Hominy & Hash
FROM HEAVEN'S WAITING ROOM TO THE GATES OF HELL
by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island. Ga.
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. - The title I'm using is rather an exaggeration on both ends; this is not Heaven's Waiting Room, nor is New York City close to being the Gates of Hell, yet I can write about each in such a way you'll believe it to be completely true.
St. Simons is a vibrant island filled with movers and shakers and the up and coming in all fields. It's also a wonderful retirement place for those so inclined. The bicyclists are either residents keeping fit, just getting around, or tourists who enjoy leisurely peddling under the Spanish Moss draped from branches of the centuries old oaks.
Perhaps this idealic atomosphere is called Heaven's Waiting Room because there is such a large population of older women, white hair coiffed so beautifully, composed demeanor, content as they live in the present moment.
Of course, I must mention how their demeanor changes when they're behind the wheel of their powerful cars: The Condo Commandoes, as we call them, take to the road defying anyone to consider them "easy" at an intersection. Sometimes it appears the cars are moving under their own steam, no driver in sight. The little ladies are looking through their steering wheels not over them.
Believe me when I say I am not casting aspersions: I'm right there with them, bones cracking, eyes squinting and so many "liver" spots on the back of my hands, grandchildren can play dot-to-dot on them.
Coming from here and going to New York City for a three-day visit with an old girlfriend, now widowed, I was in for a surprise. I had no trouble going back to where I came from but somewhere along the way, I lost me - the me I was when I left and found often during my many visits over the intervening years. I'm not quite there.
Where I used to hop over the curbs and across puddles to catch the light, high heels no impediment, I now cautiously waited for the light to change before venturing into the crossing lane - this trip I was wearing my ever-safe and comfortable Birkenstocks.
In the course of our conversation while strolling, my friend, Mary (I now call her The Widder Brown) told me last year 521 old people were killed on the streets of New York. Not that it bothered us, we figured they just weren't careful - like us, walking around hatless on the first windy, really blustery day.
As we neared a street looking just like a Third World country bazaar I stretched my hand through a slew of reaching arms, each having a five-dollar bill clutched in a gloved hand. The vendor reached for the bill, the customer picked a scarf (cashmere-like) from the table. No disagreements, just a hasty sale designed to please everyone, vendor's eyes shifting from the bill to the curb, looking for the ever-threatening (to him) police asking for a vendor's license. I was waving my hand now, take mine, take mine.
The Widder Brown pulled me back and said "No, No, I have plenty of scarves at home."
"But your hair is blowing, your ears are blue," I pushed.
"No." A New York "no" carries weight.
"Suit yourself," I said.
Although neither of us has smoked for many years now, our misspent youth devoted to the habit left us with just enough emphysema to slow our steps against a bracing wind. Our walk took us from a morning look-see at Bloomingdale's, 59th and Lexington, to the Belasco Theater, 111 West 44th.
Our walk was leisurely, though, stepping in and out of shops, more to escape the cold than to spend money. A pretty, young, salesgirl was eager to help and I started to ask about her accent when she said she was not Russian (as I presumed) but born and bred in Brooklyn.
"Oh, then you went to Russia as a child?" I asked, eyebrows lifted to hear the obvious reason for her distinct accent.
"Noooo," she giggled at my even inquiring.
"Then you're from Coney Island? Brighten Beach? The region they call Little Russia?
"Nooo, I'm from Brooklyn, the community borders the Russian Section, but I'm not Russian. I am mixed, though. I'm Puerto Rican and Irish."
"Ahhh," I said, "That's where you got your pretty green eyes."=
The Widder Brown and I laughed at my total misunderstanding of the new "melting pot" that has really stirred things up in New York. I can't blame the new immigrants for finding their way to New York City and staying put. It would be hell for me to live in one room with sixteen other peoples, nothing but a sink, a gas stove and a toilet. But to those who had none of that before, they've found Heaven and they're willing to work hard to keep it and then move further up the scale -- in the American way.
Along with seeing the Third World mmigrants making their way, the city streets are also paraded by those who arrived five or ten years before them, now owning and managing shops and businesses, living the American Dream. New York has always had streets with hordes of humanity (a cliche no doubt coined for these same city streets a hundred years ago) walking eight abreast at a pace easy to fall into.
The night before I flew in for a whirlwind couple of days, one friend said to another, "Connie's the only one who goes to New York to relax." And, that's the truth. I am at home now, refreshed, invigorated, ready to take on the rest of the winter in the sunny south, where I always have to slow down to keep up.
It may not always be so. A woman's enemy has always been age - and my enemy is running faster. I won't outrun him for long.