Friday, September 24, 2010

Leaving Home

Leaving Home - I

Three weeks ago, Suzanne and I accompanied our youngest daughter, Christie, to London to help her get settled into her new school – Central St. Martins School of Art and Design. Two years ago Christie had enrolled in The Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. She did well her first year, but wanted a program that had more of a fashion design focus. One of her professors had suggested she apply to St. Martins and the Royal School, both in London. So last year she stayed home, got a job as a cashier at CVS and worked on her portfolio and her applications to art schools. She was accepted at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago and Parsons in New York and then to her surprise at St. Martins and the Royal School. I had been secretly hoping that SAIC or Parsons would win out but she chose St. Martins.

I had really enjoyed the year she spent at home. Probably because she had been gone for a year and so I’d already had a chance to experience the empty nest (although our house is definitely not empty even when nobody is home.) She doesn’t drive so I would chauffeur her to work most days. We usually did the grocery shopping together – she’d take of the produce and cosmetics and I’d get the beer and wine. We were a good team. Her friends hung out at our house a lot (we had cable and they were all True Blood fans.)

Everyone tells me how exciting it is for Christie to have this experience – and intellectually I absolutely agree. But I will miss those silent rides to work, and the grocery shopping grand prix and all of those young people taking over my television. I will miss the casual encounters with Christie. Visits aren’t the same.

Life goes on. We don’t own our kids – we just rent them for a couple decades.

Leaving Home II

Last week I helped my sister move our mother into an assisted-living facility. My mom is 94. When my dad died two years ago, we didn’t want to rush a move, but figured sooner rather than later Mom would need to move out of the house that she and Dad had lived in since 1972.

Mom had other ideas. She didn’t mind living alone, although she was seldom alone for long. My sister Kendra and her husband Don, called on her every day and her neighbors checked in often. When I visited, I was surprised at the number of calls and visits that she had.

She continued to drive her car. Short trips for groceries and to the hairdresser. I told her no driving during the summer – too busy in town – I figured that would buy us some time. But while she agreed not to drive, she forgot that she agreed and continued to drive whenever she needed.

Last month we were notified of a vacancy at a great assisted-living facility six miles from Skaneateles. We took the room before someone else got it. Mom was not happy. In fact she was angry. Every day she would call each of her four children to complain. And this was highly unusual because Mom was raised in the era when “Long Distance” meant your phone conversations were about as wordy as telegrams.

However I think my sisters wore her down, because when I showed up last week, she was resigned to the move. We loaded up her bed and bureau and few chairs and Kendra helped her pick out clothes and on Sunday while Mom was at breakfast with her granddaughter and great-granddaughter, we moved the stuff in.

The room is only 350 square feet, but we managed to get things arranged so it looked cozy, not crowded. Still it’s just a room, not a big house with a view of the lake, like she had in Skaneateles.

We drove her up on Monday morning and she was cheerful. The other residents were welcoming and the staff was helpful. When I left her she was on her way to lunch with her new neighbors.

I know this is the right decision. But I will miss coming to visit Mom in her house. It was fun to be there and just hang around, watching television, having our own Happy Hour. Letting Mom read me the obituaries and listening to her rail about the delicate language like “passed away.” (I assured her that we would make sure that she doesn’t “pass away.”)

But life goes on.

On Wednesday Mom called my sister and told her she wanted to come home.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Materhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War

I just finished reading “Matterhorn,” by Karl Marlantes. The novel encompasses two months in the life of a Marine 2nd Lieutenant who has been sent to Viet Nam in the fall of 1969. It is the most compelling impossible-to-put-down novel I have ever read.

Karl Marlantes had been trying for some thirty years to get his 1,600 page manuscript published. No one was interested, until El Leon Literary Publishers in Berkeley convinced him to cut 800 pages from the manuscript.

They were proceeding with the publication of the 800 page novel as a paperback priced at $25. Prior to publication date, Marlantes entered the novel in a contest for first-time novelists. It was discovered by a buyer from Barnes & Noble who passed it on Morgan Entrekin at Grove / Atlantic. He loved the book and Grove made a deal with El Leon to co-publish the book as a hardcover. The book was released in the spring with a first production run of 60,000 hardcover.

Materhorn was on the New York Times Bestseller list for several weeks. This link to El Leon, provides a smattering of the critical acclaim that the book has garnered:  El Leon Literary

This book is great on many levels. It’s a riveting suspenseful, heartrending story. It has great diverse, well-drawn characters. (No tropes. The soldiers all sounded, smelled, acted real.) It has a cinematic scope that allows us to see events unfolding from the perspective of the grunt on the ground getting killed and from the perspective of the officers all the way up the chain of command that make the “tough” decisions.

But I think the most impressive aspect of this novel (for me) is the way Marlantes is able to convey to the reader the personal, individual terror that these kids endured day after day after day. And he shows how and why, despite that terror, they went forward following their orders, expecting to die, not for their country or some cause, but for each other.

The Marines sometimes lost all hope, but they never gave up. They never surrendered.  Neither did the author.