It was more than The Great Newtown Reunion on July 27 that drew former resident André Middlebrook back to the area. Born and raised in Newtown, Mr Middlebrook moved with his family to the San Jose, Calif., region in 1984, when he was just 16 years old.
“I have wanted to move back here for the past five years,” said Mr Middlebrook, who works as a safety inspector/emergency responder for Pacific Scientific, an energetic materials provider. “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that California seems more mundane, and one shopping center after another that are all the same,” he said.
He has kept many connections here to friends and family, returning to visit every ten years or so. But he has also come to recognize his New England heritage more as the years go by, he said. Mr Middlebrook traces his ancestry back to Newtown’s benefactress, Mary Elizabeth Hawley.
“My great-great grandparents were Dr Elijah Middlebrook of Trumbull and Mary Comfort, an aunt and uncle to Mary Hawley,” he said. “Mary Elizabeth Hawley would be my third cousin, I believe,” said Mr Middlebrook.
When both of his mother, Patricia Emond, and his stepfather, Thomas Larkin, died within the past two years, he no longer felt a need to remain in California.
“When 12/14 happened, it kind of galvanized my feelings of moving back to the area,” Mr Middlebrook said.
The event particularly disturbed him, as his mother had been a teacher in Newtown.
“She was an interim principal at Middle Gate School, she taught at Hawley School, and she was on the building committee for Head O’ Meadow School. So 12/14 really affected me,” he said.
“I felt a passive guilt about not being here then. Being in an occupation where I help people, and being so far away was hard. But I wondered, how am I going to go back now? The whole community is changed because of 12/14,” he said. He decided to hold back on his decision to move back to Connecticut.
“I traveled to Eastern Europe and around this spring. And I realized that I belong in Newtown,” Mr Middlebrook said.
A week ago, he arrived after a cross-country drive, and has temporarily settled in Fairfield while he looks for a permanent home in Newtown.
There have been changes in Newtown, but those changes have been mainly positive, he noticed.
“I think the community has really come together after 12/14. I do think Pat Llodra was right in saying that Newtown needs some time to itself, though,” he said. But he does not feel like an outsider. “I do feel welcomed back into the community,” Mr Middlebrook said.
There have been ongoing physical changes to the town, too, since he grew up here, but even those do not seem so radical as what he continually experienced in California.
“There, things change all the time. There’s always a new store going up, or something,” he said.
He has devoted time the past week to walking around the borough, and there, Mr Middlebrook said, the changes are in keeping with the town’s history and not so extreme as he might have expected over three decades.
“A lot is the same. The new Starbucks is great, and I like the new plaza on Queen Street,” he said. He recalled that while he lived here last, a gas station and the White Birch Inn occupied that corner.
He remembers when the Yankee Drover Inn burned to the ground, on the corner of West and Main Streets.
“That Dana-Holcombe House there now, wow!” he commented.
“When you walk around Newtown, you see a lot more, and that’s not something I did, as a kid. It puts a whole different aspect on what you see,” Mr Middlebrook noted.
He is happy to be back in New England.
“It’s the scenery, and the people. People here are more welcoming, and not so fast paced as in California,” he said.
“I was back about five years ago for autumn, and I’m looking forward to the fall colors again,” said Mr Middlebrook. He does have one apprehension about the move, though: snow.
“I don’t know how to drive in the snow! I left here when I was 16 years old, so I haven’t really experienced snow in all that time,” he said.
Until the snow falls, Mr Middlebrook will be settling back into the more gentle routines of life in New England, he said. Just being back, and The Great Newtown Reunion, confirmed what he suspected: He is home again.