Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

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Cape Cod

Archive for August, 2019

Musings on Home

Sunday musings…

1) Hero. Beth’s new horsey partner has finally arrived from Spain. Christened “Hortalano” but nicknamed “Hero” by the Man Cub (after Hiro, the protagonist in Big Hero 6), he is now home.

The latest actor in a long-running passion.

2) Drip. Street for “fashionable wear”. As in “LeBron was wearing crazy drip when he got off the bus.” Makes about as much sense as calling a high maintenance person “extra”.

3) Twee. Affectedly or excessively quaint, pretty, or sentimental. Never yet applied to any room decorated by Beth.

4) Bolt hole. A safe or restful place; one where you can hide from something unpleasant. Pretty much describes every place I’ve lived with Beth, especially Casa Blanco.

5) Home. What becomes of a place once it is no longer occupied by the people who made it a home? It is certainly changed. Can it remain home to those who are still there to make it one? Of course. Until, that is, it can’t.

My Gramp was so very smart in so many ways. He and Gamma could very well have stayed in the little ranch I remember as their home after my Aunt Barb went off to college. I’m pretty sure it was paid for, and it was certainly user friendly for a couple entering what we would now call middle age. But Gramp saw no advantage in the history of place, nor could he find a use for the extra room in even so small a dwelling once all three daughters had fledged the nest; he and Gamma decamped to a modest 2 bedroom apartment in Newark where he worked as the assistant superintendent for Newark schools.

They took along their living room furniture, and as luck would have it they also managed to take along (or had been taken along by) a few of their close friends at the time. Gamma and Gramp seemed to be about as social in Newark as they’d been in Glen Ridge. In all of my visits to their house I never remember any interaction with the neighborhood or the neighbors. In the Newark apartment it seemed that everyone knew my grandparents, and by extension, me.

In the late 60′s and early 70′s the great diaspora of retired north easterners to southeast Florida had begun. My two aunts had already moved to Miami, and Gamma and Gramp followed shortly after Gramp retired (the race riots in Newark prompted him to hang up his spurs at the earliest opportunity). I should note that in both Newark and Miami my grandparents became renters. Just another example of Gramp’s genius because neither they as a couple, nor Gamma as a widow, would be encumbered by place.

Like a spiritual tortoise, home would travel with them.

Gramp died when I was in high school. My memory of that time is kinda fuzzy. Maybe I was a junior. Gamma stayed in the King’s Creek apartment alone for at least a couple of years. She hosted my buddy Kid and me for a spring break visit during my freshman year in college. Her days seemed to be filled by time spent with friends in the apartment complex, usually centered around the pool. With two daughters and four  grandchildren only a few miles away she also had their activities to attend if she wanted to. I remember watching my cousins baseball games with my uncles and my Gramp. Did Gamma use their games (and Jenny’s tennis matches) to fill the hours of her days?

It’s been almost 4 years since my Dad died. Unlike Gramp there was so much of what constituted home for my Mom and Dad in the house where I was raised that they remained in place. Mom still lives there, moving through that big space like a ping pong ball in a gymnasium. With the exception of Thanksgiving and other family gatherings the house at 30 Kirkbrae Drive has been much too much for the 30 years it’s been since my youngest sister graduated from college, the last of the four of us to fledge. Mom and Dad stayed so long that home and place became one and the same for them.

After a couple of years alone in her apartment in Miami without Gramp Gamma either decided or was convinced that it was no longer home. Or at least that it wasn’t not enough home to stick around. My folks and my aunts were clearly on board because all three sisters built homes that had spaces ready for Gamma; she was welcomed into each of their homes for varying periods of each year, the specifics changing as she got older and the northern winters became more of a challenge. What changed for her? What had been there at King’s Creek in the first couple of years after Gramp died that was no longer there after a few years?

Or was it more that something had changed in Gamma herself? Even the tiniest of spaces can feel awfully empty when they aren’t really home. Without the rest of whoever made up “home” I imagine that the loneliness makes everything seem simply massive. And empty. The comfort of the familiar gets lost in the emptiness. When do you try to make that emptiness smaller? Gamma left in her late 60′s I think. Having already moved at least twice she simply moved with whatever she had left in her little tortoiseshell of home and began residing with her daughters and their families.

While we 8 grandchildren all considered her a part of our homes, I wonder now if Gamma ever really did feel at home in all those years lived without Gramp. Untethered to place she’d moved early at each stage. Probably not the first in any of her groups to do so but most definitely not the last. Blessed to have options she (and Gramp) seemed to grasp the reality that someone else would make decisions for them if they didn’t make them for themselves, even about something as fundamental as home.

There is certainly an aspect of place to home, but home is more than place. Leaving a place does not need to mean leaving home, or even leaving behind what made a particular place a good home. How do you know when it’s the right time to leave? Sadly I don’t think you ever really do. Gramp made moves which, looking back, seem to have been brilliant. Prescient. I think what you do realize all too often is that you probably stayed in place a bit longer than you should have. That the natural attachment to place that is part of the home equation has lasted longer than what really made that particular dwelling a home.

Home can be terribly difficult to leave unless we believe, like Gamma and Gramp, that home is not really where we dwell but where we live.

I’ll see you next week…

 

Taking Stock: Sunday musings…8/4/19

1) Crafty. Lovely Daughter’s term for the charting of a co-worker. Seems to mean equal parts clever and devious.

2) 28. This year marks the 28th consecutive summer vacation for the extended White family on Cape Cod. Same house, same beach, same neighbors. And yet, like so many years before, it was hardly the same trip. If memory serves this is the third Cape Week without my Dad (he passed in the fall almost 4 years ago), and it was one that saw for the first time less than 100% beach attendance by my Mom. Like the last 4 or 5 our children’s generation was sparsely represented as they pursue their early adulthoods. In fairness to them it should be noted that all four in my generation were out of college and married in the earliest years of Cape Week, 3 of us also already parents.

What is this year’s take home from our week? I’m afraid it was a bit too new and different, and it’s a bit too fresh for me to say. It was peaceful and free of rancor, but also awfully frenetic with the addition of my whirling dervish Man Cub; Beth and I had him solo for a few days. Being in the active pursuit of grand parenting without parents present does not lend itself to introspection of any kind, and since we flew home the internal dialogue of a 12 hour drive of years gone by has not yet taken place.

It was different. We were, all of us, different. It’ll take a little bit to sort through it all.

3) Goals. An Op-Ed in this week’s WSJ caught my attention. A daughter entering college asks her Dad at breakfast if he’d accomplished the goals he’d set out when he was a young man her age. It’s the kind of question I could easily see my own daughter asking me in any of a dozen scenarios. As I meander toward my 60th, in stark contrast to the year I spent careening toward my 50th, what little time for quiet thought I enjoyed this past week was devoted to this question.

Of course, like the author of the WSJ piece, in order to reflect on whether I’d actually met my goals I would have to reach back and try to retrieve some sort of memory of what those goals may have been. In doing so what strikes me the most is how few goals I seem to have had as a young man. At least when one thinks about large, grand, life-long goals that are significant enough that you actually express them in some way, shape or form. In retrospect most of mine appear to have been strikingly short-term, with a pretty complete lack of any deeper considerations of the longer term impact of those goals. I wanted to continue to be a football player as long as I could, and I wanted to be a doctor.

As far as I can see that pretty much covers it for goals as I exited adolescence.

What goals I remember setting and what accomplishments I’ve made seem to have arisen from the ground along the paths I’ve walked since my last moment on a football field and the milestone moments in the journey of becoming a practicing physician. We all start out believing that we will do something great. Something that will have a greater meaning with an impact that reaches far beyond our closest environment. At least the groups I was part of early in my life did. We’d just left the 60′s, a time of momentous change effected by seemingly out of nowhere leaders. Looking back I can see that I just assumed something like that would happen to me if I simply kept moving forward.

But it didn’t. Those great big goals and accomplishments that the author’s daughter was asking her Dad about never materialized for me. Each time the chance to choose that kind of path arose it was blazingly clear that doing so had consequences locally. All of the bigger, broader worlds fell away as the smaller, more intimate world around me became my focus. Our family. My modest, local practice. My role  model, Dr. Roy the pediatrician in Southbridge, was a very important man, but the reach of that importance was decidedly local. Each time an opportunity arose to extend beyond my own locale I chose, instead, to follow the lead of man whose life made me choose medicine as a career.

Looking back now I guess my goals were always rather modest. In the end what I wished to achieve was a family like the ones my wife and I grew up in, and a small measure of what Dr. Roy meant to our little mill town in Massachusetts: to be important in my own village. To be someone who had earned the respect of his fellow villagers. As I travel the slow, easy curve at mile marker 59 the journey is smooth because I’ve tried my very best along the way to achieve those two things. In the beginning and during the journey they seemed to be the only goals that I remember saying out loud.

After that I would just keep moving forward.

I’ll see you next week…

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