December 15th, 2006

Parties. Holidays. Home.

Those of you who’ve followed my mother’s journey to a new assisted living facility located in the NY community where she lived for most of her life might be interested in learning there’s good news and bad.

First, the bad. She absolutely detests the place. Every time we talk–which is almost every day–she complains: the food stinks, the people likewise. Some of it may be hyperbole, but it may just very well all be true.

Her apartment itself isn’t the problem. It’s a studio, yes. But even though it’s only got one room, the ceilings are high, and huge multiple windows on two sides give it an air of great spaciousness and openness. Likewise, the staff is pleasant and fairly responsive.

When you’re in a place like that, though, and almost ninety-three, the food and–for want of a better word, your fellow inmates–are really the thing. And she’s unequivocally negative about both.

So, what’s the good news? She sounds very happy nonetheless. Happier than she’s sounded in many years. Her voice–always an instant giveaway to her mood, as far back as I can remember–is light and energetic, and her mind seems very sharp.

I think the reason for her good spirits is clear. As I wrote here, she’s home.

In the eighty-eight years she lived in that community, she probably knew thousands of people, many of them well, many of them from childhood. Even though that huge group of friends has now been sharply culled by death and time, it was originally so extraordinarily large that the survivors still constitute a fairly large number.

That means she gets a couple of phone calls on a daily basis from old friends she hasn’t seen in the five years since she moved to New England to be near me when her significant other (boyfriend, that is) died in 2001 at the age of ninety-four. A couple of times a week they’ve taken her out–to lunch, to dinner. To the golf/tennis club she was a member of for forty years, to our old home (sold in the early 90s), to the hamburger joint that opened in the 50s to great fanfare, even to the museum where she used to volunteer and where she still might be able to.

Don’t ever underestimate the power of that sort of community to lift the spirits. It grounds her in a particular space and a particular history, rather than the far northern city where she lived near me, a random place with random people with no significance for her, however lovely or however friendly it or they may have been.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the concept of “home.” One reason, of course, is my mother. Another, as I mentioned in my piece about her move, is that I’ve been contemplating a move myself. I haven’t gotten too far with the process yet, but stay tuned.

This particular weekend I’m back in the New England town where I landed in the late 70s and lived for the next twenty years. I came here because of a job of my then-husband’s; we stayed far past the time he held that job. Once you get set in a place and start raising kids, it becomes home, even if it isn’t the home you would have chosen (too rural, too isolated, for me). And when you’re cooped up with a bunch of screaming toddlers and going stir-crazy yourself–dedicated to the important task of child-rearing though you might be–the friendships you make are deep and lasting.

This weekend it’s holiday party weekend; that’s why I’m here. Last night I went to a celebration that’s been held every year for the last twenty-five. I don’t know most of the people there well anymore; never did, actually. The vast majority I only see once every year, at that very party. But there’s something about knowing people over time that has a power all its own.

The food is always fabulous and copious; the hostess makes everything herself. Every couple of years she moves to a new house and seems to have a new guy–this is the first year for this home and the third for the guy (I approve, by the way, especially of the latter). But when I look at her I don’t just see the present; I see the past.

The young mother with two little babies so close in age I wonder how she managed. The businesswoman who’s started many successful ventures. The different hair colors. The first husband, a charmer, still a friend despite a messy divorce that broke her heart and estranged them for years (she became so startlingly thin at that time that everyone was alarmed for her health).

And that’s the way it was for me and almost everyone there. If they show photos of their tall, grownup children, or give news of offsprings’ marriages and even a few grandkids (something new in the mix), in my mind’s eye rise images of the adorable little babies and toddlers I originally knew years ago. Some of my friends still look pretty good, themselves, but some of them wear the years harder, and they seem–well, some of them seem pretty old. And don’t get me started on the topic of weight gain.

I don’t think I’d ever want to move back here. It’s still too rural and isolated; I’m a city girl, after all. But don’t think I’m not tempted. No, it’s not “home” in the sense that my mother’s community is to her. But, since most of my good friends are scattered all over the country and I have very few relatives, this is probably the closest thing I have to home.

Perhaps it’s the closest thing I’ll ever have, although I hope not. I hope to make a new home, or even a series of successive new homes.

So, anybody got a formula for “instant home?” Or, as I suspect, is that an oxymoron?

5 Responses to “Parties. Holidays. Home.”

  1. Steve Says:

    Some thoughts about “home”

    1. I have moved and sold my possessions several times but I find I always end up getting the same stuff over again, and in arrangement similar to what I had before. So I think one important criterion of home is a space that’s comfortable to the home you have inside your head.

    2. Everyone needs companionship. Someone to come home to. It could be a pet or a person. If you are a guy, and you hook up with a woman, odds are you are going to be near her family. Then they become part of your home, too.

    3. I don’t now if you are in a working situation and/or a relationship situation but those tend to establish the geographical parameters of home.

    4. My first wife was never happy anyplace we lived. In the past 20 years (including of course many after we divorced) she has moved 15 times. But I always figured her inability to stay put was a reflection of the fact that she didn’t grasp that happiness in your surroundings is to a certain extent a subjective thing.

    5. Don’t confuse the need for excitement, positive evaluation and affirmation, etc. etc. with the upside of stability. As I grow older I value transquillity more. And there’s nothing you could ever do to make you more important than you already are.

    Good luck!

  2. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

    Very poignant. Welcome back to NH. If you break down near Goffstown I’ll come help – if my sons bring back the cars.

    We have lived in this house for 18 years, and this town for 30. My older sons knew no other homes but now have their own. My younger sons had a dozen residences in Transylvania – few of them homes – before we brought them here. They have been here longer than any place else, but I think “home” for them will always be an ambivalent concept.

    My childhood homes were mostly in the next town over, but I seldom see those places or any of the people I knew then. There are no remaining relatives. The space itself is part of home; the look of small mountains, where roads go, the flora, fauna, and weather. A few objects, mostly books and inherited furniture, are part of home. It is hackneyed to claim that home is where my wife is, but that is also true.

    If we were purely spiritual beings, then “home” would be inside us and these other things merely the Aristotelian accidents that contain them, but I at least am too material for that. Comfort foods and favorite songs do not merely suggest home, but are part of it.

    You might reread the last few chapters of Tolkien for some observations of where home is, or perhaps “Leaf by Niggle.”

  3. Ron Says:

    I’ve got none of that. Nada! So I just sleep through the holidays…

  4. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

    Sorry to hear that, Ron. That must suck. Hope you can find some other things to bring you joy, if this one is denied to you.

  5. Ymarsakar Says:

    Home is where if you arrive there, they can’t shut the door on you.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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