Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Rediscovering Utah

Say the word 'Utah' and it brings up different images to different people. Some will think of the world famous powdery snow that makes Utah a top skiing destination. Red rock arches will come to mind for others. Some will think of the miles and miles of salt flats that are used to race some of the fastest cars in the world. And, of course, there will always be the lingering stereo types of families with multiple wives because of the concentrated presence of the Mormon church. But when I think of Utah, I think of people.

We were living in Washington D.C. back in 2003, when we found out hubby's job would be taking us to that Western state. The internet was not old enough to give us many visuals but we found a few books in the local library and decided that if this new state were half as beautiful as it seemed to be, we were game for the cross country relocation.

When we arrived, on a sunny day in August of 2003, Park City was one of the first towns we experienced. It's just as stunning as it had been represented to us in Hollywood movies. Then we made our way down to Salt Lake City, rounding that curve in the highway as it meanders down the mountain and weaves into the valley, we were once again left breathless at our good fortune, to be moving to such a visually stunning location.

Within weeks we were settled into a comfortable house just west of Salt Lake City, in a town called Stansbury. Mountains surrounded the valley we lived in, and the immense great Salt Lake bordered our views to the north. As we enjoyed the beauty all around us we had no idea that it wasn't physical attributes that would make us fall in love with Utah completely. It would be the people we met and had relationships with that would seal the deal.

For three years we called Utah home. We grew to know and love a wide circle of new friends, who quickly turned into the kind of people who are lifetime friends. When it was time to move on, this time to New York, it was a gut wrenching goodbye.

Now we're living in the West once again. This time we made it only as far as Colorado. We've finally settled in enough that we had the time to head over to our old stomping grounds, and catch up with our old Utah friends. It's been seven years since we'd been there. Seven years since we'd sat around fire pits late into the night, sharing laughs and heart felt life stories. We were ready to hug those familiar friends and catch up on all that has happened in the years we've been gone.

It all went by way too quickly, as truly special trips always do. I took a million pictures and we laughed a million laughs. I don't think I stopped smiling all weekend.

It was surreal to see their kids. I know my kids have grown, but it's easy to forget that theirs have too. I've been the one buying all those groceries, as our 17 year old grew to be six and a half feet tall. He was a fourth grader when we left Utah. Those friends remember him as being a skinny little boy who loved to ride a scooter down the street. He's now a high schooler, taller than most of his teachers, with a set of car keys in his pocket. It's strange for them to see this 'new' kid, as he ducks his head to get through their front door frame.

But it's just as strange for me to see their baby girl, who is now at the end of her elementary school years. She was still gestating in her mama's belly when I first 'met' her. Since her mama lived right across the street from me, and became one of my favorite people on the planet, I knew this baby girl from the day she was born. My school aged kids spent our hanging out times hauling her around on their hips. Even my boys passed her around, like she was our mascot baby. She took her first steps on the sidewalk between our houses, toddling from the hands of my middle school daughter, to her mama's waiting arms. This baby girl wasn't supposed to grow up so fast. But there she was, that same bright smile, but this time on an older kid's body.

But, as it always is with those magical lifetime friends, the second the front door opened, we were back to being just 'us'. We were the same couples we'd been on the day we pulled out of our driveway, headed off to New York. They were the same hilarious, fun, true blue friends we'd left behind. It was as if seven years had not even passed. If you didn't let yourself look at the tall kids who surrounded us, it would be easy to believe it had only been a few weeks since we'd last seen each other.

Before nightfall the fire pit had been made. The kids had easily mingled into a pack again and entertained themselves without any adult guidance for the rest of the night. It was like stepping into a time machine, looking across the crackling fire at those familiar faces I'd missed so much. The conversation flowed easily, as we once again bonded over parenting stories, this time not so much revolving around potty training and elementary school science fairs, but more focused on worries about the dating lives of high schoolers and the woes of empty nests.

The next day we reluctantly left that driveway once again, this time promising to be back in much less than seven years. We headed back to our old street, looked at our old house, and each shared our most vivid memories. Since my youngest was a preschooler when we moved away from Utah, we re-introduced him to places that he'd spent his days. The skate park where he rode his little red bike we called 'the clown bike'. The lake house where he'd hunted for Easter eggs. The church building where he'd been surrounded by people who loved  and encouraged him. The endless sidewalks he'd traveled with big brothers, on scooters and bikes.

We ended up at another house, this one still occupied by another family we grew to love deeply. Their kids are the ages of our older children, so they are parenting young adults now too. The kids we remember were still navigating high school hallways. Through the magic of facebook I've kept in touch with some of these new adult/kids and it was great to hug them in person, see those smiles I remembered so well. We spent the afternoon catching up with them. When it was time to leave, our kids were begging us to stay 'just a little longer'. It's easy to see why this family meant so much to us. They fit us in such a nice way.

We will go back. Now that we're more settled in our new home state of Colorado, and we were reminded that it's only a 8 hour drive to get to our old stomping grounds, we will go back. I'm thrilled that my children will have the chance to rekindle special friendships. For adults it's easier to step back into quality relationships from the past. Sometimes it's not so easy for kids, who left the old place as not fully developed people. But it's nice to see they still fit with our old friends. And they will stop being referred to as 'those people we used to know in Utah' and now, once again, be referred to as 'our friends, the Motts.'

Life is short and life is long. Seven years can change a lot. Children become totally different people in seven years. But seven years is not too long. It's not long enough to let us forget how nice it is to be surrounded by good people. It's long enough to make us realize just how much a good friendship is worth. And just how deep a friendship can run. 

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