“I think we should move,” she said. The words filled me with apprehension. She had just returned from Greenfield, where she had done some babysitting and a little painting in the old house our daughter and son-in-law had recently moved into. Of course I understood why she wanted to move. Both of our children had started families. Our daughter had already produced a grandson. They moved north from New Orleans, and our son- and daughter-in-law had just bought an old house in Northampton and were in the process of fixing it up. Also, Val’s 96-year-old mother was living in a retirement place in Easthampton. Val needed to see them all on a regular basis. She was spending too much time on the road, and frustrated with negotiating the heavy traffic through downtown Westfield.
A few weeks later, we were on our way to see some houses in Greenfield. I was impressed to see a group of about 20 people holding signs on the town common. I learned that they were the “vigil for peace and justice,” who had conducted an hour-long vigil every Saturday morning since before the 2003 invasion of Iraq. I recalled the angry demonstrations of the 60s against the Vietnam War, which Val and I had been part of. Those demonstrations were mostly led by young activists, while this demonstration seemed to be populated mostly by older people, perhaps some of the same people, though clearly they were calmer and less militant than in the sixties. This evidence of small town democracy and tolerance impressed me. By the time we were looking at houses, I had almost made up my mind to move.
Val had convinced me that moving would give us a real opportunity to change our lives, to get out of the comfortable lazy rut that I’d been in almost since retirement, to relieve some of the stress that she had been experiencing and allow her time to resume some of her musical activities that had played such an important role earlier in her life. By evening we had found a possible home in Greenfield. It was a slightly smaller, but much older, house than our Westfield house. It also had a much smaller lot and it was quite a bit cheaper, but it would need some work. The house was close to the middle of town. We could walk almost everywhere we wanted to go. We would save on gas. Even after paying the real estate agent and paying to have an entirely new septic system installed at our Westfield house, we still ended up with enough money to pay for most of the fix-up of our new 1881 Greenfield home.
A few months after we moved in, Val’s mother Pauline was diagnosed with lymphoma. With treatment it went into remission. The oncologist said it wouldn’t kill her. We decided to have her move in with us. Two years later our son and his family moved to Greenfield, finally eliminating all of Val’s frequent commuting, and freeing up more time for her to spend with family and to renew her various interests in music, crafts, and keeping fit with yoga and exercise. Pauline lived with us for 3 years until she died in 2009, after her lymphoma returned.
Val played piano as a child. She also sang in choral groups since college. Along the way she has played flute, oboe and tuba with various community bands and orchestras. As a former school adjustment counselor, Val has always loved working with young people, so when Maria and Adam moved to Greenfield and Maria became director of the Greenfield Middle School Band, Val joined as a school volunteer playing tuba in the band. Recently she has joined the Amandla singers and taken up the Djembe (African) drums. Since moving to Greenfield our fleet of grandchildren has grown from one to seven (two this summer). I’m sure they will provide plenty of stimulation in the years ahead as Val, with a little help from their parents, makes them all into musicians.
What about me? Well my first activity after moving to Greenfield was to walk all over town. For several months I counted over 10,000 steps a day on my pedometer. I had been a runner till I had a severe back injury a year before we moved to Greenfield. After surgery I was advised by my physical therapist not to run, or windsurf ever again. But windsurfing was a passion that motivated most of my healthy habits. I had done it for nearly 10 years. I discussed it with my therapist and showed him the harness I used and explained the technique enough that he cautiously agreed to let me try it again, especially after our last meeting when he pronounced me his “best student.” So after getting back to windsurfing, I finally went back to running, although I’m a lot slower than before. I ran the “Talking Turkey,” a six-mile run in Holyoke the last 3 years. I’m not going to tell you my times, but it sure felt good to run again.
About a year after our move, I took a memoir writing class at GCC. The teacher was Julie Payne Britton. She was my first writing mentor and although I’ve acquired other mentors since, she is still my chief mentor. When I was in the third grade, I started writing a “book.” My “book” writing continued for a month or so, during which I wrote about 50 pages. I remember that the story was about jewel thieves and that it took place in the swamps of New Jersey. I don’t remember why I stopped writing, but I suppose that might have been when I got interested in science. My next bout of fiction writing came around the time I quit MIT. I had almost decided to become a writer, and while hitchhiking to Nashville for Christmas, I wrote 3 or 4 pages of a wildly exaggerated tale of a young hitchhiker. Somehow my father found it and expressed his shock and disappointment. That was the last piece of fiction writing for me for the next fifty plus years.
Since my memoir course with Julie, I’ve met other writers and attended workshops, and spoken word open mics, around the area. I’ve written a lot, mostly memoir and essay, but also some poetry. I’ve even had a few pieces published on-line and in a few small printed publications. I found that some of the writers I came to know are involved with the Greenfield “vigil.” So finally about 3 years after moving to Greenfield, I went to the vigil and met more interesting people. Between the folks at the senior center, and the folks at the vigil, and some of the other writers I’ve met, I feel like I’m more active and connected than I’ve been in many years, and I have just barely launched my fleet of grandchildren!