I am going home. Well, to be clear, I am returning for an extended visit. My East Coast friends–and concerned grown kids—say I’m crazy to head to Los Angeles, one of the hottest spots for COVID, just as things are finally “normalizing” in New York. But like many others, I am craving the familiar, the comfortable, a time and place that certainly had its share of pain and angst, but somehow didn’t feel like this. It’s not that I want to experience my youth again, but that I want to be where there seemed so much to look forward to.
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I know I am not alone in these feelings. “Although I moved to Manhattan from Fargo in the 1970s, and have never regretted it, during the pandemic, I’ve found myself deeply missing “home,” says my friend, writer Sally Koslow. “I’ve started subscribing to The Forum, the local newspaper (where I worked for two summers) and have reconnected with old (literally!) friends on Facebook. I think many of us long for and imagine a simpler life now.”
Getting on a Plane
Yes, I had to fly across country to make this happen and yes, I know many who simply won’t get on a plane now. To be honest, I don’t like flying in the best of times, but for some reason, I was not overly concerned. I’d heard how responsible this particular airline has been. Maybe it was the rebel in me: dammit, this country is about the freedom of being able to cherish our mobility.
In five hours, I was in my old hometown. Where I feel the urge to walk my old streets of Santa Monica, and to get out the family scrapbooks. To peruse them with my older brothers, reaching for as many scraps as fading memories allow. To recall all those hours on our transistors, listening as each week’s top ten was announced. To visit the fields where my brothers played Little League while their shy tomboy sister experienced her first secret (and sadly, unrequited) crushes.
And, of course, to spend time with friends who were part of the first half of my life: 35 formative years, during which we went through the most important turning points.
I am far from young anymore, but I also feel the need to connect with those who have endured much more. I know many are currently fearful of exposing the elderly, so I will defer to the wishes of amazing women like Helene, who is 102, legally blind, but sharp enough to tune into MSBNC, and eager for company to share her political furor. I will visit Ernestine, who is 93, and a lifelong role model, having shocked friends like my mother, by returning to college in her 40s. (She is now Emeritus in the Archaeology school at UCLA.) “During your stay, come visit here; we’ll enjoy the outside entry patio, a breezy spot with bougainvillia in full bloom, where I’ve ‘hosted’ friends over these last weeks,” she said to my request. Damn right I will.
The risk is that this journey means leaving behind my beloved aunt of 95. But as I left, she said, ”Michele, if I die while you are away, don’t worry. There will be a memorial later and you’ll be a big part of it.” She is seemingly ready to go, and I can’t really argue with her.
The Importance of Home
Her brother—my father—was a self-made success, and although he’s been gone for 17 years, this is even a time for me to feel closer to all he accomplished. That includes driving by the supermarkets he built on a previously barren street called Wilshire Boulevard. He was entering WW2, and, dirt poor, decided to purchase very cheap property to have something to leave behind in case he did not return. Those instincts ultimately allowed him to retire early and focus on philanthropic activities. I used to joke that we would get our allowance on Friday and by Monday he’d be pitching us to give it to some worthy cause.
Because he shared so much concern about the world, I also associate Los Angeles with some of my scariest moments. I recall as a child hiding under a middle school staircase during the Cuban Missile crisis. And bursting into tears when an announcement over the intercom told us the president had been shot. (“Who would shoot Mike McGovern?” one student yelled, referring to our class president.) I think of myself attached to that transistor radio one very late night into early morning, following the horrid events at the Ambassador Hotel, ending the life of a man I had spent months campaigning for.
There is history, of course, on both coasts. In New York, 9/11 remains the bond that does not bend, and it certainly cemented my dual allegiance. I raised my kids there, became involved in the world of theater, and have made (and lost) many friends. I have remained bi-loyal: rooting for the Dodgers and the Yankees, the changing of the seasons and the relentless sunshine. But I am a California girl at heart who has seen both sides now and feels the need to connect with the place where I started.
So, I’m here in L.A. for the month of July–at least–to share memories and elbow bumps. Having survived four months of lockdown and fear, and the world’s attention, I may be able to add some advice or perspective. Mostly I am just seeking some really good hugs, but those, alas, will have to wait.