Friday, March 4, 2011

Welcome Home

Now I know how Phileas Fogg felt. Though I was aware we were crossing the International Dateline, somehow I thought the hours added up such that I left on Thursday afternoon and arrived on Friday morning. That’s what I told the folks back home. Imagine my surprise when the pilot announced “Welcome to San Francisco, where the local time is 8:00 am Thursday morning.” So I was granted the rare gift of an extra day.

It was a four-movie 11-hour flight and though I barely slept, I got on the BART train out of the airport, got out at Glen Park Station and walked the half-mile with my two-winged rolling suitcases to my Mom’s residence at the Jewish Home for the Aged. I expected a shriek of delight when she saw me, but instead got a quiet smile. At 89 years old with a slowly advancing dementia, time takes on a new meaning—who knows what the five weeks apart felt like to her? But once we went to the piano and I started playing, the same smile of contentment spread across her face.

The scene that unfolded was worthy of a tearjerker movie, kind of a musical Field of Dreams—“Play it and they will come.” As I began playing, people started emerging from the various corners of the Home, some because they recognized my touch and some simply attracted by the music. First was Fran, my partner-in-crime who feeds me the songs she remembers and loves to sing—probably some 300 at least. 95 year old Ben, Holocaust-survivor and resident pianist, had fallen and broken his leg, but wheeled out to greet me. Patsy with her remarkable memory for words showed up, as did Laya, the ex-English teacher who analyzes Cole Porter lyrics from a Shakespearean point of view. Ed was reading the newspaper, but paused to drum along on the table (his mother thwarted his ambitions to be a drummer, but I gave him permission!). Before I knew it, some thirty people were gathered around singing, mouthing words, listening, frolicking through the fields of our collective dreams sung in Ellington, Gershwin, Jerome Kern songs.

During a pause between songs, Fran caught me up on the news and told me of Deborah’s passing, a visual artist who always requested the hippest tunes—Lullaby of Birdland was her favorite—and once gave me a little lullaby she had written to play. This the great sorrow of making friends with octogenarians and beyond. There will be a service on Sunday and I hope to be able to play her lullaby as a “rest in peace” gesture.

Meanwhile, Jeannie showed up on her 101’st birthday and we sang to her, as we had to Natalie five weeks earlier when she celebrated her 103rd. And she was there as well with her infectious ear-to-ear smile as she swayed to the music. Two and a half hours later, jet lag overtook me and it was lunchtime anyway. I couldn’t think of a better way to return to my hometown.

Now I get to prepare my tax returns. Oh joy.

P.S. For those who are still wondering, Phileas Fogg is the character in Jules Verne’s novel Around the World in 80 Days who makes a bet he can circumnavigate the globe. He returns to London 81 days later, despondent that he had lost until he buys a newspaper and realizes he gained a day by crossing the International Dateline. David Niven played him in the movie.

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