This past weekend my husband's Uncle Jim passed away at age 83. He had been married to Aunt Harriet for approximately 60 years.
When we spoke of them it was always JimandHarriet, their combined names slurred together by the passage of time into one singular unit.
Bedridden for a long time with myriad complications of the post-polio syndrome many of his generation suffered, Uncle Jim was still holding characteristically tough on the day he died.
Aunt Harriet sat beside him on the bed and said: "The best birthday gift you could possibly give me now, is to go."
He died at home, the place he most wanted to be, on Aunt Harriet's birthday.
Ultimately, a consistent sense of home is what connects members of any family, regardless of where they may venture in the greater world. Home, even if it isn't in reality, is the idea of place that offers implicit trust and the kind of strength belonging to both Aunt Harriet and Uncle Jim.
Home is the place you live in, sometimes die in.
While some of the larger-scale memories of my most immediate family thus far involve long-distance travel, the most meaningful impressions are those of random moments spent in and around the area we call home.
One particularly frigid Christmas tree lighting in stands out among a blur of other memories. My then very small and circumspect daughter ran off shrieking giddily with a large group of other children. Dusk turned to evening as I watched them become a blur of dark silhouettes, yet still I could effortlessly discern my own child.
When my husband and I first moved here we happened to drive past one Sunday morning and glimpsed what seemed like a hallucinatory vision: a group of approximately thirty people, each walking what appeared to be a cross between a deer and a gazelle.
We pulled over to speak with them, discovering that all had adopted their rescued racing greyhounds from NJ Greyhound Friends. On Sundays, weather permitting, a group of greyhound rescuers gather to enjoy the park with their dogs. Soon after we welcomed our own impossibly elegant greyhound into our new home.
In between life and work, for us all, comes errands. I take my sandal with the broken strap to , squeezed in beside the train tracks of NJ Rail. A time-worn store, that reminds me of the little shops I used to accompany my own mother to, when she did her errands.
I like the quiet confidence the proprietor exhibits as he moves about the stacks of injured shoes and boots awaiting his attention.
I like studying the anonymous footwear, wondering who might be the owner of that pair of blazing red pumps missing a heel, or the expensive-looking wingtips lacking a sole?
On the return trip I stop at for some essentials, making sure to grab some markers or a silly little surprise for my daughter as I leave (Zhu-Zhu pet socks? Clip on bunny ears for Easter?). I get a new license for each of our current dogs, at the same town office where my husband and I got our marriage license. Our witness was the only local person we knew then, the real estate agent who had sold us our house.
Now as I drive past the houses of people whose names I know, whether I like them or find them interesting is irrelevant. It's just somehow comforting to recognize the faces, to associate them with the passage of time. These are the faces I share my history with, my home with.
They are the background to my story, just as I am the background to theirs.