Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Revisiting the Home of My Heart

Below is one of the very early, original versions of a piece I wrote a few years ago.

There were many. A better version - much better - (edited by the incomparable Celia Miles and Nan Dillingham) was published in the regional anthology WOMEN'S SPACES WOMEN'S PLACES. It's a wonderful collection from a group of extraordinary women. I'm proud to be included.

(isn't the cover wonderful?! It was done by Karen Hollingsworth. You can see more of her work at her webpage)

I republish this piece here from time to time, often when I feel a little homesick. And tonight I'm feeling homesick. So, it's time.

An old friend from home, Patti Lucas Hopkins, has become an accomplished artist. Her work features local scenes from the Eastern Shore, a place she loves. Her love of place shines through, and it touches my heart.

You can see some of it here -

When I learned about a show Patti's having at The Trumpeter Swan Gallery in Easton, MD, I mentioned it to a new friend, David Magayna, who also lives on the Eastern Shore.

He went to Easton this evening to the opening and met Patti.

There's something pretty special about when your old friends and your new friends meet.

Oh, my. How I would have loved to have been able to be standing in this picture with the two of them.

And I wonder if I'll ever stop being homesick for the Eastern Shore?

Here's a piece of my soul, along with my heart - enjoy.


As much as I dearly love these mountains and our life here, my heart often gets a longing for my childhood home.  
I grew up in a small town on the water and it’s essential to my very soul to get back to it when I can.  Back to where I learned how to ride a bike.  Learned how to drive a car.  Kissed my first boyfriend.  And even learned what it meant to have my heart broken by a best girlfriend.  Back home to stand on a riverbank and stare out into the expanse of forever where the sky and sea become one, in a small town named Cambridge, on the eastern shore of Maryland.  A land of charming, gracious living.

I feel its pull, and know its tug at my roots; calling me home.  I feel that need to cross bridges over huge expanses of water.  To watch white sails skimming elegantly across sun speckled azure seas like ballerinas on-stage.  When I mention this urgent need for water to Donald he points out that we have a creek, and we have a pond - a pond chock full of rainbow trout, by golly.  True enough.  And quite lovely.  But.  Not big enough for need of a bridge, and certainly not big enough that I'll ever see a sailboat out there.   I need to smell marshy smells.  Need to eat crabs that have recently been blissfully swimming along minding their own business.   I need to spend a little time with friends who have known me since we were kids.  People I can just be myself with; letting down all walls and defenses. So off I scoot to where I’m safe in the knowledge that lifelong friends will open their arms and their hearts yet again and give me back my sense of home.  Where I can feel salty air cling to my skin.

I get to cross my bridges over huge sweeps of water, and, just as lovely – smaller ones.  The Chesapeake Bay Bridge makes my heart swell.  The Choptank River Bridge into Cambridge makes me cry buckets. 

Once I’ve crossed that bridge, there’s an almost indefinable pervasive sense of wholeness that wraps me in a hug.  A sense of peace not easily explained, but effortlessly understood by anyone who has experienced the joy of returning “home.”

From the time I was 3 months old until I was 17 we lived in a grand, if somewhat bedraggled, old apartment in The Arcade. All the rooms were big and spacious and the living room and dining room had immense bay windows.  Those two rooms opened into one another through an archway. The kitchen was huge with a separate pantry and our stove was an old timey thing on high legs.
This kitchen was “the” place to be.  Many an hour was spent sitting at the kitchen table looking out the windows.  One window overlooked a big grassy lawn, which sadly, after a few years, became a parking lot.  Sad for me as a kid ‘cause there went my back yard.  Fun for me as I got older, however, and enjoyed observing some of the goings-on that took place when folks didn’t realize there were eyes above them.  Oh my – the tales this girl could have told! 
From the other kitchen window we would watch the rear door of Woolworth’s and see who was coming and going.  Thus began my love of people watching.
This was not Eloise at the Plaza. This was small town living. We were not wealthy people; not by any stretch of the imagination. There was no private entrance into our apartment. There was a downstairs lobby, and in the lobby was the entrance to the Arcade Movie Theater. If we had been out and arrived home before the movie started, it meant socializing, mixing and mingling with the folks buying tickets to see a movie. Since everyone knew everyone, it sometimes took awhile to get through all the "Hi, How are you’s?" to get up those stairs. 
None of us had a key to the apartment, which meant it was never locked.  Which also meant we never knew who might be there waiting for us.  Rest assured, there was always someone. It might be one of my aunts, uncles or cousins - there was a gracious plenty of them. Or it might be one of dad's cronies, or one of mother's girlfriends, or friends from school. Amazingly enough, as odd as it might now sound to some, it was never cause for concern back then. That apartment was, as my mom often said, "Grand Central Station."   And the kitchen was the hub where everyone gathered.  Even if we weren’t there.
That wonderful old kitchen was where we had most of our meals.  The dining room was for “special occasions.”   We had, of course, that ubiquitous chrome and leatherette table and chairs; a set I’d surely love to have today.
This was where we sat for conversation and gossip over a cup of coffee.  Hot chocolate for the kids.
And it’s where I sat and watched my mom and dad cut a rug.
There was a radio that sat right inside the kitchen door.  I have the most delightful memories of my dad scootin’ through that door, turning up the radio and leading my mom into a vigorous jitterbug all over that room.  Oh my.  Could they dance!
I remember a lot of laughter around that table, one day in particular . . .
(Laws, I hope my dad forgives me for telling this one!)
When I was growing up there were a couple of "stag" bars in Cambridge. No women. I don't know if they specifically ever said "No Women," or if women just wouldn't be caught dead in them. There was one not far from our apartment called the DD Bar. It was owned by a friend of Dad's, and it was a wonderful little place. I adored it.  The DD Bar was one of those grown-up "No Kids Allowed" places I would sneak into under the guise of “needing to see my dad.”  Then acting all stunned and bewildered about why I had to leave when my mom showed up at the door to retrieve me.  It was a long, narrow, and dark.  With a charm that only bars from that era can possess, without a smidgen of artifice. There were maybe 4 booths in the front, along with a long mahogany bar with a brass foot rail. There were also pinball tables, a shuffleboard table and a dart board.  Nary a fern to be seen; plastic or otherwise.
If Daddy needed to work for a couple hours on Saturday afternoons, he thought it was a great way to make some extra money.  Where else could he earn a few extra dollars while hanging out with his buddies laughing and watching a ball game on TV?
We had a local radio station and on Saturdays the DJ, Ed Brigham, would make a phone call to give away a free prize to someone if they could answer the question of the day. 
On this particular Saturday, Mother and I were home, in the kitchen, and the radio was on, of course. We heard Mr. Brigham announce that the question of the day phone call was about to be made.  We crossed our fingers hoping it would be our phone to ring. Well, it didn't, but we did hear a very familiar voice over the radio say "DD Bar, Al speaking." 
How fun!  My dad!!!! 
Mr. Brigham said "Hey Al, this is Ed Brigham, how ya' doin'?" After a few minutes of small talk exchanging some "how's the family" kinda stuff, Mr. Brigham told Dad he would win two free tickets to the Arcade Movie Theater if he could answer the question of the day. 
You could hear all the local Cambridge bar flies talking and hollering and laughing in the background, along with the TV blaring and pinball machines ping-pinging.  Dad told everyone to quiet down 'cause Ed had a question. 
The question was "How long is a decade?" 
Well, Mother and I laughed and she said she guessed she and Dad would be going downstairs to see a free movie soon. 
Then we heard dad over the radio yelling to the guys in the bar "Ed wants to know how long is a duck egg?" 
Mother and I just about fell in the floor screaming we were laughing so hard.
You could hear all these men saying stuff like, "a Duck Egg? Hell, I don't know, Jim Bob - what do you think?" Answers like "2 inches, 3 inches - oh hell no, an inch and a half," and things like "Who even cares??"  “Is that a real question??” were all loud and clear over the radio. This went on for awhile and finally dad stopped laughing long enough to say "Well, Ed, we think maybe an inch and a half." 
Ed Brigham was hysterical and said "Al. Hazel is going to kill you. NOT a Duck Egg! A DECADE!!!!!!!!" 
Dead silence on Dad's end. Then he started laughing really hard and had to tell the guys he'd made a mistake.  When he told them what the question really was we could hear them hootin’, hollerin’, shoutin’ and a brayin’ – mass hysteria.
For years, when we went out to eat or went shopping downtown, someone would holler "Hey Al! How long's a Duck Egg?!" 
We all share a common bond of memories of “home.”  Those special moments which make our homes unique and special. 
I have a beezillion of them. 
There was a little mini-community besides the movie theater in the Arcade lobby.  There was a jewelry store, a beauty shop, an insurance company, and the gas company. I was in and out of those places like I owned them. I don't know why those people put up with me. If some poor woman was having her hair washed, I'd just march right over while she had her head in the sink and strike up a conversation. 
The three of us were also piling into the car for a weekend away every so often; usually to the beach and boardwalk in Ocean City.  One particular weekend while we were off doing who knows what, one of my uncles was going to paint our dining room.  Mom & Dad bought the paint and said it should be enough to cover the walls well enough if he was careful. 
Our dining room was a big room with a big bay window.  The sun would shine through that window seems like all the time.  Well, that ol’ sun told some tales on those painters. 
When we got home on Sunday evening, everyone was really pleased about how terrific the room looked with its new paint.  Mother was pleased as punch. 
The next day was a whole different story, let me tell you.  Wheweee. 
Seems my uncle, who was quite the artist, invited a friend to help him.  Adult beverages were involved.  Artistic tendencies arose.  From the muses came pictures of Mickey Mouse and all his pals on our dining room walls.  The painters, at some point, realized this was not what my folks had in mind when they asked to have the walls painted, so they painted over the Disney guys.  But, not well enough.  With the sun streaming into the windows, those images showed right through the paint. 
Its made for hilarious stories since, but things were a little tense around the apartment for awhile.  They did put up another coat of paint and it did help, but even years later, if you knew where to look, you could find a shadow of Mickey's face.  Or Goofy's.  And, honestly?  It was a fun and lovely thing.  What is lovelier, after all, than a home that possesses a bit of whimsy and can make you smile?  That is, after all, what makes it "home."

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