I grew up in Wells Bridge, New York, where at the time, it seemed there were more cows in Wilber’s barn than there were people in all of town. When I was young, we would walk to the general store for a Popsicle, or if you were a weirdo like my little brother, you would grab giant dill pickle from the barrel in the front of the store. I had wonderful grandparents who were very involved and taught me what they knew. I was busy and happy yet I still heard a voice in the back of my mind telling me I needed to move on and see the world.
I spent the first 20 years trying to get away from my upstate home and then the second 20 years trying to get back. I am now in my third quarter of life and have the time to tend to the things that I wish I had done, or would like to do. The current situation in our world has allowed all of us, no matter how busy we have created our lives to be, the time to clean out corners and reach out to old friends.
During an organizational frenzy last week I came across something that I wish I had done years ago. I wrote the following intending to send it to The Daily Star when I returned to Cincinnati after an annual visit “home” around 14 years ago.
One thing I have found completely necessary for me to be happy with my 20th century nomadic family situation is an annual visit back home each summer. I visit family, measure all of the children (compared to my nose) count gray hairs and re-energize my childhood friendships.
Doing this helps me ground myself and helps me make sense of my place in a big city like Cincinnati. It allows my two boys to be exposed to all of the things that molded who I am. It hopefully allows them to understand why I do and say some of the things that I do. This exposure usually happens in small doses with memories shared, homes visited and traditions continued.
My boys and I were there during the week of the flood and got a very big dose of why I continue to come back each year. The two watched, mostly listened, as the floodwaters rose. We were tethered to the radio (WDOS). We were on higher ground in Guilford, desperate to hear of our friends and family. I had mixed feelings as I passed the National Guardsmen on the bridge that I needed to cross in Sidney to access the interstate and leave while we still could.
I was very proud of my small hometown area. When I returned to Cincinnati I bragged. I bragged about how my friends all helped each other by putting people up in their homes when their neighbors’ homes were flooded in Sidney, how they spent hours going home to home to check on people and keep them informed in Unadilla. I bragged about all of the extra shifts that were necessary at the Oneonta Fire Department to keep others safe and to help speed the recovery process.
What I was sure to let people in my foster city know was that these ordinary people in this small upstate area are the same all year, every year; it is simply who they are.
They are the same people who in 1989 helped me restore my life following a house fire. Organized by friends and family and supported by local business owners, strangers became friends in an outpouring of support for me at the Copper Fox. This is how it is done! I am sure there are many other stories you each could share of one another with many examples of acts of generosity and kindness.
I never forget where I came from, or who I am because of it. I hope all of you share my pride for yourselves and know that out here in Ohio I am singing your praises and look forward to my next visit home. I know you will all make it through this rough patch because you have each other.
The third quarter of life has a way of forcing you to prioritize things and adjust the lens that you use to see the world. Even we gypsies hold still for reflection and, from my shoes, gratitude. I regret not sending “Back Home” when it was fresh and poignant. Perhaps it is just as meaningful now?
All around us we see that this virus has spread not only the illness that is crippling our country, but we also see that kindness is spreading as well. For you, my friends and family there in upstate New York, this is not the novelty that it would seem to be in other parts of the country. This is how you live your life each day in a meaningful, intentional way. Because of that I know you will all be fine no matter what ugly circumstance come your way over the next several weeks. As the number of infected rise like the flood waters all of those years ago, you will have each other.
I left Wells Bridge to follow my young heart and see more of the world and now I want to go back. I want to be there to make up for some of the good times that I have missed, and more importantly, for the troubled times like now.
When I think about those who are important to me, who know me best, who have supported me through rough times I want to be back.
My heart is full to be restoring a beautiful old home in Unadilla. I look forward to a permanent move there in the near future so I can focus on my family, lifetime friendships and extend acts of kindness to all of those who have been so kind to me. In times of uncertainty, we yearn for the familiar. I wish I were already there. When I make the long drive home I know I am close when I feel hugged by the trees and hills of upstate New York. Don’t we all need that kind of hug right now?
Tracey (Smith) Humphreys is a former resident of Wells Bridge.