Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Putting down roots -- and the dangers of transplants

Younger Daughter is the natural science major, not me, but I've been formulating this hypothesis for a while now: Some day science will recognize that animals (including us humans) have roots, almost like plants. Putting down roots in an area is not merely a figure of speech.

Nor am I talking about couch potatoes or the teenager who merges into a beanbag chair in front of a game console; I'm serious.

How many times have you heard of folks moving away from the neighborhood upon retirement? How many of them thrive and survive in their new locale?

The man we bought our first home from was on his way to retirement in Florida. He didn't last two years. He also didn't make 60.

There was a couple who was particularly welcoming to us when we were new in the parish. A few years after our paths crossed, however, they put their house up for sale and moved to the new Del Webb Sun City development -- in Huntley, Illinois. That's not that far away -- 45 minutes, give or take, in reasonable traffic. Still, they were away from home and hearth and all their daily routines. She died first, within a year; he followed soon after.

So many ex-cops die young. Is it just cumulative stress? Surely that must play a part. But so many pull their pensions after 30 years and get the heck out of Chicago (which has a residency requirement, after all, that many policemen resent bitterly). They go somewhere -- anywhere -- that isn't here. And a lot of them don't seem to last.

Some people plan ahead for retirement and put down roots in two places; when shuttling between them both becomes a bother, they can settle for one. There are many ex-Chicagoans living long and happily in Wisconsin or Michigan or Scottsdale or Marco Island. But too many other people just pull up stakes from their long-time homes and go -- not necessarily on a whim, mind you, but following a dream -- to these same places and it ends badly, and too soon. Maybe they fell in love with the place on a vacation. But they haven't prepared. When they get there, they don't know a soul. It takes a toll.

I'm no gardener, but I know from Long Suffering Spouse that young plants are far more likely to 'take' to transplanting than more established ones. When you re-pot a plant, you take the old dirt and put it in the new pot. That gives the old plant the best chance to adapt -- and the least shock to its roots.

Young people can move more easily than older ones. They haven't yet established their 'roots.' But here, now, in Chicago, is where I've raised my children. Here is where I have occasionally tasted success and too often sipped the bitter brew of failure. I don't know everyone in the parish. I don't know everyone in the Loop or at the Daley Center. But I know a lot of faces. I know the routines. I know the whipsaw changes in the weather. I know shortcuts. I know the gray pre-dawn when the birds start singing. I know when to expect the first fireflies and when the annual cicadas will start their evening droning. I know when the trains are due. I can hear the nearby Kennedy Expressway at night and the big trucks or the morons on motorcycles racing thereon. I'd love to go to a lot of places. But even if I someday get the chance to travel, I'll need to come back here, to Chicago, to nourish my spirit.

This isn't science -- not yet, anyway -- not as far as I know. But when millions of dollars are poured into a grant and excited scientists announce a link between longevity and living in one place (any place, except maybe Chernobyl), remember you read it here first.


Jeni said...

I was born and raised in the house I live in now in a little bitty village with roots to the coal industry in Pennsylvania. My Mom pretty much grew up here as her parents built this house in 1903. My maternal grandfather's parents immigrated here from Sweden in 1880 and 1881 and somewhere between 1896 and 1900 built a big home across the street from where my grandparents built their home. In the early-mid sixties, I left here, moving to D.C. because there was no work in these hills but I returned in 1972 and have, for the most part, been quite content to stay here -through nasty cold, snowy, icy weather and some really hot and humid summer conditions on occasion too. My roots are deeply entrenched here. A cousin of my grandfather's children all migrated in the 20s and 30s to Chicago where two of the daughters were employed at Marshall Field's until they were of retirement age at which time they moved back here, to their parental home which they had maintained all those years as their "summer" or vacation home. Those two sisters lived in that home for several years before selling it and moving to a new, one-story home in the adjacent village about 2-3 miles away and lived almost to their 90s then. Probably would have made it much longer had they not been in a collision with a coal dump truck in yet another little village nearby with one sister dying a day or two after the crash from her injuries and the other could no longer manage living alone so she moved to a smallish burg about 30 miles away near her niece and nephew. Once again, deep roots do, I agree, tend to promote a longer life. (BTW, those sisters -at the time of their demise, you would never have known they were near to 90 as they looked -and dressed -like they were only in their mid-to-late 50s!)

Empress Bee (of the high sea) said...

you know after all those years moving around in the military to us moving is the norm. we get out and make friends quickly and never had a problem. but i don't expect to move again now. i love west palm beach, we first moved here in 1981 when the duck was little.

smiles, bee

sari said...

My parents live in the house my dad grew up in. That's the only place I ever feel "right". I moved around A LOT when I was growing up.

Susan Harris said...

Okay, this IS a real comment, and Jay Harrison recommended I check out this blog specifically. And bingo, you write about something I covered just last week - moving, and it being a bad idea in some cases. Please don't think this is spam but I'm leaving you the link:
I've subscribed so you'll see me again. Susan
PS I AM a gardener and you're right.

Pamela said...

I'm so glad you wrote this. My main squeeze (^ husband) for 35 years and I have discussed uprooting and retiring in Arizona. I'm reluctant. Now I know why.