Home Wherever

I love New York. Every time I go there I learn something new and important – about myself, about our culture, about human nature. You can’t pack that many people into such a small space without some wisdom seeping out somewhere.

The first thing I learned about is hospitality. No one I know does a classier job of that than my brother and his wife. I took mental notes the whole time. You see, years ago I ran across an article about how to treat house guests – I thought it was funny. A true hostess, it said, should supply the guest room with stamps and stationary (ornamented with pictures of the hosting house), a variety of reading materials, fresh fruit, swim suits, mending kits and – this is the best – a thermometer mounted outside the window so the guest would know how to dress. I suppose all that is useful if you’re not going to let the poor folk out of their rooms, but it seemed obsessive to me.

from Mike & Gloria's terrace
Mike and Gloria do it right. They had metro passes waiting for us, gave us tour guide directions for all the spots we needed and wanted to visit. They came home from work each night and poured wine, laid out cheese and crackers. They gathered everyone from the east coast that we wanted to see. They fed us elegantly. Gloria, who I’m sure knows everyone in the city, even set Maggie up with an important modeling firm – just someone she knows. Amazing. Mostly they were just themselves and graciously gave us the run of their lovely apartment and their magnificent city. How blessed can we be?

I also learned about homeness. Mike and I grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska, a beautiful city on the plains. Our father was a printer, our step-father a farmer, our mother a teacher in a country school. And yet I stood in Mike’s office just off Wall Street on the 33rd floor of a building overlooking Battery Park, the Statue of Liberty, and Ellis Island. He’s at home there in that remarkable place so far from where we both started. He leaves there in the evening and rides the subway to the Upper East Side and thinks nothing of it. He has made the city his.

I watched my granddaughter do the same thing – make the city hers. She grew up in the desert that is eastern Washington, but last week she was strolling around Manhattan on those long legs of hers, in and out of classy and well-known modeling firms, chatting with the agents, posing for pictures, discussing the possibilities in the Asian markets.  She seemed completely at home. 

I feel at home in New York too, though I haven’t come by that naturally; movies and TV did that for me. Every corner looks familiar, has appeared in some scene in some show, has played a part in some novel I’ve read, has been in the news. The Dakota, from Jack Finney’s Time and Again, sits regally at the southwest end of Central Park; Fifth Avenue still harbors occasional mansions from Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence; The Westside bookstore from You’ve Got Mail can be seen on West 69th; The Empire State Building’s observation deck calls to mind the scene from Sleepless in Seattle. We’ve all been there, one way or another.

Yet most of the people you see on the streets actually live there; it’s not just a movie set. They walk to work wearing sensible shoes and sipping Starbucks. On the way home they stop by the neighborhood deli to pick something for dinner. They walk their dogs – I have a sense that there are as many dogs in New York as people – and they walk their children to school; you don’t see children there. You can’t walk far in New York without passing a church or a school. For all its sensational beauty (Have you been in Times Square at night?) and dramatic history New York is just home to over 8 million people all packed into just 305 square miles.

In spite of the crowded atmosphere, New Yorkers are very nice people, hospitable and welcoming to all of us who muddle through their streets and speak unrecognizable languages (Though the natives are good at that too. New York is the most linguistically diverse city in the world -- a city where over 800 languages are spoken.). They guided us, chatted with us, paid compliments to Maggie, and pretended they thought I was her mother. You have to love folks like that.

And then I came home to the Rogue Valley. The little plane flew past the Medford International Airport – “international” because it has clocks from 4 different time zones – and headed south over the valley. Then it banked and swept around like it was showing off our ring of mountains, Roxy Anne, Grizzly Peak, Mt. Ashland – still topped with snow, Anderson Butte, Wagner, Cinnebar, John’s Peak, all of them green and textured with fir and pine, madrone and chinquapin, oak and dogwood. We flew over the Rogue River, over outlying acreages punctuated with huge houses, over the neatness of pear orchards and vineyards, over neighborhoods with yards and swimming pools. We flew over people’s homes.

Then the landing gear dropped and I watched as the left wheel grabbed the pavement in a puff of pulverized rubber, and I was home. Home – a place as different from the prairie as my brother’s Manhattan office, a place windless and rumpled, flowering and green, one of the most beautiful valleys in the world. And I live here. Talk about blessings.