In 1998, I was 29 years old and everything I owned fit in a rented 5x8-foot U-Haul trailer. I was living in Boston but had just accepted an exciting job opportunity in Atlanta. I loved Boston, but I was young, single and eager to brag about “being promoted” to anyone who cared. The entire process of interviewing, getting and accepting the offer, and moving took less than three weeks. Soon, I was sitting in a Target parking lot in suburban Atlanta.
And I wept.
These were real tears. I recall this vividly because I remember thinking that I could not remember the last time I had actually cried like that. In hindsight, it was probably some kind of emotional “release.” This geographical and occupational transition had happened fast. I had just left a city I loved for another city where I knew no one and a job for which I had no experience. A first-world problem to be sure, but I was one scared 20-something. Fortunately, everything turned out well. My new job as an educator turned out to be incredibly rewarding, and within six months I met the woman who was to become my wife.
Memories of that morning outside of Target, however, resurfaced this past summer.
My wife, two children and I moved to Peoria in June. We arrived right behind our moving truck, significantly larger than my trailer of 20 years ago. For our children, it was to be their first time living somewhere outside the south. We had been to Peoria only once before—last January to do some house-hunting—and chose a weekend with sub-zero temperatures. What the local population might describe as cold, we found to be really, really cold, but also very exciting. Seeing snow for the first time has that effect on a child.
We arrived in Peoria during the third week of June. That first week, a tree fell through our kitchen one night when a freak lightning storm came out of nowhere; I got bit by a dog on the Rock Island Trail; and finally, I discovered (the hard way) that my yard is covered in poison ivy. Yet, despite this, we knew that we loved being here and that this was a special city.
We came from Dallas, a larger city, but realized that Peoria has everything we need… and more. More importantly, the people we met right away made us feel at home. We put these people in two categories: those who were born and raised here, and transplants like us.
The latter group possessed the empathy and readily knew what we were experiencing. They were the ones with the helpful advice. They were the ones who had more recently found new doctors, dentists, painters, plumbers and landscapers (we had not bought our own mower yet). We could benefit from their research, which they probably got from...
The “locals.” They were the ones to bring pastries from their favorite bakery—the place we “just had to try.” They were the ones to invite us to that restaurant downtown that we’d never find on our own. They were the ones we became friendly with at Chiefs games. And they were the ones who told us that our house was to be called the “Johnson House,” even though the Johnsons had not lived there for two generations. They taught us all about the rich culture, history and background of Peoria, starting with the formation of the Illinois River. It was like moving inside a James Michener novel.
We’ve been here a very short period of time. As expected, we’ve been to Chicago and St. Louis to visit family and friends a handful of times. But we were repeatedly told, “You'll love taking a Saturday and going to the big city, but you’ll love even more coming back home.” It’s only been five months, but we have found that to be true.
Even when sitting in the Target parking lot. PM
Jay Riven recently joined Peoria Academy as its new head of school, arriving with 20 years of independent school administrative and leadership experience, primarily in Atlanta and Dallas.