Mother and Child Reunion

I’m on a plane flying back home from a quick trip to the bustle – and the cold – of Philadelphia and New York. And as much as I am thankful that I no longer live where winter can arrive in November and stubbornly make life miserable for four months or more, and that I no longer endure commuting for more than three hours a day, I have to admit – Lifelongnewyorker misses both the cold and the bustle.

This particular trip included more adrenaline-producing moments than I anticipated, and that too made me a bit nostalgic. Because living, walking and working in a city means constantly being alert, making quick calculations and decisions, balancing options and making choices. The mind and body are active. You feel alive. That’s just not life in Montgomery.

As an aside, I learned during this trip that “nostalgia,” or extreme homesickness, was a diagnosis occasionally listed on 19th century death certificates. But I get ahead of myself.

A work event offered the chance to be in Philadelphia on Monday. Philly is close to New York, I haven’t seen the Abandoned One since Christmas, and he’s been coping with a bout of unemployment. Since I wanted to see him face-to-face to reassure myself that he was okay (he is), I volunteered to help out at the Philly event. I booked my flight into Philadelphia with a return from Newark, and planned to hop the NE Corridor train to get to New York on Tuesday morning and spend the day with Abandoned One.

And, because I’ve long since learned that it’s not smart to call it too close when it comes to flight arrivals – or to put it more simply, it’s foolish to assume that your plane will be on time – I arrived in Philly on Sunday. The Dynamo lives about 60 miles away, so we planned to get together.

Between booking and going, Abandoned One got a job. No daylong visit with him, but still a chance to have dinner together. I made reservations at the Jersey City Hyatt (big rooms, right next to the PATH station, 5 minutes from lower Manhattan, and about $100 cheaper than anything comparable in New York), and he made reservations at Landmarc in Tribeca.

But now, what to do on Tuesday? A museum exhibit? Shopping? Wait! Trenton is between Philadelphia and New York! And in Trenton is the NJ State Archives, where birth, marriage and death records from 19th century Jersey City are available in microform for genealogical research. Perhaps I could find records there that I’d been unable to find so far online.

Perfect. I had lots lined up: visit with the Dynamo; free time on Monday to hunker in my hotel room and work on a memo; a radio interview in the afternoon at WHYY, which came with a lagniappe – the chance to catch up with a former student who works there; the work event; research time, at least four hours, at the archives; dinner with the Abandoned One and home on Wednesday.

Sunday and Monday went off without a hitch. Dynamo and I walked a bit and I loved feeling my body move through the brisk air, loved the way, when the wind picked up at night, you feel so cold but then so warm when you get into a heated spot. Loved the way the cold air hit the face and got the blood moving and provided a good reason to keep up the pace. Loved having a city to walk in.

Those were the days that worked. Tuesday was another kind of city day, typical in some ways, not at all typical in others. I checked out of the hotel in Philly, grabbed a cab and headed to the 30th Street Station. Ate a poppy seed bagel that was about five degrees of magnitude more authentic than anything I can get below the Mason-Dixon line. Bought a ticket on SEPTA to Trenton — $9 versus $28 for Amtrak. Congratulated myself for being so thrifty.

Discovered the trade-off soon enough: The next Trenton train was in 40 minutes (Amtrak was 10), and it was a local. Where did I get the idea that Trenton was “just across the river” from Philly? It may be, but who knew about all those stops in between?

Got to the Trenton Transit Center and realize I’ve never been in Trenton before. It reminds me a bit of Albany, a bit of other Delaware River towns. Run down but interesting Victorian mansions. Lots of brick row houses, a historic section that might be worth a visit someday. I saw this all from the short cab ride to the Archives. When I arrived, I asked the driver whether I would be able to get a cab when I was done. I expected him to hand me a card with a phone number, but he assured me that “cabs come up and down this street all the time.”

I spent more time than I should have at the archives spooling through reels of microfilm, which reminded me just how slow research took when I was in grad school, before the Internet. The net at the end of the session was disappointing: I found no marriage certificate for my grandfather and his first wife; found another marriage certificate I sought that was so faded it was unreadable; but struck pay-dirt with a death certificate for a great uncle who was the first to be buried in a family plot that would eventually hold eleven of my forebears. I printed the death certificate and paid my $0.50 for the copy. The woman ahead of me at the desk forked over $31. She had a good day.

That great uncle’s death underscored how hard life was in the 19th century – well, not just his death. To find the certificate, I had scanned indexes that listed name, date of death, age and cause of death. Illnesses that are simply nuisances today – or those we have vanquished entirely – killed people then. Scarlet fever, bronchitis, infected wound, childbirth – all were perilous.

I’d always assumed Terrance, my grandmother’s oldest brother, died in a workplace accident. I was wrong. Instead, he was an otherwise healthy 21-year old, sick for only four days, who succumbed to double pneumonia in 1880. I knew that his mother – my great-grandmother – was already suffering from the neck tumor that would kill her – by asphyxiation – three years later. Looking at the death certificate, I recalled that my grandmother was born in 1876. She was a child, only four years old when her brother died, and seven when she lost her mother. Before she was 20, she’d attend funerals for more siblings, nieces and nephews. My father was 17 when she died. I come from a line of people who lost their mothers at a relatively young age, but that’s probably true of most of us.

Single photocopy in hand, I retrieved my luggage, coat, purse and pens (forbidden in archives!) from the locker I’d been assigned and left the building to hail a cab. I’d planned to leave around 3 pm; it was closer now to 3:40. Did some quick calculations – an hour to get to Newark Penn Station, about 20 minutes on PATH to Jersey City. No problem; I’d still have over an hour to check in and freshen up.

You guessed it, reader. There was not a cab in sight. I moved to the corner to multiply the chances of hailing a cab going either way on the cross street. Nope. I wondered what bus or combination of buses went to the Trenton Transit Center, and whether one needed exact change or Trenton’s version of a Metrocard. I conjured contingencies – could I find a hotel and get the bellman to hail a cab? What risks were involved in asking a stranger for a ride? Too many. Finally, I decided to walk toward a more densely built-up part of State Street, where I might find a hotel. Meanwhile, I pivoted back and forth, sometimes walking backward, to scout a cab.

One came, at last. But I’d lost 15 minutes. In the cab, I pulled out my iPhone to check fares: Amtrak’s Northeast Regional cost $78, left in a half hour, and would get me to Newark in 38 minutes. At the Trenton Transportation Center, I discovered that NJ transit cost only $11, and an express NE Corridor train was leaving in four minutes. With machine-dispensed ticket in hand, I hurried to Track 2. The train was at the platform! But why were the doors closed? The train stood there for an eternity, doors closed, not moving, me standing hopefully next to it before it finally sighed and pulled away.

Next train: 4:28. It would arrive in Newark at about 5:30. I’d get to the hotel by 6 pm, and still have a half hour to check in, change and wash my face before having to leave. Not what I had planned, but entirely acceptable.

For $11, it turns out, you don’t get electrical outlets, something Amtrak does provide. My iPhone’s charge was dangerously low, but it would last until the hotel. I calculated whether I’d be in the room long enough to give it a boost. I would.

I spread out over two seats – the train wasn’t crowded. Directly ahead of me a quartet of 20-somethings chatted back and forth. In the handicap-accessible area just out of sight, but not hearing, a toddler was getting cranky, along with his mom. Across the aisle a white-haired professional man in a black overcoat and with an old-fashioned leather briefcase – the kind that looks like a satchel, not a box – busied himself with phone calls.

From my westward-facing window seat I looked up from time to time to watch the familiar New Jersey landscape go by. Soon we were passing New Brunswick, an old town, home to Rutgers and one of the larger cities in that part of the state. I’ve never been there, and gazed out of the westward facing window on the northbound train toward a lovely looking downtown, park and river view.

And then the train stopped, after the station but just short of the bridge over the Raritan River. Trains stop all the time; a train ahead could be delayed, or a signal is out, or a repair crew is on the tracks and needs to move. It’s hardly worth noticing.

But this delay went on and on. After about 10 minutes, the conductor announced that we were stopped for an unknown reason and, as soon as he had more information, he’d let us know. He promised that he would keep us informed. We got reruns of that twice over the next half hour, with little additional information.

With my iPad in hand, I found the page on the NJ Transit site that accounted for train delays and learned that train 3960 – my train! – was cancelled due to a “trespasser incident.” Googling “trespasser incident” revealed the likely truth behind the euphemism – it usually meant that someone was on the tracks and got hit. Monitoring the NJT site, the impact of our “incident” began to spread as more and more trains were delayed and none were stopping northbound at New Brunswick, Edison or Metuchen.

The people in front of me weren’t in a hurry and continued chatting. The toddler needed a nap, clearly, and I felt for his mother. And this is when Mr. Professional showed his colors. I heard him on the phone to his wife complaining about the delay and the lack of information. When he was done, I turned to him and filled him in with what I knew – “trespasser incident,” and what I suspected: a fatality, involving this train.

He argued with me. It couldn’t be this train if the incident was “at the station.” I told him that the news now reported that a northbound train had struck someone at the station. We were a northbound train, a few hundred yards past the station, and we were stopped. He shrugged, thanked me for the information, and muttered.

Next, I overhear Mr. Professional, whose first name I decided was Self-Important, call 411 and ask for the phone number of Something Bank in a NJ town. He gets the number, calls the bank and asks for Mr. Somebody, who must really be a Somebody – “I’m calling him,” Mr. Self-Important Professional says, “in his capacity as a member of the NJ Transit Board.” The person at the other end – whose job no doubt includes protecting Mr. Somebody from these calls – says she’ll take a message. My train-mate explains that he doesn’t know Mr. Somebody, but they have a mutual friend, Mr. Well-Connected, and that he’s calling because he’s been sitting on a train just past the New Brunswick Station for over a half-hour and the conductor has not adequately explained why. He demands that Mr. Somebody call him back.

The conductor comes on and tells us that the train is being taken out of service “because of police and medical activity,” the closest he ever gets to informing us that the train has just hit a human being. The dispatcher, he says, will be sending a train for us to transfer to, but he doesn’t yet know when that will be.

My iPhone is almost dead, and my chances of meeting the Abandoned One at 7 pm have vanished. I text him, “Can you pick up email on your phone?” His answer comes back: “No.”

Urban woman steps in: the phone may be dead, but the laptop is fully charged. Hook the iPhone to the computer USB. It works, and the iPhone begins to recharge.

Meanwhile, the local NJ news outlets are painting a fuller story. A man on the station “leaned out over the platform” and was struck by the passing train. Flying debris from the collision, it was reported, injured four people on the platform. Later reports identify the debris: body parts.

I desperately wanted to see the Abandoned One, but it’s hard to feel sorry for yourself over delayed trains, missed meals or other inconveniences when a person lays dead a few hundred feet away. Hard, but not impossible. Mr. Self-Important Professional was still fulminating.

After about an hour, the conductor came through and told us to move forward to the first two cars. From these, we’d be transferring to another train that would be pulling up alongside us on the express tracks. I finally saw the mom with the toddler. He was acting up, and she was struggling with him, the stroller and the requite mom bag with snacks and toys, but she also had her mother in tow. They would be fine. Many passengers had luggage, as I did, and some were elderly or overweight. I had no idea how we’d transfer but hoped it would involve some kind of ramp or gangplank over the divide.

By the time we arrived in the first two cars, most people had heard some version of events, and the complaining had abated. Finally, the train pulled alongside. Waiting in the car, I heard a woman exclaim, “This step is so far!”

Indeed, the step was far. We had to drop from the train step, which is normally at platform level, to the track bed, which was paved with blue stone. I estimated the drop was at least three feet (I’ve since looked it up and found it was a bit over four), but after I handed my luggage down to a rescuer and got to the bottom step I had doubts about whether I could jump down. I didn’t have to – the guy told me to put my hands on his shoulders as he grabbed me around the middle. He lifted me and placed me on the ground. And he did that with every passenger.

It was 6:30 now and this new train was making all the local stops. I wouldn’t be in Newark until 7:15 at best. Texted Abandoned One: can you change the reservation to 8 pm? Yes, he said, done.

At first people complained about the speed of the new train (slow) and the fact that it was making local stops. A woman visiting from India had theater tickets. A man had a plane to catch at Newark airport. But around me, I also heard folks reading aloud the news reports, and the complaints stopped. Some perspective taking was taking place.

At Newark I jumped on the PATH train and got off at Jersey City. Checked into the hotel and hesitated when the desk clerk said, “I hope your travel here was good today.”

“Not really,” I said. “But it’s better now.”

And like the city woman I am, I changed my clothes, splashed some water on my face and returned to the PATH. Got to the Trade Center – where the new PATH station is the whitest place I have ever seen – and grabbed a cab. As I closed in on the address on West Broadway, Abandoned One texted me: “eta?”

I texted back: “3 minutes.”

For the next two hours, Lifelongnewyorker and the Abandoned One had dinner and good conversation. Within a few minutes I saw that he was fine, and would be fine. And I realized that he’s not a kid anymore, which is great.

We left the restaurant and walked south. He descended into the subway at Chambers, and I continued on to the WTC. Grateful for the cold and the lightest of flurries, for the chance to walk, for the bustle around me, and for getting there at last.








The Eternal Mystery of the Common Cold

Lifelongnewyorker had a birthday this week — not a significant one, if only those that end in “5” or “0” are significant.  But shift your view a little, and think about the fact that you’ve lived longer than either grandmother and certainly longer than most people who have ever been born, well then you feel old.

Mainly I feel old because one of the things I got this week was a cold.  And despite over 50 years of experience with colds, I am always surprised and uncertain about them.

They no long arrive with the frequency they did when I was teaching, thankfully.  Back then, I could count on three or four a year, beginning in November and ending in April. The last time I had one — a doozy that drifted into bronchitis and left me with a cough for two months — was last January.

Here’s the thing: Colds always surprise and puzzle me, and my reaction is always the same.  “What is happening?” I ask myself and those around me.  I engage myself, my husband, and my colleagues in debate about whether it’s a cold or allergies.  I Google “Is it a cold or an allergy?” and halfway through the resulting pages, realize I’ve read them before.

And the answer is indefinite: only time will tell.

Then, three or four days after the symptoms — scratchy throat, cough, plugged up ears, headache, drippy sinuses — begin, I accept that I have a cold, and that I am very tired.

This time, the acceptance came Friday morning, just as I  finished dressing for work and realized that all I wanted to do was to go back to bed.  I sent off notes, changed some appointments and retreated under the covers.  Toting it up: I slept about eight hours Thursday night; took two three-hour naps on Friday; and topped it off with another nine hours on Friday night.  It’s now nearly noon on Saturday and, if it weren’t for the fact that I have someone working on the roof and Mr.NYer is not home, I would think about another nap.

Which leads us to part 2 of my cold routine.  After sleeping most of a day, and recognizing that I would like to continue lying abed into the immediate future, I say to Mr.NYer, “Do you think it’s just a cold, or am I also depressed?”

Fortunately for me, Mr.NYer knows his lines well by now. He used to get exasperated at my complete inability to recognize that I SIMPLY HAVE A COLD AND IT’S MAKING ME TIRED. Now, he is sweetly sarcastic. “Well, let’s see.  Does depression usually involve a runny nose and a cough? No. You have a cold.”

I would tell you what comes next, but I don’t remember.

The Sunday Drive and Pictures 10 & 11

While Lifelongernewyorker did not walk five miles to school — uphill both ways — she did grow up a while ago.  Things were different, as these pictures suggest.

First, the occasion: Nothing special, just a Sunday drive.  That meant that, shortly after church and breakfast (rolls and butter, as I recall), my father would say, “Who wants to go for a drive?”  The question was probably more ritual than real inquiry: of course we would go for a drive.

The cousins kept their church clothes on for the Sunday drive.

We girls kept our church clothes on for the Sunday drive.

With my two sisters and cousin (part of many such excursions before her parents left Brooklyn for Long Island soon after this photo was taken), we piled into the ’55 Pontiac. I’m not sure if I was still, at about three years old, sitting in the “child seat” — a contraption that hooked over the back of the front seat and featured a small plastic steering wheel so the kid could pretend to drive. Designed for distraction, not safety, you can think of it as the 1950s death trap for tots. If not, as the youngest and least powerful, I certainly sat in the middle, over the hump.

The destinations varied.  More often than not, we stayed close to home and went to the Prospect Park Zoo, the path along the Shore Parkway, or the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library at Grand Army Plaza. But my father liked to drive, so we also ventured farther afield, often to Bear Mountain or West Point.

My mother rarely came along.  As I’ve noted in earlier blogs, she had her hands full taking care of us, my grandfather and the house in general.  My father’s job was to get us out from underfoot.

The only item missing was the glovrch, or to West Point.

Why the fancy clothes?  Readers: girls wore dresses in those days, pretty much all the time. Pants were rare, and reserved for play.  You didn’t wear them to school, or to church, or to visit West Point.

So, are the differences merely ones of style? Not entirely.  Allow me to employ my teacher voice (as if I ever leave it behind), to point out the larger social, economic and political forces that have swept away the circumstances that brought us to West Point that day:

  • The women’s movement has changed what we wear, who does the driving and whether it’s mom or dad who does the cooking (or ordering out).
  • Repeal of the “blue laws,” which kept stores of all kinds closed on Sunday, gave people alternatives for Sunday activity.  Now we can shop at Home Depot in the morning and return home to work on that DIY project in the afternoon.
  • Technology, of course, means that we’d see this as a video taken on the smartphone in full color, with sound, rather than as this short still moment captured on black and white film (or fil-lem, as my father would have said).
  • OPEC and the gas crisis of the 70s pretty much killed the Sunday drive as fun family pastime.  Gas prices have never gone down, and we’ve lost the habit of heading to the car for no good reason.
  • Was there even programming on TV on Sunday afternoon besides Fulton Sheen?  So much more to do today.

I’m sure the list could go on.  What are the big forces, technological innovations and social mores that have intervened? Add a few of your own theories in comments.

And note, please: No rose-colored nostalgia, or laments about how those were better days.  Remember what’s not in the picture: my mother back home in the kitchen, cooking, ironing or maybe doing some special project like waxing all the floors. We girls got to watch the cadets, but dared not dream that we could ever be one.  Didn’t stop for a game of catch.  Got maybe nine miles to the gallon of gas. No seatbelts.  Little kids perched in deathtraps.

The Ties that Bind

I am terrible at remembering birthdays, and sorry about it.  Really. 

Oddly, I am really good at remembering death dates.  Although I never knew my maternal grandmother, I always knew that she died on Dec. 31.  We never celebrated New Year’s Eve in my house.

My father left on Friday, Sept. 13; it would be hard to forget that.  This last anniversary, a month or so ago, was the 20th.  I thought about him, exchanged some emails with my sisters, and noted happily that The Abandoned One had changed his FB profile picture to one of the two of them — one 5 years old and one 80 — squeezed into a recliner and wearing coordinating red plaid shirts.  I wished, as I always do, that I had covered more ground with him.  And then I set to work for the rest of the day.

Today, Oct. 22, is a Saturday.  Because of that, it’s harder to put aside the fact that it is the 10th anniversary of my mother’s death.  It’s a beautiful day, a better one than the day she died.  I’m determined not to drown in work this weekend, as I have for the last several (it turns out that you can take the girl out of New York, but you can’t take NY out of the girl), so I have a list of stuff to do around the house.  Store my summer shoes and get the boots out.  Organize the bathroom closet and drawers.  Wash the windows.

I finish my coffee while updating my FB status.  I make mom’s picture my profile and I wonder what she would have thought about me living in Alabama.  Silly.  If she had lived, she’d be in her late 90s.  There’s no way I would have moved to Alabama.

I summon Mr. NYer.  He joins me, but I can tell he doesn’t think there’s a pressing need to clean windows.  He doesn’t object, though, because he’s happy to see me doing something other than work.  I know the windows need  to be cleaned — we’ve been in this house over a year and have never touched them.  My mother would die … well, she would disapprove.

I know this with certainty.  When my middle sister’s first son was born — a full year after she had moved into her new house —  my mother went there to help out for a week or so.  Mom took care of household chores so my sister could take care of her new baby.  She laundered and ironed my brother-in-law’s shirts.  She dusted, vacuumed, and cleaned the refrigerator.  She made dinner.  Having taken care of the basics, she decided to wash the windows.  Taking down the curtains, she discovered manufacturer’s labels still affixed to the glass.  I don’t remember whether my mother actually told me this herself (which would have been rare — she didn’t tell tales and almost never complained about one child to another) or whether my sister did, after my mother made it clear that this wasn’t how she had been raised.

These are the kinds of things one thinks about when setting out to do those chores that you learned to do in childhood and that you do infrequently enough that they don’t become routine.  They unleash memories.  We lived in a three-story house in Brooklyn, where my mother’s bi-annual “general cleaning” included a death-defying window routine.  It required her to raise the lower sash as high as she could, poke her head and upper body out of the open window, turn around and ease herself onto the sill. There she sat, her legs inside the room and the  rest of her outside.  As if this wasn’t bad enough to the child inside the room terrified that mommy was  going to fall way way down, she then lowered the sash until it hit her  thighs, and proceeded to wash the outside.  Passersby would scold  her for doing something so dangerous.  This was  before tilt-in windows.

She liked to have the antiseptic sun streaming into the house through sparkling glass.  Her attitude towards clean windows was almost theological — it was what the moral code required, like going to church and taking communion.  Letting them get dirty was akin to avoiding confession. She was a fervent believer in the adage that cleanliness was next to godliness.

I had thought that the window cleaning, like being at work, would keep me busy enough to avoid the thoughts that percolate up every year on this day.  But they are inevitable.  As I assembled the window-cleaning supplies, I looked at the clock and thought, She was probably leaving the library now, on her way to Top Tomato.

A little later, This is around the time I got the phone call. … By now, I was in the town car I’d called and picking up my sister at her office downtown.  … By now, we were talking to the trauma doc. …

So mom was on my mind as I sprayed Windex and scrunched up the paper towels.  Rubbing in circles on a pane, I thought about the fact that I am a thousand miles away and I have not visited her grave since leaving NY.  I feel guilty and I think, “Well, I’m honoring my mother by cleaning windows today.  It’s appropriate. She’d be happy.”

And that’s when I started bawling, surprised by the emotion that hadn’t been there five minutes ago.  I realized that I didn’t want to honor  her by cleaning windows, or think that was what it meant to know her. Is that really what she wanted? 

I remembered the line from her obituary that I had thought was perfect, a bit tongue-in-cheek and yet, oh so true!  I had remarked to the reporter that mom could have written a book about cleaning.  My sister (same one) didn’t like it.  It was okay to joke privately about mom and cleaning; but not in the obit. 

Or maybe she realized that our mother’s cleaning wasn’t really the defining part of her;  maybe my sister had already decided — long ago — that she would honor mom in some way other than by cleaning windows well. (Doing it well was important — “Make sure you get in the corners, and keep turning the paper so that you’re using a clean surface. If the sun is on the window, you’ll have streaks.”)

Was this the choice?  Relive the day in my head or evoke her by doing what she did almost constantly? (I mean cleaning and chores in general, of course.  She didn’t do windows constantly.)  I never like to think about the other path — Asking myself what I would have  said to her if I’d had the chance?  What did I miss saying to her?  What did she miss telling me about herself?  That’s just pointless.

And what was it about the cleaning?  All my mother’s three sisters shared the mania to some extent.  They talked  about how well their mother — the grandmother whose too-early death ruined New Year’s Eve 15 years before I was born — did everything well.  She sewed their clothes, knitted, crocheted, did embroidery, ran the house, cooked dishes from the Old Country that they had no idea how to recreate.  And, I imagine, she had high standards of cleanliness.  They had to have picked it up somewhere.  In their narrative, none of them matched her, but each did one or two things well.  Mom cleaned, crocheted,and managed a household masterfully.  Aunt Alice cleaned well, too, and was also,  according to my mother, the better cook.  Aunt Anna knit better than mom, and cooked well too.  Aunt Phyl sewed, and was a happy soul, the way they said my grandmother had been. 

And then, for the first time in my life — can you imagine? — it occurred to me that, like me, my mother probably thought of her mother when she cleaned, cooked and knitted.  Did she do those things so fervently to connect with her mother?  With the clarity that comes only when you’ve been stupidly blind, I realized that, of course she did. 

I used  to get angry with my mother for never having time for me because she had chores to do.  After dinner, my father would take us for a summer drive while Mom stayed home, cleaned up after dinner and then took up items from her mending pile (and probably got the only peace of the day!)  One of the two vacations we took when I was a child was without Mom — my father took my his three daughters to a cottage colony in Sullivan County.  My grandfather’s failing vision meant that he could not be left alone; Mom stayed home to take care of him.

Today I realized, in a way I hadn’t before, that the care-taking was a way for her to massage her loss and be close to her mother.  It was, as well,  in her mind the best way for her to take care of us as well.  The honor and love were expressed in duty and went both ways, up to her parents and down to us. 

My mother became more human to me today.  Which means I miss her even more.

By this time, we were in her house, making phone calls. 

 In just a few more hours, it will be Oct. 23.

A Very Little Christmas

By this time last year, Lifelongnewyorker was deep into the blog … much more than lately.  Looking back, I see much discussion of the tree cutting, the decor, the food associated with the holiday, along with some idle thought about what this year would bring.

The answer is “Not much.” 

To say that our holiday decoration is sparse would be over the top.  After Thanksgiving, we pretty quickly decided that we would travel north to see family for Christmas.

And, no, our Thanksgiving experience didn’t drive that decision, but it sure has affirmed it.  Long story short: The Abandoned One came home to his parents for the holiday.  We cheerfully suggested that he fly into Atlanta, a much cheaper flight, and a mere two-hour drive from Montgomery. 

Of course, that’s two hours times two, since it’s round trip.  And it’s only two hours if you round down generously.  It was fine on the Tuesday night when we picked him up, not so fine on the Sunday when we took him back.  Inexplicably heavy traffic (NO ONE expects a traffic jam on I-85 between Montgomery and Atlanta, especially outside of Auburn) meant it took over well over three-and-one hours to deposit him at the terminal, about 10 minutes past the absolute last minute he could successfully check in. 

Luckily, he was able to get on another flight that night.  The next day I messaged him: “You’ll visit us again someday, won’t you?”  His reply: “Of course I will.  Oh, wait … you mean in Montgomery?”

My middle sister suggested that we spend Christmas Eve with them and enjoy the traditional fish dinner.  We have yet to see dried baccala here, and although I’ve been told that it’s possible to buy frozen squid, I have yet to find it anywhere.  And then there’s the matter of rounding up a dozen people to share the feast …

So we decided to “go home” for the holidays.  Which meant there was absolutely no reason to get a fresh tree, and we don’t have the other kind.  And if we didn’t have a tree, there was no need to pull out the decorations.  Lest we begin to mutter “Bah! Humbug!” to each other, we did decide to get a wreath.

It hangs on the front door, Mr. NYer having secured one of those removable hooks advertised on TV after we realized that the door is too thick for our old over-the-door hanger.  It’s a simple wreath, without even a bow.  I think the idea was that you’d decorate it yourself. 

I remembered that I’d seen tabletop live trees at Fresh Market and convinced Mr. NYer to pick one up.  It sat, in a miniature red bowl of a tree stand, on top of an end table in the living room for several days, absorbing all the light in the room.  No balls, garland, tinsel, or lights on this little Charlie Brown specimen.

Will it surprise you to hear that our shopping hardly happened?  We’re donating to Heifer International with my sisters, decided that a trip to New York was pretty much enough of a gift to ourselves, and expect to write a check for the Abandoned One.  Finally, late last week we went online and got gifts for the nieces, nephews and their kids.

I had to stop at CVS on Monday.  Feeling guilty, I found the shortest string of lights I could, along with a box of tiny ornaments.  I smuggled them into the house, planning to surprise Mr. NYer by furtively lighting and decorating the tree after dinner. 

Walking into the house, I set the bag down inconspicuously in the dining room and glanced into the living room.  There was the tree, now trimmed in red beads and a set of cardboard angels.  Mr. NYer had succumbed, too.

It was so O. Henry.

There are no lights on our tree, and none on our house, but it all seems to fit with Montgomery.  As you pass houses a quick glance through the windows (Montgomery homes feature large windows or french doors) will reveal a lavishly lighted large tree.  But the exterior decor is rather subdued, especially by Staten Island standards.  Perhaps one or two houses on a street will have some tasteful arrangement of lights around the door or the two bushes on either side of the porch. 

The rest rely on wreaths, fresh garland and large red bows.  Many homes have every window festooned with its own wreath, and feature a very welcoming front door.  It’s all rather … tasteful.

I can’t wait to bring photos of holiday lighting excess from back home.

News from the Abandoned One

For those of you who are wondering:  The Abandoned One is doing just fine.

At least I assume he is, judging by the absence of SOS calls.  Or of any calls for that matter.

It’s spring in New York, and it seems there’s plenty to do to keep a free-as-a-bird, unencumbered-by-parents guy busy. He’s playing guitar with a woman singer-songwriter who, according to her website, also eats fire.  They practice, and they’ve got some gigs in places with names like Otto’s Shrunken Head.

Fortunately, he posts occasionally on Facebook, and equally fortunate, his father (Mr. NYer) shares his extensive knowledge of pop culture and song lyrics, and can translate for me.  Today, for instance, the Abandoned One’s FB status was, “Should really be getting on declaring the pennies on his eyes.”

Lifelongnewyorker, ever the hypervigilant mom listening for the cry in the night, fought back alarm.  Pennies were once placed on the eyes of dead people to pay the ferryman crossing over to the afterlife.  Was this a suicide threat?  A quick call to Mr. NYer cleared it all up.  The Abandoned One was commenting on the need to file his taxes by quoting from the Beatles “Tax Man.” Of course.

D-day minus two

Serious chaos in the house today.

There are 18 bags of trash at the curb. 

Stuff designated for the Moving Sale occupies one-quarter of the basement.  In the cellar, we chose which basic tools we plan to take and consolidated them into one toolbox and one toolbag.  We don’t plan to buy a house that needs moulding installed, so we didn’t pack the coping saw; we plan to buy a house with excellent wiring, so the fishtape got put aside; our new house will not require major plumbing work, so the ancestral wrenches were given away.

Okay, we may in fact buy a house that needs some or all these things, but we’ll cross those bridges when we get to them.  What’s important is that there’s  not much from our basement that is coming with us; unfortunately, much of it is still down  there.  But we both know what’s staying, what’s going and what’s for sale.  

Ditto on the first and second floor of the house.  We’ve weeded out every room.  One room serves as the repository for the moving sale; the rest of the house may look like it’s been in a category 4 hurricane, but there’s order in that disorder.  Really.

We almost lost all sense of order cleaning out the computer room.  I opened the file cabinet sometime yesterday afternoon and began culling.  What’s the rule on income taxes?  Keep the records for five years?  Then I guess I really don’t need the complete files, with receipts, from 1994 on.  Probably don’t need the papers detailing our medical insurance claims from previous years either.  Or the bank statements, 401K statements, maintenance records from autos we no longer owned, or vet records dating back to the turn of the century.   I pulled the files apart, setting aside those papers that needed shredding.  By dinner, that pile rose about a foot and a half.

After dinner, Mr. NYer began shredding as I continued culling.  After some time, I noticed that he could no longer turn his neck, so I offered to step in and shred.  It’s a tedious job, and it brings with it a degree of back ache.  Not to mention the dust, the confetti, and, of course, the increasing static charge with each emptying of the bin.

At some point I broke the shredder.  I would like to go on record and say that I believe the damage began during his stint, when a jam produced obvious strain on the motor along with a distinct odor of seething machinery.  As luck  would have it, I successfully cleared that jam and then produced a fine mess of my own.   Going at it with needle-nosed pliers and letter opener, I cleared the jam, but the cutting disks no longer turned, and a strange clicking noise signaled that the shredder was kaput.

Today we got a new shredder and dispatched the rest of the confidential papers.    A bit more weeding, and I decided enough was enough.

Tomorrow I begin my packing.  I’ll go through my dresser and closet and divide into three categories:  take now; leave for the movers; give away.  Maybe a fourth: throw away. 

I’m not really at ease about the house.  I had wanted to leave it so that Mr. NYer didn’t have to do anything else.  He’s got his hands full still working, runnning back and forth to the nursing home to which his Dad recently moved, and worrying about where Soon-to-Be-Abandoned will end up.  He’s going to have to take  care of the last minute stuff like filing changes of address, stopping newspapers subscriptions, ending memberships and returning the cable boxes. 

Ideally, I wanted to leave things so that when the movers came, the only things in the house would be what we want to take with us.  They would pack it all and load it on the truck.  And when our stuff arrived in Alabama, we would find that each item was one we wanted, and not a single thing was something we’d just as soon have left behind.

Instead, Mr. NYer will have to manage the Moving Sale, and then manage disposing of whatever doesn’t move during the sale.  He’ll still need to call the Salvation Army for some of it, wrangle still more down to the curb, and call one of those “men with truck” to come haul away the basement detritus.  We both avert our eyes when we see the remaining cans of paint, paint thinner, carpet cleaner, garden pesticides and assorted other household poisons that can’t come with us but which are not very easy to throw away.  The marketer in me thinks we can collect the various fertilizers, bug sprays and anti-fungal dusts in a lovely box, throw in a trowel and a pair of gardening gloves, and call it a “goodie box for someone with a green thumb.”  Mr. NYer thinks I’m crazy.

The point is that this is the kind of stuff we usually do together.  All of our major enterprises have been done together.  In fact in the last 33 years, there’s damn little we haven’t been side by side for.  Sickness and health, good times and bad, putting in a garden, buying a car, remodeling the kitchen, nursing sick kid and taking care of aged parents … when one of us got weary, the other wasn’t far away.  True, we’ve specialized and divided the labor, but we always have each other to lean on.  I don’t like the idea of being 1,000 miles away while he has too much on his plate and all I can offer is long-distance advice.

More than anything, that’s the new part of this adventure.