Sunday Morning ~ Napili, Maui
Caona mwana tola; ukulu nkuona kako. ~ What the child has seen, pick it up. Being mature is to find your own.
~ Chewa proverb
April 14, 2019
I left snowy Maine on a day well into spring, when the forsythia should have been on the brink of blooming. Instead, I was thankful I hadn’t had my snow tires removed. The timing fell into place for this trip: friends needed a place to stay while their house renovation finished and my cat needed to be fed. So that worked. Also, a friend from Maynard, my hometown, lost his mother and the wake was the evening before I left from Boston. It meant seeing him after thirty five years. It also meant I could see Kathy, who was flying in from Tennessee, as well as other high school friends I’ve stayed connected with, a few from the group we’ve named “Bar Harbor Girls” stemming from the annual reunions at my house.
I collected Kathy at the airport in Boston and we headed for our hometown, stopping for lunch at The 99, a restaurant located where the only Chinese restaurant used to be when we were kids. We used to go there with her older sister after riding around for no purpose I can recall. We’d share a Pu Pu Platter–– a variety of appetizers covered in sweet and sour sauce. Those outings seemed dangerous and exciting. I always had to sneak to go and lie about it afterward. I never brought my chopsticks home. Sometimes her sister would pay, sometimes I’d chip in from my babysitting or paper route money. If I said I had no money and couldn’t go, they paid for me. I think I owe them. Kathy and I sat in our booth being silly, our white hair disappearing in the memories. We were the two young girls sitting in the same spot over half a century ago. It’s a nice feeling to think you stayed friends forever, just like you promised each other at eleven years old. Good for us! That’s follow through. That’s commitment.
We went from there to Maynard where the wake was being held at a funeral home just down the street from the childhood home of the bereaved. On our way through town we drove by Kathy’s old house. I’d loved going over there. I loved her parents. They were funny. Well, the whole family was funny and I marveled at this. They spent a lot of time laughing. That didn’t happen in my house. Not much was funny in my house, in fact one time when my sister and I were laughing in the kitchen we got punished for disturbing some ballgame on TV. Kathy’s family were kind to each other. They treated me like one of them. All that came flooding back as we drove by. We went up the hill and turned right which brought us to Waltham street and the house I moved into when I was three weeks old. Kathy hadn’t known I lived there. Yup, the first house my parents rented in Maynard. I lived there until a few months before my fourth birthday. Russo’s restaurant was a few doors down and the head chef and his wife Mary lived across the street. It is a busy street (for Maynard) and I remember standing outside my house yelling, “MAAREEE!” so that Mary would come outside and tell me it was ok to cross. Then I’d go to her house where she would pay attention to me and give me treats. I have no recollection of telling my mother where I was going and don’t know if she even looked for me. I was three. The restaurant is gone now, large apartment buildings have grown in the empty spot and Kathy gasped when she saw this. We recalled that the mom we were going to pay respects to worked at that restaurant for years. I remember Christmas caroling as kids and going there to sing for the patrons. This lovely woman somehow got us all in to sit in booths together. We were served hot chocolate and sandwiches and didn’t have to pay! (I was always worried about paying.) I don’t know if a customer paid the bill, Joey’s mom did, or the restaurant just comped it, but it is a sweet childhood memory. We drove across town to my old house, passing the junior high school where Kathy and I became best friends. (When Beth, my bestie from the dawn of friendship, moved to Sudbury I was crushed and needed someone to fill the void.) We passed the spot we considered halfway where we’d meet to execute our plans. It was a sacred spot and used in any kind of emergency. If we had something important to tell, like so and so liked so and so, we’d call and say, “Meetcha halfway.” and that was it. Hang up the phone and run to the streetlight. No questions asked.
The driveway at my old house looks so small. I thought it was huge as a kid when we had to shovel it. In reality, it’s smaller than my front walk at my current house. The street looks so small, just six houses and a dead end. A very sweet tree-lined street that looks like a park. I’ve always been sorry my mother sold that house (for nothing) but none of us wanted to live there, and it was her decision to make. Her children weren’t around to help her care for it. Now it makes sense, but it was a nice house with good bones and is probably worth a fortune now. Yes, there are a lot of unhappy memories there but there are happy ones, too, and just the familiarity of it was comforting.
I was nervous as we approached the funeral home. “What if I don’t recognize anyone?” I asked Kathy. She said Joey was worried about the same thing with people coming through the receiving line. She said she’d have to be like the guy on VEEP, whispering into the ear of the VP names of people she’s about to greet. Then I thought, “What if no one recognizes me?” and at that very instant, the older gentleman directing us in the parking lot asked who we were. I held out my hand and said, “Linda Robinson, I used to be Linda Orsi?” I said it like a question. He instantly recognized the former name and said, “Oh yeah! Richard’s sister?” then the addendum, “Pete, too. Didn’t you have a brother Pete?” Yup, that’s me, some things never change. My existence in this town identified by my brothers or my father, a big reason I wanted to get away. We entered and recognized no one but the family, who are beautiful and gracious and what I am describing as “just the same only older”. Of course there are wrinkles and grey in the hair, but the same. Really, the smiles, the dimples, the voices, it was all like being wrapped in a warm blanket. Friends from my youth arrived and I always felt they saved me. In reality, there were many saviors along the way and at the bar later in the evening we sat around the high top identifying our personal Jesus. We talked about ways we were valued by some, traumatized by others, and how if we judged our school by today’s standard, half the teachers would be instantly fired or arrested. Yet, we all sat there, responsible and successful adults, grateful for the bond we shared and knowing it was special and unique. Many of us had to grow up too soon; there was loads of family dysfunction, which again, by today’s standards would have us in foster care, but somehow we came through it. I didn’t want to leave them. I had an early flight, needed to be up by three and still had a drive to get to Zack’s. I felt the sleepless night before a twenty four hour trip would be worth it, I was so grateful to be there. Grateful for the small town that is so much part of me. Grateful for the friends I made there and the bond we share from experiencing that existence together.
And now I sit on this balcony facing the Pacific Ocean with George typing beside me about his own experiences. We’re on Maui for a reunion with each other and the wedding of my nephew (Rich’s son). We met up with them when we arrived and I told Rich about the comments in the parking lot. He laughed. His wife laughed. I laughed. We walked the beach together. We hiked an old trail up one of the mountains then lunched together before George and I took off in our VW convertible for a few days alone before the wedding. Rich has done well as everyone expected, but so have I. We’ve matured and found our own.
Love to all,