Never did I think I’d live 18 miles from my childhood home. I was a typical expat. I flew home for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I relished gifts of Weber’s mustard and passed sponge candy around the office when my family came to visit. I said more good things about Buffalo than I ever did when I lived here. I gushed so much about what I saw then as my downtrodden home city, it became a joke among my friends.
I was filled with nostalgia for Western New York, but not so much that I dreamed about moving back home. To me, Buffalo still seemed a place that couldn’t overcome its gray-sky winters and empty buildings. This was 2004, when the fall of Adelphia still stung and the city was still trawling for a certain big-box fishing store.
Then, like so many people who move here, I fell in love. Not with the city – that would come later. But with the man who would eventually become my husband. He lived in Buffalo. I was living in New Jersey, where I struggled to keep up with the lofty living expenses on the paltry salary of my first real job.
My apartment was 380 miles from the house in Western New York where my parents live and I grew up. We tend to think of that as normal around here, but it turns out, for much of the country, living far from your parents is an anomaly. An analysis published last week by the New York Times found the typical adult in the United States lives only 18 miles from his or her mom.
The authors didn’t break down the data to regions as small as Western New York, but my guess is, despite all the expats who come home for the holidays, a great number of people from Buffalo Niagara still live within a short drive from their parents. We tend to spend a lot of time thinking about the people who’ve left. But it’s those who live here now who make this region what it is.
We know, from census data, that more young people are moving here. Between 2006 and 2012, the number of people between 20 and 34 in the Buffalo Niagara region jumped by 10.5 percent. Anecdotally, I’ve interviewed so many people who tell me they’ve moved back home, it doesn’t stand out anymore.
New Jersey, surprisingly, was a nice place to live. I braced for turnpikes, dense housing developments and smog but found peach farms, sandy beaches and pine lands. It’s like Buffalo: You have to live there to understand that it’s much better than its reputation. But, occasionally, I’d look around and think, “How did I get here?”
I moved back to Western New York for love, but the benefits of living within a 20-minute drive of my family have far outweighed the perks of living within a close drive to New York City and Philadelphia. Falling back in love with Buffalo – the neighborhoods, the sunsets on the water, the people – was the blue cheese on the chicken wing.
Now that I’m a mother, living near family is a near saving grace. That’s a lot harder to understand when you’re just out of college and haven’t seen the happiness on your son’s face when he’s on the way to see his grandparents.
There’s one thing I do miss about living away: that excitement you feel when you’re flying home for a holiday, just as the wheels hit the runway, as you imagine a weekend filled with friends and family. But, now, I no longer say goodbye when the holiday’s over.
Home, for me, turned up right about where I started. I couldn’t be happier.