Going Home

By Gretchen Gibbs

Roger Angell, the writer who constructed such great pieces for the New Yorker, was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame a couple weeks ago. He could make baseball come alive even for those who consider it boring. One of his statements, paraphrased, was that baseball is a metaphor for life, that we struggle through it, only to arrive finally at home, where we started.

Remembering this philosophical nugget, I began to think about my ex-mother in law.

I was never close to Catherine, who was too self-centered and childish to be a good mother to my former spouse, or to hold a real conversation with me. She was only appealing to certain men, who were charmed by her beauty and child-like enthusiasm for pretty things and good food. In her seventies, demented with Alzheimer’s, or something like it, she still had a boyfriend who adored her.

After she began thinking there were men living in the back room of Southbury, her retirement village condo, men who were stealing things from her, she had to go to the Home, a comfortable nursing home with remarkably caring nurses. She would forget where she was and say in a matter-of-fact way, “It’s time to go home to Southbury now.” She spoke of the retirement village as though she still lived there, reminding herself, regardless of the season, that it was time to put out the green and white striped awnings, or that she needed to go through her papers. When we had brought her to the Home, we discovered that the Southbury condo was full of papers, unpaid bills mixed in with junk mail and old letters, and shopping lists, most of them stuffed into the washing machine.

A year passed. We visited regularly, and often Catherine would say, “It’s time to go home to Floral Park now. I want to sit on the screened porch.” The house in Floral Park, set next to the vast extension of the Belmont Racetrack, was where she and her husband had brought up their children through adolescence, and on hot summer evenings the screened-in porch was a soft green delight.

Another year. Catherine still seemed happy at the Home, but she spoke of needing to go home to Woodside, the apartment house in Queens where she lived when first married. She wanted to visit Aunt Anna who lived in the apartment upstairs, and to have the whole family over for Anna’s gingery sauerbraten and crisp potato pancakes. But Anna was no longer alive.

Finally, Catherine had to go to a hospital, where she died, unable to recognize us, wandering in her mind through her childhood home in Hastings, Pennsylvania, speaking to her dead mother and sisters, re-grieving the deaths of her brothers, one on an embankment and the other drunk on the railroad track.

Roger Angell was right, but he left out that at some point in our lives we begin going backwards around the bases, revisiting in our minds all our homes until we arrive at last at the beginning.



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2 Responses to “Going Home”

  1. carole howard Says:

    A lovely piece, Gretchen. Thanks.

  2. esme Says:

    Very touching and all too true. A beautifully written piece.

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