Maryland, visited my family, drove up the road to Lancaster over the Conowingo Dam above the Susquehanna River, and I thought: I can do this.
In other words, I could make that drive to visit my dad. This was no small thing. After living away from bustling traffic for so long, I’d gotten out of the habit of driving on highways and on busy roads. And I’ve never liked big bridges.
The interview went well. But here’s when we really started feeling led. While I was doing the interview, my husband wandered into an economic development office in the city. That’s his career field. The executive director happened to be in, spoke with my husband, and gave him three job leads. Three good job leads. Just from dropping in, unexpected, at an office.
Soon, he had applications into each organization, and soon after that we were planning a return trip to Lancaster for his interviews and to search out rental properties…because I got a job offer from the arts organization.
That weekend visit was a conflicted one for me. You see, I still longed to be back “home” in Baltimore. And now that a move to Lancaster was becoming more real, I had to come to grips with the fact that I might still be an hour away from the area where I really wanted to live. It felt like a compromise, one I was willing to make, but nonetheless a disappointment. Yet I kept feeling led, as if we had to do this. While my husband was at his interviews, I walked to a nearby grocery store and bought a pastry. (That grocery store–it is now the one I shop at regularly.)
We left Lancaster after that weekend, and we made a plan. We’d declutter the Vermont house by moving some necessary furniture to the town home rental we’d secured. We’d contact a real estate agent in Vermont to talk about putting our house up for sale, telling her we were “downsizing.” We didn’t want to reveal yet we were moving because my husband wasn’t giving notice at his job — he’d not yet heard news from the organizations he’d applied to.
We were, in short, moving to Lancaster knowing that my salary wouldn’t ultimately be enough to support us, that if my husband’s employer found out we were intent on leaving, it could create issues for him, that if he didn’t land the jobs in Lancaster, he’d have to start looking for other employment fast or we’d face long separations, not to mention financial challenges, as we supported two households.
And yet, we felt, in the midst of our anxiety, as if we had to do this.
On our way to the Lancaster town house that first weekend in May, we stopped at Penn State to pick up our middle son who was finishing his sophomore year. We felt like the Joads traveling on from there, crammed into the cab of the truck, his college stuff now in the back with the furniture. It took two tries for us to cross the Susquehanna from this vantage point — we kept missing the correct turn. Was that a sign?
The next day, a Saturday, sunshine drenched the area. My sister and her husband drove up, dropping off a kitchen table and my father’s old Buick, which would become my car. My sister also brought lunch for us, and it was a sweet and happy meal, knowing we were now so close to each other. It began to feel like home. Family was nearby.
I started work that Monday, the same day my husband had been called back for a second interview at the best prospect he’d applied for of the three.
Quick conclusion: He got the job, we sold our house in Vermont, we found a house to buy in Lancaster and moved in that October.
And then, over the years, we found a church we joined, we made friends, we held family gatherings with relatives near (mine) and far (my husband’s family from Connecticut and Ohio). We bid farewell to children moving on (oldest to Hong Kong and then to London, daughter to DC, middle son to various air force bases).
Other events occurred: the death of my father early in our time here, weddings, birth of grandchildren, health issues for both my husband and me. And that first job that lured me here? It turned out the arts organization wasn’t faring well, and after I left its employ a year and a half after landing in Lancaster, it closed its doors within a short time.
Ten years on, we still sit on our patio in the morning having coffee or in the evening with a drink, and we say or think how happy we are, how glad we never let the reasonable anxieties we faced as we made this move overcome us. Because each step of the way, we felt led here. Led by, at first, nothing more than a job for me that turned out to be unstable!
The lessons we learned from this move:
Make plans, but be open to other plans: I’d planned to move to Baltimore eventually. Now it’s hard to imagine moving there after being so happy here.
Listen to the still, small voice: If we’d shared our plan to move based on my job offer alone, friends might have counseled us against it or told us we were crazy. But even in our darkest worry sessions, we looked at each other and said, we’ll just move back within a year if it doesn’t work out. We trusted that the push and pull toward Lancaster was something we needed to follow, regardless of the fact that risk was involved, that not every element was in place. That leads to…
You don’t always have to wait for every element of a plan to be in place to start moving forward: It wouldn’t have been unreasonable to ask my employer to delay my start date until my husband had done his second interview with his current employer. It wouldn’t have been unreasonable to say to each other, we shouldn’t move until we both have jobs, or until the majority breadwinner in our household (my husband) secured employment first. But we didn’t do those reasonable things because we felt we had to work the plan that was falling into place, not the one we might have charted out (see the first point). We had to trust.
If you feel you are being led somewhere, follow: This is a tricky thing to discern, though, isn’t it? When are we being led…and when are we being willful? When you want something a great deal, it’s easy to justify taking unnecessary chances to get it. And we both certainly wanted to move — I maybe more so than my husband. Nonetheless, my ultimate dream destination was different from the one we were headed to. I could have said no at some point, let’s wait until we get something in Baltimore. Instead, we took the leap of faith that landed us here in beautiful Lancaster.
I’ve sung Lancaster’s praises before, but let me tell you a few things we love about this area. The weather is seasonal but not harsh. The growing season is long — our garden is a wonderland from late March through November. There is a vibrant arts community in the area with many opportunities to hear and see plays, symphonies, chamber music, artistic displays and more. The closeness to farmland means an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables. A variety of restaurants, from sports bars to fine dining, are available for date nights. The economy is brighter than in Vermont, and we also like living in a community with many churchgoers. We’ve become Penn State football fans, as well. The rail spur line means we can hop on a train to Philadelphia and hook up on to the Northeast corridor within an hour. And the Delaware coastline is a mere three hours away, a regular vacation spot now for ourselves and family.
Lancaster has given us peace. So often in life, it’s easy to become seduced by a “grass is always greener” mentality, a discontent that can drive you to positive goals sometimes and negative resentments others. I certainly thought that once we moved here, I’d begin the next phase of our journey by keeping an eye out for opportunities to move across the river to the land of my birth. But once we were here, once we started to become part of this community, those feelings of discontent lifted. The grass is greenest right here. We were — and are — home at last.