October 10, 2013 in Washington Voices

Front Porch: Spokane still great place to settle down

By Correspondent
 

It’s been interesting to watch how so many of the children we raise in Spokane can’t wait to get the heck out of here, to go face the world in their adulthoods anywhere but here, to be someplace “more exciting” and to pretty much put Spokane in their rearview mirrors.

And then they come home.

I’m not talking about coming home to live in Mom and Dad’s basement because the world collapsed for them. I’m talking about our grownup children who make the conscious choice to return to the fold. I’ve seen it over and over.

Sure, anyplace but where you’ve been all your life seems more exciting than what is familiar. That’s probably a given. And sure, some of our kids never head out of Dodge. But what is it about Spokane that draws back home so many of its children who do venture out?

Family, sure. But there’s something else, I think. But first let me tell you about a few of the returnees and would-be-returnees I know.

One young man was making a living in the high tech industry in Seattle. Not long after he married, he decided to come back to Spokane, where he started a business of his own. A young woman also returned from a job in Seattle for additional schooling in Spokane and elected to stay and work here. She’s now married and a mother. I know of another person who would fold up his tents in a heartbeat and return to Spokane except that his East Coast-raised wife won’t hear of it. Another young man I’ve known since he was a toddler telecommutes for his work and has elected to return to Spokane. He’ll still have to fly to company headquarters from time to time, which he can do just as easily from here as from where he lived previously. Relevant to the conversation is that the telecommuter got married last month.

These are just some of the children of my friends and my own children’s friends who went out to see and work in the world and decided to center their own worlds back in Spokane again. Maybe they like their parents well enough that they want to be around to keep an eye on us or to give their own children ready and eager grandparents. But the key thing is that they’re in that place in their lives where they’re settling down and raising their own families. Aha.

Of course some have planted their flags elsewhere and are there because of work or spousal connections or other reasons, and economic realities are such that not everyone gets a choice. But even so, the vast majority of the children I’ve seen grow up here and leave are now back in Spokane.

My sons are living and working elsewhere, and they’re quite happy to be where they are. Drat. I might point out that neither of them is married or has children. Just saying.

I think it’s obvious what it is about Spokane that brings people home – beyond what’s familiar and comfortable. It’s the same thing that made Spokane appealing to Bruce and me, two people from opposite ends of the country. We first came here during the Vietnam War when Bruce was stationed at Fairchild Air Force Base. I had grown up on the urban East Coast (New York City and Miami) and was used to that kind of life. Bruce grew up in rural pre-statehood Alaska where, if his family wanted fresh (as opposed to canned) protein, he hunted moose and caribou.

After the Air Force, Bruce had a year and a half to go to complete his bachelor’s degree, so he enrolled at Eastern Washington University on the GI Bill. I was already working, so it seemed like a good idea to stay a while. And then we decided to stay for the rest of our lives.

Spokane was big enough so that I was comfortable. Top-notch medical facilities, variety of shopping opportunities, good theater, a pretty safe place to live, enough vibrancy downtown that it seemed familiar.

Spokane was also small enough that Bruce was comfortable. He could bump into people he knew downtown and get outdoors where there was breathing room in just minutes. And, most important, we could both earn a living here. Sure, it was unlikely we’d make a financial killing, but it was a warm middle class kind of town where you could make a life for yourself and your family.

Yes, things change. Economies change. Everything changes. But Spokane has kept that family-comfortable feeling. It still wants to be a strong middle class town and strives, sometimes struggles, I believe, to achieve that. It’s still that big-enough, small-enough family city that first drew me in decades ago.

Our children eventually come full circle, but first they have to check out that greener grass on the other side of the fence. And when they have their own aha moments, if economically possible, they return to provide a Spokane upbringing for their own children. It’s still a good place to raise a family.

Voices correspondent Stefanie Pettit can be reached by email at upwindsailor@ comcast.net. Previous columns are available at spokesman.com/ columnists/.


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