By the time this house came on the market, we had looked at almost seventy places in several towns and two states. I wanted an antique, we needed two acres affordable enough so that, when we did have kids, one of us could stay home with them for a couple of years. Jeannette had been a patient realtor, ushering us into home after home. When she finally called with this listing, we were long past the enthusiastic imagining stage. Grim, resigned, and borderline hopeless, we set a time to take a look, hung up the phone, and said, “Rowley? Where the hell is that?”
375 years ago, families first moved to what must have been a dark and buggy place. They needed the clam flats, the lumber, the nearness to other settlements to make a go of it in the New World and they came here, assembling along a stream that today is crowded with willow trees and wild shrubs. They needed each other in obvious and critical ways and had travelled together to arrive here. What a different journey we embarked on in 1995.
Our first three years, we commuted down 128, arriving home to let the dogs out, feed the horse and goat, and then to tackle another home improvement chore. If we were really adventurous, we headed to the Agawam Diner for a late meal and then drove home past houses of strangers. For the first couple of years raising children, I often carted them off to friends closer to Boston or spent several days in Westerly. We loved our house, our yard, the view of our horse grazing out the window. However, though we said we lived in Rowley, we really didn’t.
But an address does become a home, slowly, wondrously. And Rowley has become that for us. We had neighbors like Kathy and Armando who lent us advice and the occasional blocked drain augur. Snowy nights, they delivered Portuguese stew and homemade goat cheese. Our daughters headed off to Pine Grove pre-school and RCC where I stood amongst other parents for the Halloween parades and (admit it) the interminable Christmas concerts. Dennis and the other fathers milled about exchanging small talk at the Pumpkin Ball. With other moms in the neighborhood, I gathered once a month to knit (and, contrary to rumor, we did knit. For a few months, anyway). When the library needed ideas for adult programs, I suggested a book club and 107 books later, we read on. Soccer sidelines, track meet bleachers, my faithful place behind the PTA’s popcorn machine, the aisles of Market Basket, these are the settings for interactions, 375 years later, that have linked me to the other settlers here.
This weekend, many of those people gathered to celebrate Rowley’s birthday. Friday night amongst my book club friends, those knit night women and their families, we shared drinks and dinner on the Common, danced to a band whose members we know. The next day’s parade was filled with elementary school teachers, local business owners, our children’s classmates, people we’ve fundraised beside and cheered beside and raked leaves beside for the past couple decades.
The first day we stood in this house, Dennis and I huddled behind one of the massive chimneys in the attic and I said: I WANT this house! It didn’t matter where it was. I wanted its big rooms and wood floors and fireplaces. What I got, instead, was the town itself, complete with world renowned mosquitoes, a diner where nobody screws up your order even though they don’t write it down, a law making process that involves raising your hand, a flea market whose best bargains can be found between 4am and 6am and streets and streets full of good friends.
Happy Birthday, Rowley. Home Sweet Home.