You CAN go home again!
Full disclosure: I haven’t read Thomas Wolfe’s famous novel though I have read about it. Unlike Wolfe, I have never written a Great American Novel. But I have, quite recently, gone home.
Four years ago, Mr. Penfire and I sold our house in Massachusetts and moved to southern California to be near our children—and grandchildren. We had both been lifelong New Englanders. Yet we found the transition to this totally new place quite easy.
When people asked, “Do you miss your home,” I quickly realized that I did not miss the house we had lived in for 38 years—but I missed the trees, shrubs, and flowers we had planted in our yard. And I missed not specific places, but the feel of specific places: the White Mountains, the Berkshire Hills, Squam Lake, northern Vermont, even The Old Man of the Mountain, who isn’t there anymore, the Cape and The Islands. I missed two lane roads—not any specific roads, but the feel of driving along a stretch of road where around every curve, mixed in with newer structures, there are scattered distinctive, spare, handsome, four-square clapboard houses, large and small, built sometime in the late 18th or early 19th century, each one usually guarded by a giant shade tree and surrounded by a scramble of lilacs or forsythia, a scattering of daffodils (spring) or a clump of day lilies (summer). I missed the city of Boston—my birthplace, just a stone’s throw from my hometown of Milton—Boston’s North End with so many favorite restaurants the waterfront offering myriad views of the busy Harbor, the Museum of Fine Arts, Back Bay, Symphony Hall, the Hatch Shell site of the Boston Pops’ legendary Fourth of July concerts, the Charles River with its bridges and the scattering of sailboats and the graceful flow racing sculls. Cambridge, where I spent most of my working years: Tech Square, Central Square, Harvard Square. Yep, I missed it all.
And I missed our family and our friends though many had visited us—and of course we stayed connected through texts, email, and good old fashioned phone calls.
A “Save The Date” notice for a May 11th wedding was all we needed! We could go home. We would go home. How long could we stay? How many people/places could we see? We called Jet Blue and booked a flight: LA to Boston May 3rd and back again May 24th. Three weeks! Our lifelong friends, Joan and Dave, provided us with a home base—a home away from home. We planned as carefully as Roald Amundson preparing for an expedition to the South Pole. What an itinerary!
On Saturday, we visited our old neighborhood, hugged all our former next door neighbors, and sighed over the neglected shrubbery in front of the house that we no longer owned. We stopped in to see our nephew, who had moved with his wife and daughter to a nearby street—after we were gone, and had a chance to visit with his parents and sister, too. Our good friends Bette and Jimmy—friends since the DyDee Diaper truck pulled up in front of their house 40 years ago and signaled that I had a friend, another new mother right across the street—cooked us dinner.
On Sunday we met our North End friends, Nancy and Peter, and went to Prezza on Fleet Street (a longstanding favorite dining spot for the four of us).
THE VISITS BEGIN
On Monday, we drove to Wellesley, met up with two other couples we’ve known, well, forever, and left the guys home (they collaborated on mowing the lawn) while the women set out for Museum Day (viva Toulouse Lautrec!).
Tuesday night we met my sisters, brother-in-law, and nephew at Bertucci’s.
On Wednesday, I drove from Canton to Sherborn to see the house my friend Maureen had bought near her grandchildren. Maureen and I have had a “book club” since our girls’ were classmates in nursery school. We meet, we eat, we walk we talk, and then…just as it’s time to say good-bye, we pull out our lists of the books we’ve read since our last “meeting” and exchange titles with a word or two of commentary.
Thursday was Mr. Penfire’s turn for a rendezvous with an old friend. The Flour Bakery + Café on Washington Street in Boston is their favorite spot. Since its opening in 2000, Mr. Penfire has met there from time to time with the woman our daughters have always called his “girlfriend.” Barbara and Mr. Penfire worked together on their first jobs and have remained friends ever since. Their lunchtime tradition began with ice cream sundaes at Bailey’s, a Boston-based chain of ice cream parlors now long since closed. Inevitably, when friendships last longer than long-established eateries, the menu and venue must change.
For the weekend, we headed to Providence where we squeezed in: dinner for two on Federal Hill (Providence’s mecca for Italian restaurants which some consider comparable to Boston’s North End; but, hey, we’re Bostonians; we have our biases); breakfast to meet our new grand nephew and his parents in Warwick; a brief visit and horticultural consultations with Dr. Beth (once that little girl for whom the DyDee Diaper truck made its visits across the street); the wedding ‘round which this whole trip was planned; it took place at the Botanical Gardens of Roger Williams Park, and truly couldn’t have been lovelier. We had a chance to visit with the bride’s parents and her sister next morning over breakfast then off to Groton, Connecticut, to spend the afternoon with our nephew, his wife and family (who had just moved back stateside from 17 years on Maui).
As the second week sped by, there were leisurely days “at home” with Joan and Dave. We went to the gym, did a little shopping, helped (or stood by pretending to help) as they babysat their son’s two young children. Joan hosted dinner with Peggy and Billy, her brother and his wife; when Joan and I were in high school, we used to babysit their three boys, now a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher of high school history.
I took out time to attend my friend Nancy’s yoga class. Then dashed off to a nearby Panera to meet Kyle and Susan; years ago we three worked together to figure out marketing strategies; now we get together to figure out—life!
And of course, Mr. P and I snuck off to Burke’s Seafood in Quincy to see our friends Margaret and Dick, and enjoy our “usual” order: a lobster roll (me) and a fisherman’s platter (Mr. P).
The second weekend we headed north. My cousins invited us to stay with them at their place in Wells, Maine. What a treat to spend time with them, revisiting familiar places—Ogunquit’s fabulous wide beach and the Marginal Way; Kennebunkport with its inviting small shops (especially the one that sold gourmet ice cream!); we stopped to view Walker’s Point (a turnoff has been provided for bug-eyed tourists) but there were no Bush family members in sight, and we visited Saint Ann’s by the Sea, the beautiful stone chapel famous for its jewel-like stained glass windows and aristocratic congregation. The Nubble Lighthouse in York required and obligatory stop for still more ice cream. Cape Porpoise Kitchen provided everything we needed for a picnic on the pier, the perfect spot for watching people, spying on lobstermen, and savoring the panoramic seascape.
Mr. P and I spent Sunday and Monday with Rick and Paulette at their house overlooking Great Bay in Dover Point, New Hampshire; we’ve been sharing dinners (and desserts) with them for decades, most notably on every Super Bowl Sunday since 1980. (Paulette and I taught ourselves and each other too cook by trying every recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, just like Julie in Julie and Julia, and no doubt before Julie was born.)
On to Stratham New Hampshire to meet up with my first-job “boyfriend” Bert and his wife Ann. The four of us, who used to plan excursions together on a regular basis, drove off to Gloucester for lunch at Beauport and a rubber-neck tour of Cape Ann, plus, yes, still more ice cream (well this time Dairy Queen soft serve).
THE TASTE OF HOME
Our last adventure was to Cape Cod. I wanted to bring flowers to my three uncles—all World War II veterans (Army, Navy, Air force)—and their wives at the Massachusetts National Cemetery in Bourne. And, finally, the Grand Finale of our trip: Bruce and Gayle, who live on Martha’s Vineyard took the ferry over to Woods Hole. We met their boat, and strolled over to Captain Kidd’s. A table by the water on a beautiful spring day. A lobster roll. What could be better?
I can’t even count all the people we saw, and all the ice cream we ate, but I did keep track of my lobster rolls (4), which means, unfortunately, only one fried clam plate.
We had moved 3,000 miles away. We had been away four years. But a three week visit simply erased the distance and the time.
Thus, Mr. Penfire and I did go home. And it was good.