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Going home

Terri had brought the yearbook to Starbucks.  We thumbed through it, marveling at the hairstyles and clothes people had almost half a century ago.   "Remember Jane Calter?" she said, stabbing a finger at the picture of the girl with the Big Hair.

"Yeah, we all thought she wore it that way to hide the brain tumor."

Terri slapped at my wrist.  "Stop it!"

"Funny thing is, I ran into her about five years after that, she'd changed her hair style.  Shoulder length.  She was super hot.  Oh, and there's Stachura," pointing to the photo of the the neo-Nazi football coach we had back then.  "He didn't like me," I said.  "I wasn't very popular with the jocks."

"Yeah, go figure," Terri said, rolling her eyes.

"I 'member, saw him at Korvette's one summer after I graduated."  Korvette's was the low-end retailer, now long-gone, that had once sat not a hundred yards from the Starbucks.  "He comes in, sees me working behind the sporting goods counter, gets this huge grin, says, 'Wow, I can't believe Russ Bensing wound up working at Korvette's!'  'I'm just here through August,' I tell him.  'I start law school in the fall.'  Think I broke his heart."  Schadenfreude's a bitch.

I'd had a crush on Terri most of senior high, that wasn't going anywhere.  She had a highly romanticized view of... well, romance.  She started dating a doctor her third year in college, they got married, had a couple kids.  Then he ran off with a nurse, she got the house, there was another marriage...  And then a third, just a month or so ago.  "I met him on Senior Match," she told me.  They were going fly-fishing the next morning, and had a lot of interests in common, she said.  She seemed happy.

*   *   *   *   *

I'd come home because Mom was having an operation, carpal tunnel, right wrist.  She just turned 89.  The body breaks down.  It's been a knee, a wrist, a shoulder, an elbow, her back, a few others in the past several years.

When Dad got out of the Army in 1959, he bought a house for eighteen grand, just across the Susquehanna River near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  I lived there for nine years, then off to college, and law school in Cleveland, where I stayed.  But the house on Hampden Avenue in Camp Hill, that's home. 

I got there Saturday, and we went out to dinner that night.  She asked about Karen.  "Not good," I said.  "I brought pizza on Friday."  Friday'd been pizza night with us for just about the 39 years we'd been together.  "I'm not sure she knew who I was.  And she's in a wheelchair now."

"Are they giving her physical therapy?"

"Yeah, but I don't think it's muscles.  Motor skills.  They go, too."  And it's a lot quicker when you get it early.

Other than that, it was small talk.  Mom's a tough woman; not a lot gets through.  We've had maybe five heart-to-hearts in our lives.

Of course, growing up in Germany during WWII can you make you tough.   At age 17, I was signing up to take the SAT's.  At 17, Mom was dealing with a meat ration of eight ounces a month, and standing in her yard, watching the bombers overhead on their way to hit Stuttgart or Munich. 

And then dealing with the aftermath:  how do you cope with the horror of what your country has done?  In her 60's and 70's, she'd get invited to the local high schools to talk to the kids about the Holocaust.  She'd tell them about the time she was in the 4th grade, and the principal came into the class, and whispered something to the teacher.  The teacher called up a little girl, the only Jewish girl in the class.  She went with the principal.  My mother never saw her again.

Then there was 1998.  My brother Bob worked for the Southern Human Rights Center, doing prison reform.  He was coming back from seeing a client on February 3, and ran into a rainstorm.  The driver of the car he was in lost control.  Bob didn't make it.

Dad called that night to tell me, and I went home the next day.  We went out to dinner that night.  Dad and I talked politics, like we always did, trying to pretend that nothing happened, trying to forget that it did, I don't know.  I remember looking over at my mother.  I'd never seen a sadder person in my life.

The funeral was in Atlanta, where Bob worked, but there was a memorial service at the church in Camp Hill.  Dad went to that.  He was 87.  He looked so frail.

But I talked to him about six weeks later, and he sounded much better.  "Bob wouldn't have wanted us to live like this," he said.

Two weeks later, Dad ate lunch, took a walk, mowed the lawn, and sat down on the patio and had a bowl of ice cream.  Then he died.

They were a year from their Golden Anniversary. 

So yeah, 1998 was tough, too.

*   *   *   *   *

I headed out Tuesday morning, and stopped in for breakfast at the Waffle House near Carlisle.  The Waffle House is a good place to eat if the cleanliness of an eating establishment is not your number one priority.  There'd been a cute redhead, worked there a couple years, but she was long gone.  Good for her.  You get your three-year pin at the Waffle House, it's not a cause for celebration.

I pulled into the driveway about 11:30.  The cats were happy to see me.

It was good to be back.


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