We’ve lived in our current house for over a year now. Sometimes it still seems foreign to me … as if I am living in someone else’s home.
It all looks familiar to me now. But every so often, it also looks wrong. It’s a strange feeling. Like I am totally out of place.
We lived in our previous house for over 27 years. Chances are good that is why I sometimes feel the way I do. It occurred to me that it explained something my Grandmother did many years ago.
Grandma’s husband died a year before I was born. That was sometime in 1951. Grandma, Dad’s mom, moved into a small one room apartment shortly after his death.
It wasn’t much. A living room that struggled to hold her living room furniture. A bedroom that did the same with her bedroom furniture. A kitchen that barely held a table for four. And a bathroom that was sumptuous by comparison.
She lived in that apartment until she could no longer live on her own. She knew everyone in the neighborhood. She had bank accounts at three different banks so she could stop in and get coffee and cookies and conversation any time she pleased. She walked to all her shopping needs. It was perfect for her and she lived there until around 1979. Twenty-eight years in the same place. I can relate.
So when we had to put her into a managed care facility, she didn’t go willingly. She was at an age where her cognitive faculties were declining and really needed the stability of all the things she had known for so many years. Alternatively, we should have taken her in, but we couldn’t care for her.
My husband and I both worked full time and had no place for her in our tiny condo. My sister worked full time and had no place for her in her tiny apartment. Our mom had health issues of her own to deal with.
So my mom, sister and I found a place in a managed care facility for her. We got her a private room and moved as much of her own furniture into it as we could. But, apparently, it wasn’t enough. There is much more to a home than some furniture and a few pictures on the walls.
More often than I care to think about, I’d get a call from the facility saying that my grandma had gone missing. How she managed to slip out of the place unnoticed was never discovered. Wily old woman.
The facility was many miles from where her apartment had been. I’m not sure how many but I bet it was at least 20. Yet somehow, she would manage to get back there, to the place she knew most well. Maybe a kind soul would pick her up and take her to the only address she knew by heart. In any case, the apartment had a new resident and police were called and they would take my grandma back to the managed care facility only for her to slip away again.
At the time, I couldn’t understand how she could not understand that her home was there now. But maybe now I do.
When we are young, everything is fresh and new. We haven’t seen it all a hundred times as when we are older. Change is a fairly normal thing in our youth. I guess that as we age we start to expect that certain things will always remain the same.
We want what is familiar most of the time. Novelty and new experiences are fine in the moment. But I believe that ultimately we have an enduring need to be rooted, to know our place, to see the sights that we are accustomed to seeing, to be surrounded by all things familiar.
Grandma never did get comfortable there. But soon her health prohibited her and her roaming days were over. It wasn’t very long and the facility could no longer manage her care and I had to move her to a convalescent facility. She declined rapidly after the move and died very shortly thereafter.
She didn’t know who I was when I would visit. She thought I was one of her sisters. She didn’t know where she was. She thought we were all back on the trading post in South Dakota where she grew up.
In a way, she found her familiar environment again. Maybe it was one too many transient ischemic attacks. Or maybe it was an intense desire for home. I’ve no real way to know.
My husband and I have made a home in this new-to-us house. If we are lucky, maybe we’ll have another 25 years here and the feeling that it isn’t quite right will be a thing long in the past.
In any case, I will never look at the uprooting of a life in quite the same way as I did when I was younger.
We all need a home to … well … go home to. I hope you have yours.
3 thoughts on “Home”
Lily was born in Shanghai to a wealthy man and his second wife. She was his favorite child. He would place his hand over his chest and told her she was his heart. He would take her out for outings. Just the two of them strolling around the city, eating street food and sharing a special time together, British businessmen would trade with her father sourcing raw materials and would bring her treats from their homeland. She had the life of a princess.
The Japanese invaded China and turned her world upset down. After the war she found herself in a refugee camp in Southern China. A man showed up in the camp and noticed her. My father, orphaned in America by his father to work as a houseboy, was looking for a wife. Rumors spread that he was a rich restaurant owner. Far, far, far away from the truth. He arranged to take her for his bride.
They returned to Sacramento. He took her to a park and told her the truth. He was a high school graduate without a trade and had borrowed money to get a bride from China. She hated living in a hotel filled with bachelors.
They moved about looking for work. Bakersfield, Wasco, Las Vegas and back to Bakersfield where my sister, brother and I were born and raised.
My parents were never happy together. They were bound in marriage based on a lie. He was uneducated struggling in a foreign world not of his choosing, full of rage. She had a Cinderella childhood. She struggled with depression, learning English, and raising children. They separated and he left to work in Sacramento. They divorced. She later remarried, unfortunately, again to an uneducated Chinese man without a trade.
My mom bore a son to her new husband. The son graduated from college, got married and moved to his bride’s hometown in Missouri.
Sam, the second husband, developed cancer and wanted to move closer to his son. My mom refused and finally relented. My three siblings rendezvoused in Bakersfield emptied the house, gave away or junked the bulk. They filled a U-Haul truck and Sam’s car and drove to Missouri in three days in the August heat.
Sam, his son, daughter in law and son were happy. Not so much my mom. Removed from her California life and farther away from China.
Sam passed away and my mom was left to live alone in an apartment in Farmington, Missouri. Her son, Scott and his family would visit, help with shopping and cleaning and kept her in their active social life. But most nights, she was left alone with her memories, Chinese newspaper and videos, family pictures and her furniture from her past life in Bakersfield.
I would call infrequently, listening to her laments. Complaint after complaint. Struggling with my own depression, it was difficult to hear.
She passed away in her sleep, found by my sister-in-law coming by to take her shopping. My siblings and I went back in a January for the funeral. She is buried there next to Sam.
She lies there 7200 miles from her homeland.
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The turns that life takes can be so unanticipated. I bet your mom never imagined she would end up where she did. It’s very sad to read that her life was not what she wanted it to be.
As always, Jeff, it’s good to hear from you. Thanks for the story.
Known you all these years and never heard your mother’s story. Insights into lives. I often wonder just how much parental experiences shape their children’s lives.
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