In the lull between Halloween and Thanksgiving, I find myself getting especially excited for Turkey Day this year. It will be the first time in three years I have been home for the holiday, and I can already smell the cornbread dressing and sweet potato casserole.
Everyone has their own holiday traditions. I had a college roommate whose family has been known to have only salad and pie for Thanksgiving (five pies between four people is their record). Another friend’s family goes camping at a cold, windy beach and eats canned food warmed over a campfire.
My family’s Thanksgiving traditions aren’t as exciting as excessive pie eating or outdoor adventures, but we do have a habit of piling in the car and driving the six hours to my grandparents’ house. Once there, we engage in the business of updating each other on the past year’s events and indulging in a large meal.
My grandparents’ house is special to my family because of the shared memories we have there. All of the holidays celebrated, chocolate-frosted birthday cakes eaten, and Auburn-Alabama football games watched (Roll Tide!) add up to an intense fondness for the place and the people I associate with it.
When I enter a less familiar environment, I am eager to learn about it by developing relationships with the people who know it well. I experienced this curiosity when my family moved to a new city and when I went off to college. Predictably, I also experienced it when I moved to Long Island a couple months ago.
In getting to know islanders, I learned that many commute to and from Portland via ferry for work or school, which surprised me. One of my biggest questions became, “Given the time, expense, and adherence to a strict schedule required to travel to work, school, doctor appointments, grocery shopping, swim lessons and all the other activities that take place in town, why do people still choose to live on the island?”
There’s no way I can answer that question with any certainty, only having lived in this community for two months. But I have a working theory. And it’s quite simple: this is home.
Long Island is a place that many people have felt a connection to over the years, but for islanders, that connection is complex and deep in a way that only your relationship with your home can be. There may not be any one perk they can name to explain why they have chosen to live here—that would be just as ridiculous as me trying to pick one thing about visits to my grandparents’ house that makes them worthwhile—but I imagine the island gives them the same sense of comfort, ease and community that my grandparents’ house gives me. Giving that up for the sake of convenience may not make sense.
I also have come to realize that my idea of frequent travel to and from the mainland as a hardship is largely an issue of perspective. Really, the ferry could be seen as the ultimate carpool, complete with picnic tables, reading lights, bathrooms, chauffeur and 50 of your closest friends and neighbors. Talk about a melting pot.
People who have no reason to cross paths otherwise can catch up on the boat. The social cross-pollination that happens there is something many typical suburban communities can only dream of. While the ferry may not always be the easiest way to get from point A to point B, it does provide some hidden benefits. This is just one example of how a sense of home and community can overshadow the inconveniences of an island lifestyle.
Even though the island doesn’t feel like my home yet, I can appreciate the sense of home that many members of the community do associate with it. I hope that our collective gratitude for the idea of home—even if it’s not the same home right now—can be the common ground we use to move forward in building our relationships.
Erin Love is an Island Fellow on Long Island in Casco Bay through the Island Institute, publisher of The Working Waterfront, and AmeriCorps.