By Lena McNicholas
The double doors opened automatically and I rolled-stumbled through with my three well-traveled pieces of red Liz Claiborne luggage.
I was weary with jet lag and weeks of decisions: selling the house, disposing of lifelong possessions, weeping when the piano left for a new home in New Jersey, looking at the Blue Ridge Mountains every morning as coffee cooled in my hand knowing that the last morning was rapidly approaching. How can I possible be ready?
Heritage plants were gifted with instructions, including Christmas cactus whose parent sat in Grandmother’s picture window and watched as she observed the ebb and flow of our mountain town; and a 5-foot palm, a gift from the vet when we had to put Baron down. More than 10 years ago it was a small frond crowded in terra cotta with other exotic plants that died along the way. Now it resides in a neighbor’s sunroom and I hope she can catch glimpses of Baron’s glistening brown eyes, his floppy ears and comical expressions within the fronds as she cares for them.
From Virginia to California is as far as the moon in my mind’s eye. The hazy mountains, my beloved garden with Mother’s roses transplanted many times, red oak and dogwood must stay behind while I must go. All that is familiar fades within the jet’s spreading plumes.
How can it be that the land where I was born will not feel my footsteps and breath as the coming days, weeks and years pass? Will my strong connection be broken as I leave my homeland behind and head west as thousands before me have done? Will I have a new life?
After years of resignation and faded hopes, I have this smiling face and being that I call Sweet Baby Leo. Son of son who is 40-plus years old, he brought more than sun into our lives. Now I will watch him grow, hold him close, sing old songs, dance crazy jigs and teach him to say Nana.
University Retirement Community will be my new home from this day forward, and I pray that I can embrace it fully as I seek new friends and ways to fill my days. When the voice called and asked, “Would you like to go to a writing group with me tomorrow?” excitement and dread came in equal waves. Would the brain be able to connect to pen, then paper, then muse to inspire or lead me to write something of worth?
Doubts hovered this past year as I struggled with interruptions, illness and lethargy to pick up and write again. Would the stories from travels in Europe, life in Venezuela and Africa come easily after such a nonproductive time? I was tired.
Suddenly I see such riches before me in this community of elders. The lined faces and bright eyes reflect their wills to squeeze the last drop of pleasure from their lives as they walk in the sun, chat in the mail room, use magnifying machine to read The New York Times, dance at the New Year, play bocce in a freezing wind at 8 a.m.
They enter the dining hall with walkers and colorful wine carriers to host the newcomers with grace and inquisitive conversations. They inspire me each day as adjustment settles over mind and body.
— Lena McNicholas is an award-winning poet. Born in Wise County, Va., she spent many years teaching in Virginia, Kentucky, Maryland, Venezuela and Nigeria