When I met my husband in Westchester more than 30 years ago, I had no idea that we would eventually raise our children in his hometown. Having spent much of my youth in Europe, and having never lived in the same place for more than three or four years, the concept of a hometown was foreign to me. Yet here I am, with two daughters grown and a grandson, marveling at the wonder of stability.
My husband grew up in Gardiner, in Ulster County. His mother was raised on a dairy farm in the center of town, and his father’s father owned the local general store. In their formative years, his parents knew everyone there was to know in their town, and many of those in neighboring New Paltz as well. Even when I first moved here, in the late 1990s, I was warned that most people were connected in some way or another, and to be careful about what I said, and to whom.
My immediate family had never had its feet so firmly on the ground. Though they met in Westchester and had extensive ties there, my parents chose opportunity over location, skirting across the Atlantic, and then later, across the country. I often tell people that my two brothers and I each attended a different high school, which doesn’t really make for binding legacies.
After we were married and our children were young, my husband took a position that initially required him to commute back to his roots on a daily basis. It suddenly occurred to both of us that living where he had grown up would not be a bad thing. Even from the beginning, when people recognized our daughters’ last name, and we were able to share points of family history with them, it felt like they were coming home. For me, it felt like I was finally settling down.
Now that I’ve lived here longer than anywhere in my life, I know that we made the right decision. My daughters were able to grow up knowing they had relatives who had a lasting impact in a community and to feel a connection to a place that I was never able to have. One of them still lives here along with her own child. The other visits frequently. Both have said that they appreciate the tangible experience of their own history, and the knowledge that something greater than themselves exists in their childhood home.
Although I am still a bit of an interloper, I claim heritage through marriage. While I have no early memories of strawberry picking in June, or playing in quiet Gardiner streets with friends and cousins, over the years I have had the opportunity to create some — albeit adult — memories of my own: summers at Moriello Pool in New Paltz, where parents gather in August to compare class placements for the upcoming year; walking through the Ulster County Fair and seeing a chicken namesake of one daughter, raised by her friend; standing by as a local ballfield is dedicated to my husband’s grandfather.
Several years ago, I brought my own parents here, helping them to find community as well. As they settled in, I did give a warning: Most people are connected in some way or another. And it’s a good thing.
Mala Hoffman is a freelance writer and educator who lives in Gardiner, N.Y. Her work has appeared in the Village Voice, Chronogram, Awosting Alchemy, Literary Gazette, and edna, among others. Her poetry collections include Half Moon Over Midnight, A Year of Wednesdays, and Becoming Bubbe.