My husband and I love watching reality shows about Alaska. The reason we do is between us, we have lived there for 65 years, so we know a little something about the state. We smile over some of the “facts” and portrayals of the men and women who live up there and how much money some people are willing to pay for a rustic cabin in the woods.
Don’t get me wrong – much of Alaska is pristine wilderness, but it has changed tremendously in the past 20 years. People there seem less friendly to me and a drive to Wasilla – the next town over from where I grew up in Palmer – feels like Anywhere, U.S.A., with the big chain and box stores and resulting hectic traffic.
When my parents moved to Alaska in 1958, it was a different place altogether. People were more neighborly and when people said they were going “outside,” they meant a trip outside of Alaska, to the Lower 48. Living up in the “Last Frontier” felt isolated, and the rest of the country far away and exotic. I grew up on a mountain surrounded by 160 acres of family land and it was special.
Moving to the Buffalo area in 2011, I really didn’t know what to expect. My husband grew up in Depew and for him it was a homecoming. He was excited to be back in the land of excellent pizza, subs and wings and to be near his brother for the first time in 30- odd years. In contrast, my lifelong network of friends and family was yanked out from underneath my feet like a familiar rug.
It didn’t take long for me to figure out people here were welcoming and friendly. We drove down from Alaska and kept Alaska plates on our car for the first six months. We got lots of comments on the license plates and questions from curious residents. One time at Tops we got stopped in the parking lot by a very friendly gentleman who was amazed by our plates and had a question, I think, about Sarah Palin. My husband and I chatted with him for a few minutes and headed in to do our shopping. Wouldn’t you know it but this nice man followed us into the store – he had forgotten to welcome us to the area. That would not happen in Wasilla, trust me.
The number one question posed to us was: “Why did you move to Buffalo from Alaska?” People seemed to think we were crazy for leaving the mountainous beauty of the North.
The first answer was simple: to help care for my mother-in-law, who was in her 90s with dementia. And the second answer was: why not?
Western New York really is an amazing place when you consider the vast amount of things to do and see around here: live music, gorgeous architecture, festivals galore and four beautiful seasons of the year. Real seasons – not just a quick week of spring and another equally brief week of fall. We had a bumper crop of peaches from a couple of trees we planted last year and that would never have happened in Alaska, where the growing season is short.
Members of my family who have come to visit have changed their opinion of my new living situation from feeling scared and sorry for me to being glad and planning more trips back to this area.
Yes, I will always be an Alaskan girl at heart but I have come to appreciate the beauty and people who surround me here.