For the past seven years, I’ve been on the move. Some places I stayed a few months, some a couple of years. I settled into apartments in Mexico, China, Costa Rica and Los Angeles, plus, at my daughter’s request, I lived with her and her children outside historic Charleston, SC. Except for Los Angeles, where I actually got my stuff out of storage for a short spell, I purchased or borrowed what I needed to make myself comfortable wherever I happened to be in the world.
I learned a lot about myself. My odyssey taught me that my most useful attributes are my improvisational skills, and the ability to be flexible. I discovered that although coffee is preferred, tea will do just fine; that unusual spices and unidentifiable food make eating an adventure, the struggle to communicate with those who speak different languages is challenging: sometimes fun, sometimes frustrating, that the best adventures happen when one is lost, that fear is overrated. That we are basically all the same.
ast year I felt compelled to go home. Unfortunately I didn’t have one. I had a 10X10 storage unit in Tehachapi, in the mountains between the San Joaquin Valley and the Mohave Desert. I didn’t belong in the south. My daughter had her own life, and a family that didn’t include me. I missed my friends in California. Maybe I missed the state itself.
I headed across the country in Margaret, my Mini Cooper to my friend, Brandon Maggart’s, house in Venice Beach. Maybe it was the beach, the craziness, the chaos. What ever, talking to my daughter, Alice, on the phone, she said, ” It must feel good to be home.” Ah, she understood. Still, Brandon’s, although I was totally comfortable, and I loved having another writer to share thoughts and words with, was not my home. I went back to Tehachapi, then to Bodfish and Lake Isabella. Searching.
My cabin in Lake Isabella is surrounded by woods and rocks. Outside my window three Hummingbirds argue constantly about nectar rights at the newly hung feeder. Abby, my friend Sherry’s dog, comes to visit and to do yoga with me. At night I have a commanding view of the valley lights stretched out below me as a long strand of rhinestones gracing the neck of the sparse mountains above it.
My Tehachapi friends rallied to pack the uhaul truck. That I have these good friends fills my heart.
Opening the boxes, I find pieces of myself that go back to my childhood. There are letters to my mother while she was in the hospital having me. A photo of me in my dad’s arms, my great grandparents surrounding us and several of my grandpa Naughton, the main man in my life for the first decade of my life. My home in Foxburg, PA was the flat on the second floor of his Irish bar. Across the street the beautiful Allegheny River flowed, sometimes leisurely as if it had all the time in the world, sometimes raging as if it was angry, to Pittsburgh.
A small three-legged table that was my grandma Emma’s sets beside my bed. I eat my meals on her red, separated plates. A hobnail vase of Mary McCoy’s, my mom’s first cousin and closest friend all of their lives, my Mother’s bible, so important in her life, a banjo and a dulcimer made and given to me by different men who hoped in vain that I would become a musician.
Through countless photos and mementos, I wander back through the years to my son’s births and deaths, my daughter’s births and schools years, their marriages, and the birth of my grand children, to life before my teenage brother was killed by a drunk driver, my ill-fated marriages, the fulfilling comedy years, to the time I could pick up the phone and call my mother. I wonder why my daughter doesn’t want to talk to me. Through photos and articles, I revisit countries I’ve visited, men I’ve loved, and people who have both inspired and thwarted me.
The past gives us perspective for the future. I see a busy one filled with the talents of my friends, music, stories, laughing, sharing and travels. This time when I leave, I’ll have a place to come home to.