gathering moss


The first time I ever moved was when I was three years old. My family lived in a rental house in Sausalito, California. It was a tiny house built into the hillside overlooking the San Francisco Bay, with 30-odd steps leading up to the house from the sidewalk. One of my earliest memories was of moving day. The movers put down big pieces of plywood over those steps so that they could slide the boxes down to the street level.

That move sent me and my things in two directions, as my parents were separating. My mother rented an apartment a few towns away, and my father rented a house in a neighboring town. My sister and I would go back and forth. A couple of years later, my mother left the apartment for a rental house in another town, and my father rented the same apartment vacated by my mother.

When I was six, my mother, my sister and I moved our things in with my new stepfather, into a big newly built house. My father died that same year, and my mother and stepfather cleared out the apartment that had been one of my two homes for three years. I remember trying to save all I could get away with.

When I was nine years old, my mother, my sister and I moved to France to start anew. We packed up what we could fit in a few suitcases and a big trunk, and headed to Paris. We travelled a bit, stayed in hotels here and there, and finally settled in an apartment in a Paris suburb, near the school my sister and I would attend.

We stayed there a year before returning to the US. We moved in with my Grandmother in her house in a small, rural town in the mountains of Colorado. The following year, we moved to another Colorado town, where we rented a log cabin-style house.

We stayed there for just over 3 years, which up to that point was the longest time I’d spent in any one residence. Part way into my freshman year of high school, we moved to Honolulu, Hawaii. We got rid of lots of things, put some into storage, and moved over with little more than a few suitcases. A few months later, it was back to the mainland, where we settled once more in California. A couple of years later, my mother married a Frenchman and moved back to France. It was the spring of my junior year of high school, and I moved in with a friend’s family for a couple of months to finish the school year. That summer, I moved to France with a few suitcases, though I recall I had my mother’s full sterling flatware set in my carry-on bag.

The next year, I headed back to the US for college. Over the 4-ish years of college, I lived in 2 dorms and 4 apartments. I also had a semester studying abroad in Brazil. If I’d had a car at that point, I could easily have fit all my belongings into it.

In addition to the homes I lived for stretches of months or years, there were more temporary places. Hotels or friends’ homes for a few days here, a few weeks there, filling in the gaps between moves.

How can I count the places I’ve lived? 5 US states and 2 other countries? (Do I count differently the times I moved back to a place after moving away? That happened twice. Unless you count coming back from Brazil, then it was 3 times.) Was it 15 towns, or do I count those other transitional towns? (There were at least 2.) Was it 9 schools during K through 12, or do I not count changes in the same district? (That happened once.) There have been 8 different houses and at least 11 different apartments. (And that one apartment where I lived twice.) Or do I just count the number of times I packed up all my belongings? (Because I doubt I can figure that one out.)

When I was 24, John and I moved up to Massachusetts. When we moved out of that apartment, four years later, it was the longest time I had ever been in one place. Amazingly, that was 10 years ago, as of last month. In May of 1999, we bought our house. That was the last time I moved.

I’ve been in Massachusetts for 14 years now, in New England for nearly 20 years. I never imagined myself staying in one place for so long. (And I never imagined how much stuff I could accumulate.)

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24 responses to “gathering moss

  1. you have just made me smile, alejna. thank you.

  2. So interesting. I moved a lot as a kid too and have continued that into adulthood. I am hoping that the house we just bought will be the one that keeps us settled. I’m glad you’ve been able to find a place to settle.

  3. I like this post. I never moved as a kid. I finally moved for the first time when I was 19 and haven’t really stopped since.

  4. Sounds like you’re relishing your moss-gathering.

    I’m glad.

  5. i am worn out by your moving, your past moving that is.

    i never move. two houses as a kid, then college, then three apartments in NY, and now a house. and i think i’m never moving again.

  6. Wow, you really moved A LOT!

    I lived in Alaska until I was 4, then to Texas. My family went through 3 houses in this area, then Josh and I married and had our first apartment. One more apartment, a two bedroom, and then we bought this house.

  7. And I thought *I* had moved a lot! Until I moved to Oregon in the late 90s, I hadn’t lived in any town for longer than 5 years. The bug still seems to be with me though because although I was in Portland for 6 years, I lived in 3 different apts/houses; I’ve been in Bend for 7 years for 2 different houses.

    Hey. No wonder I was so angry when we left our old house last year: I’d lived in it longer than in any other house in my life. How about that. I never realized it.

    I didn’t know you’d lived in Paris. That’s interesting.

  8. Sounds as though your moss-gathering, though surprising, is quite pleasant. I, too, moved a lot … I still move more than I’d like, though I’ve had a couple of apartments for several years each. Wonder when I’ll stay anwhere long enough to pick up some moss of my own.

    I liked this post so much … even though it kind of gave me a stomach ache thinking about so many moves, thinking about all the changes that necessitate all those moves, thinking about all the moving my family did when I was growing up.

  9. I haven’t stopped hating all the stuff I moved from the old house where we lived for ten years to this one. It has taken me almost two years to actually start “living” here. I think it was easier in the early years of our marriage when we moved from one apartment to another every year.

  10. wow. that’s some serious moving.

    are you liking gathering moss, or not?

    we just helped a friend move out of her house… she and her husband are divorcing. I watch the 2 young kids and read this story and wonder what it will be for them…

  11. That is pretty intense.

  12. crazy when you think about it.

  13. What an adventure! Has it made you fear change, or love it?

  14. jenny-
    And your comment made *me* smile, so thank you!

    ali-
    I hope your house works out for you.

    Leslie-
    What a surprise to hear from you, seeing as you have your hand full with a brand -spanking new baby!

    mme. Meow-
    Some days I relish, some days I feel a bit smothered by the moss.

    magpie-
    That’s great that you’ve found a place where you hope you’ll stay.

    Kyla-
    I hadn’t realized you lived in Alaska. But then it sounds like you’ve gotten pretty well settled in Texas.

    Jennifer-
    I hadn’t realized you’d moved so much, too.

    girlgriot-
    I wonder where and when you’ll settle, too. Or maybe if. Have you written much about your moves?

    de-
    Frequent moving has the benefit of helping to clear out junk from one’s stuff.

    Painted-
    I mostly like gathering moss, though I still find myself expecting to move again. What I have really come to appreciate is long-term friendships. I have many friends I’ve known for over 10 years, whereas growing up I was always having to leave friends behind.

    Ashley-
    Yeah, I guess it is. By contrast, my life now is quited muted.

    maja-
    Yeah. Have you ever tallied up your homes? I think you probably had a quite a few more than me.

    fairstar-
    I used to love change, though now I’m more neutral about it. I like the idea that there will be change, though now the practical concerns give me a headache. (That last move was exhausting. We had 80 boxes of books alone.)

  15. Wow. That’s a lot of moves. I’m very curious about ways in which you feel it’s impacted you.

    In our first 10 years of marriage we lived in 10 different places, plus a range of house-sits ranging from a few weeks to a few months. We will move at least once more, and then, who knows?

  16. I’ve moved 36 times – four states, one country – and there is NOTHING like restlessness to keep you from accumulating tons of STUFF. If you know you’re going to have to move it, you think twice about buying it.

    Now I’ve been in this town for 14 years and in this house for 9 years and the attic is bursting at the seams.

    Sound like you and I need to have a massive yard sale!

  17. Haha, I didn’t realize you’d lived in France – let alone twice!

    I’ve moved a lot too : Alaska, Texas, Alaska, Texas, Switzerland, Texas, Washington State, Texas, Colorado, The Netherlands, India, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, D.C, France.

    I’ve been here for seven years now – it’s the longest I’ve ever been anywhere as well.

    Oh, and I’m not planning to go back to Texas… do’nt ask me what that was about.

    Neat post.

  18. Quadelle-
    It sounds like you are a mover, too.
    As for my own moving, it certainly did affect my expectations about what my adult life would be like. Also, it seems to have turned me into a packrat.

    CityGirl-
    Yowza! 36 times? You win the prize, hands down. If you don’t want to display it on your mantle, maybe you can shove it up in the attic with the rest of the stuff you’ve been accumulating.

    Sassy-
    Yeah, I guess the having lived in France tidbit doesn’t come up too often these days. It was so long ago now.
    And you certainly have been around yourself. And around, and around, and around! What an intriguing list of places. So, you won’t be heading back to Texas to live there a fifth time?

  19. Wow, Alejna, you’ve certainly moved a lot! And, yes, your post got me reflecting on my own moves in my life.

    My conclusion? Not as frequently as you (except for a few months in Zanzibar when I lived in four different places in about six months!) but further (i.e., I’ve lived and worked in four continents — Asia, Europe, North America, Africa, then back to North America before returning to Asia — thus far!)

    Also, unlike you, my major moving has been as an adult rather than as a child. E.g., in the 21st century, I’ve already lived in three different territories: the US, Malaysia and now Hong Kong!

  20. Your constant uprooting as a kid makes me sad. The new school over and over would have been too much for me as a kid. But, of course, I was a nervous, quiet, anti-social kid. Maybe you’re more outgoing than I was.

    I moved quite a bit with my son (just around town, mostly…i’m such a jet-setter) up until he started school. That’s the main thing that keeps me rooted now, the thought of him having to change schools.

    Ha, I must admit, though, I do fantasize about packing up the kids and taking off for some deserted island somewhere. How populated is Hawaii these days?

    I am glad you’ve found contentment and are happy with your station in life. Let the moss gather, babe.

  21. Wow! Given how stable your home situation seems to be at the moment (messy, but stable), I would never have guessed your childhood residences changed so frequently. And it sounds like you’ve lived in lots of interesting places!

    This definitely has made me reflect on my moving history.

    I lived in the same house in Berkeley, CA from age 3 to 17, when I left for college. (Before that, I know of at least two other homes–my parents lived in “married and family student housing” when I was born, and then we lived in an apartment upstairs from a store or barber shop or something in a not-so-good neighborhood. When we moved out of that apartment and into the house I would grow up in, my parents had explained to me about the move, and I was pretty unfazed until the movers TOOK MY HIGH CHAIR. Then I cried unconsolably, my parents trying unsuccessfully to reassure me that the high chair would be in the new house.)

    I lived in 4 different dorm rooms during college (with one summer at home in Berkeley, half a summer at my parents’ house in Chapel Hill, NC (my parents were and still are married, but for over a decade starting when I left for college, they spent about half the year on opposite coasts for career reasons), the other half of that summer in some friends’ apartment in the town where we went to college, one summer in Norman, OK for a summer math research thingy, and one summer in Boston as a counselor in a math camp for high school students.
    Next I went to graduate school in San Diego, which lasted 6 years (one year in one apartment with 3 roommates, all of whom moved out and some of whom were replaced while I was there, 5 years in the next with a succession of roommates). Since it was university-owned housing, I had to move out when I graduated; I took an apartment for the next 2.5 years in another part of San Diego and had another succession of roommates.

    Then I spent 2 months in my childhood home getting ready to move to Italy, where I lived for 4.5 years (one month in an apartment with the woman who owned it; 2 months in another apartment until I realized my roommate was insane; almost a year housesitting for a colleague and living alone, which I found lonely; and the rest of the time in another apartment with 2 roommates at a time).

    Then I moved to Boston, where I spent the first month (October) living in the sun-porch of a friend of my sister-in-law. Then I moved into the apartment I’ve been in for 2.5 years or so.

    And next week I will move back to my childhood home in Berkeley.

    I’m going to housesit while my parents are on sabbatical, telecommute to my Boston job, and relish the fact that I will (hopefully) never again make a long-distance move. It might take more than one try to find a permanent home in Berkeley (and I won’t do so until my parents get back in February), but I am thrilled at the thought of never again having to ship all of my precious photo albums and old letters across the country, with the terrible fear of loss, the recognition of how irreplaceable they are.

  22. I thought I commented here earlier – oops.

    Really enjoyed this post.

    There’s no place like home.

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