A View From Here: Moving Home. An Ode to Small Town America


My parents and brother moved to MBTS right before I was born in the late 60s.  Mom never wanted to leave, and she never did.  She died suddenly last summer in the house I grew up in.  It’s currently held together with duct tape, bungee cords, and the vestiges of my mom’s will and determination.  Renting it after her death and telling potential tenants the quirks would have been comedic, but we couldn’t let it sit empty for a year either. 

In a fog of grief, I decided to move my entire family from Philadelphia to MBTS to live in the house for a year until the estate settled.  My kids were entering 6th, 8th, and 10th

 grades.  Two were intrigued at the prospect of a temporary change.  My husband had developed a COVID crush on Maine and was working remotely anyway, so he was up for it.

My youngest, a dancer and I, a potter, had the most to lose.  Her dance studio was five minutes from our home in Philly, and my brand-new pottery studio/shop was three blocks away.  She loved their Quaker school and her friends.  I loved my posse of trail-running, wine-drinking hippy moms. 

Two of my immediate neighbors in Manchester are still the same people to whom I delivered The Beverly Times in the early 80s.  In my kids’ classes I recognize a lot of last names.   Throughout my life when I’d visit, I’d see people on the beach who’ve never left and wonder … how could they still be here? 

I’m starting to get it. 

MBTS is unique and idyllic.  In the mornings this year we had time for a family breakfast before school because my kids walk there in 10 minutes.  (Who knew jackets are now uncool?  That 10-minute walk was pretty frigid wearing just a hoodie on 17-degree days.) 

On Day One, my son got an after-school job at Dunkin making minimum wage, $14.25/hour.  Philly’s minimum wage is still $7.25. 

Initially, my kids reported a reserve and a gruffness they’d not experienced in Philly.  My 6th grader got stung by a hornet in math class, and the kid next to her said, “You shouldn’t have messed with it!”  That would not have happened in her Quaker school. 

Pretty quickly, though, they were walking over to friend’s houses or having friends walk to our house after school.  The first half-day of school felt magical as groups of elated kids roamed the streets parentless.  The agency that young kids have here is so rare.  Perhaps it comes at a cost.  The girls reported on the first day, “All the girls look like us.”  After a few months, my youngest said, “I have a teacher who keeps calling me Avery.  I get it.  If Avery looked back at me from the mirror, I’m not sure I’d know it wasn’t me either.” 

I was surprised that my son’s reading list had that same lack of diversity.  He literally read The CrucibleThe Scarlet Letter, and Huck Finn back-to-back. It would have been nice to have a female or author of color in there, but when my son was having issues, the attention we got from advisors, teachers, and administrators was game-changing.  He got help that truly turned things around. 

In the same way he got individual attention, so have we.  In all of the moving chaos, we lost the titles to our cars.  Sorting out resident parking in Philly without PA plates would have been impossible. In five minutes, at Town Hall after an empathetic conversation about my mom’s death, we had two parking placards that would tide us over until we got organized.  In the same way, the police have been helpful ensuring that visitors coming for my mom’s memorial service won’t get ticketed.  When I needed a notary to sign whatever documents needed to be notarized to get the damned titles, I had two free options that I could walk to where there was no line.  It took five minutes. 

These things don’t happen in larger towns. 

I spent a fair bit of time holed up in the library when I first arrived.  I was convinced that I was going to turn my inability-to-make-pottery time into an excellent screenplay about inadvertently raising screen addicts in my attempts to emulate the way I was parented.  I mentioned this to the librarians downtown and was given an almost-obscene amount of help and encouragement. 

First, I got a handwritten list of screenplays the Manchester Library could access for me.  A book about screenwriting was ordered and arrived in a day or so. I then got an e-mail with other advice.  (Sadly, all of the help was for naught.  My screenplay has no plot and has aimless characters, but I’m going to try again, and I know where to go for help.)  It felt like I was in college again where my parents were paying for all of this attention. 

This, too, does not happen everywhere.

In November we adopted a puppy.  If we leave here and move back to Philly, he’s going to get hit by a mail truck or he’s going to get a squirt of water in his eye.  Our mail person feeds him treats from the truck as does the guy who does the Pine Street section of town.  This means that Leo yanks me towards mail trucks on walks even if they are in motion.  A dog biscuit perches on top of the pile of mail in our box every day.  The mailbox is Leo’s first stop on every walk. 

The post office gives him treats as does the bank and the gas station.  At the bank, I still haven’t gotten a handle on my account number.  The tellers fill out my deposit slips for me.  If I showed up without a deposit slip in Philly, I’d be laughed out of the bank, and I would have waited in line for 25 minutes.  My puppy would not accompany me on all of my errands.  It just doesn’t feel real, but it definitely feels really pleasant.

Singing Beach is a hard act to follow.  Yes, the water is cold.  Sometimes there are no waves to play in.  Sometimes there’s red flag surf, but the scale and natural beauty of that beach is unparalleled.  Because I’ve been here in the summers, I had no idea about the October to April dog-walking beach posse.  It’s like the morning version of a cocktail party on brutal winter days. Since April 15 when dogs are banned, I have fleeting hello/goodbye conversations when I pass a member of the posse on Smith’s Point or in Ravenswood with our dogs on leash straining to greet each other.  I’m not dreading the cold this year as much because I look forward to gabbing and walking while our dogs wrestle and play. 

I also look forward to my time with the crazy water walkers.  There are about nine women and one man who regularly walk chest-deep all winter for 30-60 minutes.  I joined them after Christmas when my husband gifted me a wetsuit.  What was primarily a relationship based on gear advice has turned into invaluable therapy sessions and life coaching; however, I barely recognize any of them without their wetsuits on.

Before COVID we brought a family of three siblings to Manchester for vacation.  Obviously, the kids were enthralled by the beach, but what really blew their minds was the Tuesday night music with free hot dogs, popcorn, face painting.  There may have been a sweet on offer that night as well.  The Philly kids could not understand how everything was free.  I think Cape Ann Bank was the sponsor that night.  I tried to explain that concept, and they ran off to play completely uninterested. 

I shared their wonder a few years before when I brought my kids to one of the movie nights.  I remember when the movie was over and I was folding up our blanket, I thought, “God, I wish I’d brought some water.”  Like a mirage a woman came up in the dark with an armful of bottled water saying, “Are you thirsty?”  I laughed.

I volunteer to give meals to Manchester seniors who have either physical or financial challenges to their ability to cook.  If I weren’t doing something while I am unable to work full time to “justify my existence,” my mother would come back and swat me.  There are some names on my route that I recognize from my youth.  I drive around this incredibly beautiful town, and if I have to stop for gas, there’s no line, and it’s full service. 

As I hand them their lunches, I have little chats with people who are living in well-maintained homes and apartments.  Recently, one of my clients fell on the way to open the door. When I heard the initial crash, I was able to get into the apartment because the door wasn’t locked.  My mom never locked her door either.  I, alone, couldn’t handle the lift assist, so a neighbor called the police.  Three different emergency vehicles came to our aid within minutes.  They were kind and respectful and efficient. 

Helping elderly people, of course, reminds me of my mom.  All I can say is that I wish I’d moved back when she was still here to enjoy seeing her grandkids walking to school in Manchester-by-the-Sea. I hope we will find a way to remain here.

Elizabeth “Liz” Kinder is a writer and potter who grew up in Manchester, and with her family has returned to live here by way of San Francisco, London, and Philadelphia.  Kinder’s mother, Susie Kinder, was a longtime writing teacher at Manchester Public High School and Shore Country Day. She then taught a highly recognized geography course at Brookwood to finish her teaching career.

philadelphia, manchester library, manchester public high school, cape ann bank, the beverly times, susie kinder