Thursday, August 9, 2012

A Refrigerator Full of Jam

My mother reaches into her terracotta leather purse and pulls out her silver and black cigarette case. She presses the case open and removes a Winston, lighting it while the car windows are still closed. Smoke circulates in the vehicle for a few seconds as the window slowly descends into the door. Cool summer breeze sweeps through the car as we head home down Oakland Park Boulevard, past the same fast food restaurants and mechanics and motels that have always been there. To me, though, they are beautiful; beautiful where they weren’t before.

It’s strange, being home in Florida this time I am seeing the beauty in the mundane, the joy in the everyday details that I do not at all appreciate on my own in New York. We have to stop at the bank and buy dinner for Daddy whose stomach is bothering him. We get him brown rice and orange chicken, and an iced coffee for ourselves as a treat. A man puts our groceries in brown paper bags that crunch inside the cart as we wheel them to the car. My mother pops the trunk open and on the inside it is charcoal black felt, littered with treasures with her previous shopping ventures like cat oven mitts and Raisinets that have probably melted in the heat of the trunk exposed to the Florida summer sun. I put my feet up on the dashboard as we drive home.

At home, the refrigerator is bursting with food before we even put anything new in it. Three shelves’ worth of items I am always surprised do not fall out and break—cottage cheeses my mother says are still good even though they expired in February, age-old Lingonberry jam from Ikea that goes with the age-old Swedish meatballs from Ikea that are still in the freezer, Wolferman’s English muffins ordered special from a Wolferman’s English muffin catalog, eggs, and Flagels (flat bagels from the Brooklyn Water Bagel company, a company that imports water from Brooklyn to make their bagels then sells them here in Florida), just to name a few.

I think of my own refrigerator in New York, which is only filled with jam, an old bottle of Snapple Iced Tea left over from a party many moons ago, and a tiny bottle of Svedka vodka, give or take another few items. I am more used to seeing the back wall of my refrigerator than not, though here in Florida it is the polar opposite. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen the back of the one down here. We unpack the car and I stack the brown crunchy paper bags on the counter, readying them for the eventual evacuation of their contents into their new, cold home.

There is nothing special about this, but it is special that I get to do it in a new place. I think it was today that my mother asked me if I was taking a World Wildlife Foundation calendar home with me. I knew what she meant, but I also remember when she refused to call Pittsburgh home, let alone Manhattan. I do think it’s possible, however, to have two homes, and I consider myself lucky. Some friends I went to college with don’t even have a room in their parents’ homes anymore and instead sleep on the couch when they visit—they don’t have a real ‘home’ to go home to.

For every “Lyss, come here!” and exasperated groan I elicit upon hearing such a phrase yelled in from where my father is watching television or where my mother is on the computer, there’s also a tiny voice inside my head that says, ‘Aren’t you glad you get to hear that again?’ I know my response of “WHAT DO YOU WANT?” sounds annoyed, but there’s love in there, too.

When I was in high school, all I wanted to do was find the space to get away. A moment, a minute, an hour to myself to breathe. After living by myself for a few months, and even for a few days, I see the beauty in always hearing my name yelled from another room. When I am home, there is always a hug when I need it. There was a day last week in New York when that was all I needed. I didn’t need a refrigerator full of treats, I didn’t need my feet on the dashboard, I didn’t need anything but the arms of someone who loves me wrapped tight around me, my face buried in their shoulder. That’s one of the things we take for granted in New York—we have these fabulous activities, restaurants, cultural phenomena at our disposal whenever we want them, but how often do we have the ability to hold someone close? People who live with their loved ones do, but what about the rest of us?

Dinner is “catch-as-catch-can” night, meaning everyone picks something different, and probably eats it at different times. While my father tears into his brown rice and chicken, my mother and I join him at the kitchen table and try to finish the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle. I get a few clues right—‘sprays’ for a small floral arrangement; ‘ing’ for a participle suffix; ‘ideals’ for high standards. And my parents nod or say ‘Aahh!’ as I fill in the little white boxes with my mother’s blue pen. Nearby is her white-out, because she says only wusses do the puzzle in pencil.

After dinner, my father sits on the couch in our living room in his old Bahamas t-shirt that we got at the oh-so-touristy straw market, probably haggled down to $5 from $10, or some such deal. He tucks his t-shirt into his jeans and wears a belt even in the house. He rests his bare feet with clean, trimmed toenails on the green glass cocktail table my mother designed. The remote is in his left hand, the pillow reading ‘My Heart Belongs to Daddy’ under his left elbow. The pillow’s embroidery has worn thin in the spot where the center of his elbow lands. This is the way my dad always looks when he sits in front of the television, though there is more silver by his earlobes than there used to be. “It’s his wisdom,” my mother says, smiling.

For someone who just wanted to get out of Florida to find change and speed and adventure, I’ve also noticed that the lack of those things is also profoundly delightful. But, every so often, the change we need is not necessarily the change we chase and it’s nice to return to a place where life is always as you’ve remembered it. Plus, it’s not so bad to have good, free food whenever you want it.