She has not lived in New York City since she was seven years old, but my neighbor, a widow, feels she is “going home” whenever she returns there. She has lived all over the world and is now at an age to consider Assisted Living residences, but she still returns to “the city” for a taste of childhood memories. Home.
“What will you do there?”
At night she sees plays. Alone. She loves the vitality of the city and walks the streets unafraid.
“And I go to Rockefeller Center. I remember standing there with my mother. Of all the places I have lived, New York seems the most unchanged.”
Ah. . . . It seems an odd statement and yet I know what she means.
Twenty years ago, after living elsewhere for more than a decade, we moved back to a city where we’d lived as newlyweds. This will be an easy move, I’d thought. Back to familiar surroundings…we’ll pick up right where we left off.
To say that things had changed doesn’t begin to cover it. Our first house had been in a subdivision so far from the city that the winding country road that took us there was lined with farms. In our absence the city had run water and sewer lines and the winding road had changed into a thoroughfare, straightened and widenened to four or more lanes. The farms and woods had long since been replaced by shopping centers and more subdivisons.
At home in our new subdivsion built off that same road-now-highway, I never felt more lost. Every landmark had disappeared. Only my friend Martha remained unchanged (and yes, she IS a landmark) but even the dirt lane to her house had become a paved road with a sprouting of subdivisions.
Eventually I joined a newcomers group because where we lived, everybody was new. We were all busy making punch lists and ordering blinds. I wanted a book club, someone to go to the farmer’s market with. . . someone to help me FIND the darned place.
Although it sounds logical to assume that an all-new subdivision would be an easy place in which to assimilate, such was not the case for me. Dearly Beloved still had an office in New York City, so he flew there Mondays and back Friday afternoons. Our children had their places to go. I was the one without a rudder–perhaps something to do with my age and fluctuating hormones, or sadness over my mother’s declining health.
One Monday morning, with Dearly Beloved on the plane and the children away until afternoon, I, wearing an old pair of my husband’s pajamas, took the dog out into the backyard. I realized, too late, that the door I had used was the one noted thusly on our punch list: STICKY LOCK.
Loneliness is wandering down a new street in your husband’s pajamas not knowing who to call even if you find a real person in one of those houses under various phases of construction. Eventually I found a neighbor, explained my predicament, and asked to use her phone. Very graciously she let me in and left me there, apologizing for having to rush out for an appointment. Left a stranger in her house. Reluctantly, I called daughter Boo away from her first day on a summer job at a bank to come rescue her mother.
It was from that neighborhood that daughter Pogo and I flew back to Wisconsin a dozen or so years after we had left it, for the 100th birthday celebration of a most unusual mutual friend. Pogo had been eight years old when we ‘d moved from Wisconsin, so going back was a time of rediscovery for her. We visited some friends and finally stopped outside our old house, the one we’d long designated as “our all-time favorite house.”
Before we’d moved, Pogo had left the new owners a letter so poignant that I can still not quote it without crying. She had sat in her Strawberry Shortcake room and listed where potential friends lived for any child who might need a pal and explained that the names on the basement wall had been chalked there by the daughters of the original owners. She had added HER family’s names, too.
“Do you want me to ask if we can go in?”
She shook her head, but walked up the short driveway with its blend of cement and pebble and without hesitation, stooped to a spot almost in the center, , and began to rub one of the small pebbles.
“I always loved this rock,” she said, looking up at me.
Had we known, we would have bulldozed the whole driveway to take that smooth, sun-warmed rock when we moved.
Living in different parts of the country gave us a broadened perspective we’ve brought with us and we feel enriched by that. I wouldn’t trade that adventure, but by the very process we’ve had to leave part of ourselves behind. My neighbor collected a houseful of antiques from all over the world, yet the pull of home is not a house at all, but the act of standing in Rockefeller Plaza, remembering the touch of her mother’s hand.
Our children are grown and living hours away, each in a different state, so wherever Dearly Beloved and I are together is home for me. He is MY smooth, warm rock.
Being able to talk regularly with enduring friends who are part of my history means a great deal. I love e-mail. The last time we moved, as I waited on the curb in front of our house for an oncoming car to pass, it stopped in front of me and the driver leaned out to welcome me to the neighborhood, saying she had been friends with the previous owner.
“I’ll try to stop by to see you, but I have too many friends already.”
She hasn’t, but believe me, I’m fine with that.
Hansel and Gretel left breadcrumbs to find their way back home. Most of us leave little pieces of our heart.
A shabbily-dressed man pushing a shopping cart in front of our house in Memphis stopped to study our recycling bin before removing several articles. He pondered over the contents of his cart for a few minutes, removed this object, and placed it carefully beside our bin. A trade. Later I brought it to the porch and put in one of my flower pots. When we moved, I brought it with me. It didn’t seem right to leave it behind. What is it? I have no idea.