I took the long way to work and, looking back, I’m glad I did.

The sun was shining (a rarity on a cool March day in upstate New York) and the hilly landscape was dotted with houses, churches and farms. Five deer along the side of the road actually trotted along with my car for a while. It was an amazing sight.

It was four years ago today – my last day at the job I’d held for nearly eight years. My family and I were off to a new adventure in a new state. I remember thinking that if someone had asked me eight years earlier if I was looking forward to moving to Syracuse, I would have said no. I didn’t expect to like Syracuse that much. And I certainly didn’t expect to love it. But I did. And I still do.

We started our family there. And we began traditions in Central New York that have now become treasured memories.
Eight years of apple picking at the same beautiful hillside orchard where we always got apple fritters and rode the ponies.
Eight years of seeing the butter sculpture and the cows, chickens, bunnies, and horses at the Great New York State Fair.
Eight years of shopping at the greatest grocery store known to man.
Eight years of sledding on the big hill at the park and going for sleigh rides in the forest.
Eight years of building bears and visiting Santa and riding the carousel at the mall.

Eight years of Onondaga Lake Park, where my oldest daughter learned to climb steps and swing high. We rode bikes and flew kites at that park in the summer and we drove our car along the bike path to see the gorgeous Lights on the Lake holiday display in winter.

Each of these memories is like a little painting etched on the walls of my mind. A gallery that I can visit whenever I unpack the solid red apple-shaped ornament from the orchard we visited each fall and hang it on the Christmas tree. Or when I hear someone here in Delaware complain about snow and I think back to the one year the snow drifts were more than ten feet high … and school was not cancelled.

If you had the chance to look at my mind’s gallery, you’d see more than just the experience of it all. You’d see people. We made lots of great friends in our little town and also through my daughter’s dancing school and elementary school. But my real connection to people came through my work. I was hired at a community college in late 2005. I was 35 years old, a new parenting mother, and I felt grossly inadequate in my new role as a “writer.” What? A writer? Me? I had done lots of things professionally – but none had the title writer attached to it. In spite of my feeling like an imposter, I was given a chance and for that, I’ll be forever grateful. I learned so much and I was stretched in ways I didn’t think possible.

But the people at this college? Second to none. We supported each other through marriages, divorces, births and deaths. We commiserated over difficult people and impossible deadlines. We talked sports and politics. We told jokes and celebrated birthdays. It was a great place to work. And while it’s a really good college, it’s a great place to work because of the people.

My heart was heavy on this last day. I said goodbye to dear friends and with each bear hug I was trying to steal a little piece of them to take with me. The  lump in my throat – the kind that really hurts and you know that if you just open your mouth a little bit the ugly cry will take over – told me that they were already with me. They were in my heart. They had each become a new painting in the gallery of my mind. I did cry. And so did they. This was an amazing experience and an amazing chapter in my life.

I told my husband just yesterday that seeing commercials for the greatest grocery store known to man felt like home. Isn’t that weird?

I’ve lived in a few different cities. And no matter how long or short a time I was there, they’ve each come to feel like home. Thinking about Melrose (my hometown), Boston, Hanford, Orlando, Chicago, Syracuse or Morris County NJ is like walking through a gallery of memories in my mind.

As I left work that last day and got in my car quickly so as to hide the big fat ugly tears streaming down my face, I turned on the radio. The song was “Amazing” by Josh Kelley. I forever associate that song with my time in Syracuse. I heard it this morning while driving my little one to preschool. Coincidence that I heard it on the four-year anniversary of my leaving? Nope. Pardon me for being a little corny, but I think it’s just amazing 🙂