How to Go Home

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I recently went home for a visit.

You learn so much about yourself when you’re taken out of your routine and your comfort zone. And when you go back to your hometown, and especially the house you grew up in.

My dad had a bicycle accident and couldn’t be released from the hospital to his house and be alone. I packed a bag and went. Sometimes you have to. Everything would have to wait. And that was okay.

I would just go, see what needed to be done and figure it out as I went. No problem. Well, except for 2 things: coffee & internet. I spent the next day, off and on, trying to figure out my dad’s coffee maker and his wifi password*. And the coffee maker is almost identical to the one I have, but without coffee, I couldn’t figure out how to make a cup of coffee.

It’s weird being out of your routine. I didn’t do any of the things I normally do, like workout, or take a shower. I stayed up too late, slept during the day. In many ways, the break from the norm was really refreshing.

Ok. What’s next? Food. What’s more disorienting than cooking in someone else’s kitchen? Plus my dad has so many weird things in his refrigerator. I spent hours throwing away expired food and cleaning and organizing everything.

Once I had a clear idea about what food we needed I went to Safeway. Of course I couldn’t find anything and I rushed because I didn’t want to leave my dad alone for long. I saw my dad’s good friend Ken who’s a cashier there. He’s always very friendly and chatty. One time I joked, “How long have you and Dan been friends?” and he said, “I guess as long as I’ve worked here, maybe 30 years…” He asked about him of course and was sad to hear about the accident.

The next day I cleaned out the cabinets. I swear some of that stuff was from the Truman administration. I threw away so much stuff. The whole time knowing he was going to be thoroughly pissed when he found out. I’m even feeling badly now about throwing away the cicada found in the spice cabinet. The more I think about it, it was probably placed there purposely.

I don’t feel bad about the weevils.

All of my dad’s friends were concerned and many of them came to visit and bring good food and good company. I love these people with all my heart.

Mike came by with pizza from Whole Foods and witty convo, “Dan, you missed the lecture on Yemen…” “My son is living in China … his wife got a job as the head of Apple, of Asia, so he decided he’d take a job as CEO of a hospital in Outer Mongolia, it’s really cold there, I mean it’s Siberia.”

And our one friend who works at the CIA told me that “The Americans is really well researched”. Like all that stuff really happened. Just so you know.

Sal came by with amazing eggplant parm. And then the next day with wife Andrea and a ton of Japanese food.

Sue said she’d come and visit the following week, we caught up a little bit over the phone, She had moved to Fredricksburg, joined the Unitarian church, “…there were some people hanging out at a park, one guy with long hair and Berkenstocks. Sensing I was new to the area he asked if he could help me find something, I said ‘I’m looking for the liberals’, and he laughed, said you found them and gave me a big hug.”

Bob, Larry, Martha, Amy, Candy, Lou, Joan & John, Laura & Tim were all ready to do anything.

Brother Harry who always says, “It is I, Harry” when he calls, bringing my whole childhood back, coordinated everything including computer repairs, doctors appointments as well as his son Robert to come and stay when I had to go home.

It’s not just my dad’s lifelong friends that are amazing. DC, big city that it is has no shortage of kindhearted folk. One example is a guy named “Tarn” who was at the scene of the accident. He told his dog to sit and stay on the sidewalk while he went to help my dad, offering to take his bike and messenger bag while my dad went to the hospital. I almost threw the napkin away that had his name and phone number on it. We got to talk a little bit when I retrieved the bike. Tarn liked the area of NW DC okay, calling it “unhip”. I said, “you should have seen it in the 70’s.” He asked about my Dad, why did he take Greek classes?, and wished him a speedy recovery.

I have to mention that one of the first things my dad did when he got settled at the hospital is call the Jehovah’s Witnesses because he has a sort of standing appointment with them every Saturday around 4:00, at his house and clearly wasn’t going to make it. When I first found out about this, um, relationship, I asked him, “Every Saturday? How long has this been going on? Are you kidding?” Not because I’m against religion, far from it, but because he is. All I can surmise is that it’s a storage combination of curiosity, companionship and bemusement. No one is more agnostic than Dan. They are unfazed, I guess. My mom recounts that when they were married, so a long time ago, living in that very same house, the Jehovahs came around and my dad would invite them in and just talk and talk.

But the craziest part of the trip was when my dad, perhaps because of the Percoset, mentioned very casually a long-kept family secret. I mean, said it like it was not the kind of information to take to your grave. Like, oh, did you know the Jones’ used to have a silver Camry? I can’t tell you what it was, so you can’t understand how earth-shattering it was, but I was so shocked that I cursed. Jeez, dad, remind me to never tell you something in confidence. Because it wasn’t his secret to tell. It’s possible he’s remembering it wrong, or that it’s not true. Oh my God. So, that happened. Good times. Just your typical trip home. I will never be the same.

I was only there for 3 1/2 days, but being away from my husband and two little ones was very hard. And knowing that Tim was doing everything. “No, Ballet is at 4:30, no, you have to pick them up at school to get to ballet on time….yes, you go in the back of the school, make sure you have your ID, alright…” Sigh. It’s so cute how he thinks he can do what I do. And it was hard to be reminded constantly of my Stepmother and that she’s not there anymore. How did she ever think we’d be okay with that? It’s not okay. She is there though. One afternoon the house was so quiet. I was working on my laptop in the living room slowly filled up with the most beautiful late afternoon light. Has it always been like that? Her grandson said she loved that about the house, “God light she called it.”

So I learned a lot about my dad and his habits. He isn’t as interested in coffee as I am. He likes a cup, black, late at night. He likes NCIS and Law & Order SVU. He reads the newspaper to find out what’s on TV. He has a land line but never answers it. He donates money to every charity and cause you can think of (which is probably why he never answers the constant calls on the house phone). He really likes pizza. He believes there might be a God, but doubts He’s involved with us personally. He never gets rid of anything, so he has a lifetime supply of paper bags, plastic bags, twist ties, rubber bands, used aluminum foil, frozen orange juice can tops, opened and stacked mail, free pocket calendars, free books about Jesus, and lots of really good friends.

* I tried every possible version of my dad’s usual password, the arabic word for his name (that’s a whole other story) only to find out the password is a number printed right on the Verizon modem.

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3 Responses to How to Go Home

  1. Aunt Maggie says:

    Thanks so much for this, Leigh. It’s so much more about Dan than I ever learn by talking with him. And a lot of things that don’t surprise me at all. And the whole subject fits so well into “women’s work”; it’s the women, usually, who pick up the tidying and organizing when the men fall sick. I once was doing support work in the waiting room of the oncology outpatient ward at the VA; mostly sisters, sisters in law, and daughters were waiting for the men to get their treatments so they could take them home. One of them commented on the gender of the group and asked, “Who’s going to take care of us when we get sick?” Another one answered, “Our sisters and daughters.” The moral of that is that women had better stay healthy.

    • Leigh says:

      It’s so true. I suppose I’ve been training for this my whole life. Glad to hear you are healing — slowly but surely.

  2. jeannine says:

    Love this. And you.

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