by Constance Daley
St. Simons Island, Ga.
January 19, 2011
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- The blizzard that drew New York City to a halt last week filled me with yearning, or, shall I say, a heart-rending longing for home. Two weeks earlier, over the same television screen, I saw one million people huddled together to watch the ball drop to the sound of voices counting down the last 10 seconds to midnight, welcoming in the year 2011.
The same Times Square on that day of longing for my home showed a few people climbing over snow banks at the curb. The men and women who had ventured out walked with arms extended out to ward off the idea they might slip. There were no taxicabs vying for position nor customers hailing them at corners. It was still. The colorful neon lights reflected out from storefronts and tall hotels created a surreal scene: "Watercolor on Snow."
That was the beauty in the eye of this beholder. When camera crews made it a mile uptown to Central Park, the canvas of snow there was "A Study in Black and White."
I wanted to be there. That was home. I hadn't lived there since wexmarried in 1957, still, it continues to be home. I dwelled upon that, conjuring up a scene I recall vividly. I continued to spend idle hours watching snow fall in New York City but a memory came to me of a telephone conversation with my mother 34 years ago.
In 1966, we lived in the Indiana Dunes, and it was lunchtime. We had five children by then who were in assorted boosters or high chairs. I see myself leaning against the sink looking toward the stove where water was boiling and telling myself "a watched pot won't boil."
Good, I thought, I'll have time for a cigarette. Just as I lighted my old nemesis, a Lucky Strike, the phone rang. I ditched the cigarette, put the boiling water on low, and reached for the phone on the wall.
My mother weakly said, "Connie?" "Yes, Mama, it's Connie. How are you?"
I knew what was coming because she called weekly from where she lived in New York, the house I lived in before I got married, and right near LaGuardia Airport. (During our calls we might have to pause if a loud airplane went overhead.)
What was coming was a conversation we repeated, as it did when she called my siblings. There were eight older than I am.
"I want to go home," she said, almost crying.
"Mama, you are home," I said, kindly, but firmly.
"This is not home," her voice sounding suddenly firm.
"Yes, Mama. Are you in a bedroom with a pink spread on the bed?
"Yes, the bed has a pink spread on it. I forget where I got it."
"And is there a piece of paper taped on the mirror with all our phone numbers on it?"
"Yes, oh, and I see the name Connie on it."
"And is there a picture of all of us on the bureau?"
"Oh, yes, dear, and aren't the boys handsome in their uniforms?"
"Yes, Mama, and we were so proud of the five of them through the war."
"Yes, yes, I remember now."
"Mama, I have to feed the little ones now. I'll write to you tonight and try to see you soon."
That exact conversation went on week after week and each time it ended nicely and she felt secure that she was "home." We assumed then that her memory loss was senile dementia. For the decade before that and further, it was expressed merely as "senile."
Alzheimer's disease was not even discussed as a possibility in general conversations. Yet the more I read now, the more I know. The symptoms were there and, as well, in one of my older sisters in later years. I am now the exact age my mother was in 1966 and except for misplaced car keys I feel sound of mind.
Until... . Well, until the 2011 blizzard that just hit New York City. I was not sympathizing and saying they were poor New Yorkers, or suggesting we're lucky to have come to the South. Instead, I was sitting with my arms folded, just yearning to be there and envious that I was not.
I'm on a sunny island on the southeast coast of the United States. What would be more pleasant? I know it's not what it was 'way back when - but New York City is still the place of hustle and bustle and, to my mind, the best of everything. The Staten Island Ferry has more appeal to me than a Carnival Cruise.
Now, Mama would not agree with me. She was living in New York and still wanted "home." To her it just was not her beloved Prince Edward Island, Canada - the Cradle of the Confederacy.
I know that now. I wish I could call her back and say: "Mama, mama, don't hang up. I know what home was to you. I thought you meant the home you live in - not the home you came from." I should have understood that but, if it's any consolation, I can't get anyone here to understand why I would want to call New York my home. I can only answer, "It's just because I am at home there."
How could I even think that Mama's looking across a pink bedspread to a window looking out upon the neon lights of LaGuardia Airport and Lily Tulip Cups would be an improvement on what she remembered as "home?" Well, I didn't think, now did I?