ESSAY- The move: You can never really leave Hartford

It's that time of year when the streets of Charlottesville are full of U-Hauls and the owners of pickup trucks are suddenly the most popular members of their social circles. Students and new faculty members are moving in, sublet tenants are moving out, and everybody's feeling a little crazy. Once again, I'm a member of this ragtag fraternity whose members are awash in masking tape, marking pens, and boxes, boxes, boxes.

Boxes are much on my mind– and my new porch– these days. But they're not the only things weighing heavily on me. I've found that each time I move, certain things suddenly force themselves into my consciousness— things I rarely think about otherwise. To wit:

Burner pans. Scrubbing stove burner pans is part of the ritual of moving out of any house or apartment. They cost all of $10 to replace, but buying new ones would not help me get where I want to go. When I've cleaned the old ones to shining perfection, I know I won't be cooking again in that particular kitchen. Bring on the takeout— the hungry mover's first and last resort!  

Toy mice. A friend of mine, a fellow cat person, once told me that when she had her kitchen remodeled, she discovered 76 toy mice behind her refrigerator. I had assumed that was a record until I began packing my belongings in Massachusetts a few weeks ago. Behind every chair, beneath every bed, inside every closet— I found more red, blue, green, and yellow mice than I cared to count. Where were the cats during all this? The cats were dropping toy mice inside boxes. Now, if could just get them to clean burner pans. 

Coat hangers. Coat hangers have a weird energy at moving time. A dozen will spill to the floor if I dare remove one from the closet. And no matter how many of them I wrestle into shopping bags, only a few reveal themselves after the move. Those that are not twisted beyond recognition have little clips on them— for hanging up underwear. After a week of resistance, I will buy new hangers. A week after that, I will trip over the bags of old ones. 

Things that follow me everywhere. Everyone has a certain amount of detritus that simply will not go away. In my case, it's mildewed grad-school books, Fleetwood Mac cassette tapes, an aged coffee mug that can't go in the microwave, and a bag of dried peas. Although I would not miss any of these things if they disappeared, each one has a nagging utility: I could suddenly get interested in Mark Twain's The Mysterious Stranger. I could crank up "Bare Trees" in my car while sipping iced tea from my decorative mug. I could make pea soup! All possible– and none happening anytime soon. What's certain is that these things have arrived– undamaged as usual– in Charlottesville. They're the last things I need and the first to emerge as I unpack.

Hartford, Connecticut. The expression "You can't miss it" seems to have been invented for this fair city, whose existence is announced endlessly on I-84. During my travels between Massachusetts and Virginia, I always feel my pulse speed up at the first overhead sign pointing to Hartford. Soon— very soon— there will be congestion, confusion, a cacophony of honking. I will be in Hartford, where I could visit Mark Twain's historic house. A great many miles later, the signs still beckon, threaten, cajole. Hartford: going, going, and yet never quite gone.

I feel that if I can just get past Hartford— the one in my mind, not just the one in Connecticut— my new life in my new house can begin. All the tables and chairs, the dishes, the books and the lamps, will find their proper rooms. The dried peas will find their rightful shelf. I will run an index finger along a sparkling burner pan and then retire to the front porch. With my feet propped on an emptied box and my hand resting on the head of a well-traveled cat, I'll daydream about the occupants of the U-Haul trucks rumbling by. 

Farewell! Welcome! Didn't I see you on I-84?

Hilary Holladay is the Senior Program Fellow at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities.