At first, it just seemed like a big adventure. "We're moving east; Daddy has a new job in New York." New York! To a little girl on the high plains of Nebraska, New York was as magical as Oz. The Empire State Building! The Statue of Liberty! A Christmas tree as tall as the Pawnee Hotel! I was the envy of my third grade class.
As our old Chevy pulled away from the stucco bungalow on Willow Street, I waved excitedly at my best friend Jane, who smiled wanly at me from her own front yard across the street. "We're off!" Mommy said, a little too loudly. In the back seat, Bobby and I leaned against the curved rear window of the Chevy for a last look at North Platte.
A year later, in my bedroom in our new home, I sobbed at the memory of the Willow Street house, with its lilacs and rhubarb plants. I thought of Jane and cried even harder, berating myself bitterly. "I smiled! I smiled!" How could I have been so stupid, so blind, so ignorant of what "moving away" would mean?
Nebraska was so far away, and New Jersey was so different. Bobby was sent home from school for wearing jeans. My classmates teased me for my clothes, my accent -- everything, it seemed. I learned quickly never to mention Nebraska or North Platte, which would set their eyes rolling as they mimicked her flat nasal tones. The family had arrived just before Christmas, and so I'd been left out of the class gift exchange. Even worse, I was behind in arithmetic. We'd been just about to start column addition in North Platte; in New Jersey they were already passed it. My teacher, Miss Saneska, had been teaching the children to play the recorder and speak French, but hadn't counted on having a new student arrive midyear. So three times a week, I was sent to the library to read while her classmates sang "Sur le Pont d'Avignon" or played their instruments. Life in New Jersey was miserable.
By three months after the move, I had added a line to my bedtime prayer.
"Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake
I pray the Lord my soul to take.
And please let me wake up in North Platte."
But it wasn't a dream, and I never went back to North Platte. I moved again and again, from New Jersey to Connecticut to upstate New York to Massachusetts to Pennsylvania to Rhode Island and finally to Maryland. I learned to relish being "the new girl", and having the chance to reinvent myself with each new home. I took on the role of welcomer, helping other newcomers to settle in.