Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Ghost town

It's a very strange thing when something, or someplace, that has been a constant in your life, no longer is.

People in my family live to be very, very old.  Most of my great-grandparents lived well into their 80s and 90s, and one lived to be 101.  My dad's dad died of a heart attack 32 years ago, but the other three grandparents were around until the last year, when my Grandma Ruth and then my Grandpa Leo died within 10 months of each other.  

So it feels very odd to only have one grandparent left (she's 92, I think).

But it's even odder that the place they all lived -- Detroit, Michigan -- is no longer a place I will regularly visit.* 

My parents both grew up in the Detroit area, and their families still live there, for the most part.  When I was growing up, Detroit was where the family gathered.  It was a home base.  My brothers and I spend parts of our summers there when we were living overseas, particularly when we were in Israel and India.  I used to help out in my grandparents' bridal salon.  They would take us to the theater and the symphony and the art museums and to Stratford, Ontario, to see Shakespeare plays.  Or we would just chill out and spend time with them and with our aunts and uncles and cousins, swimming in local pools or lakes.  Dinner in Greek Town or at Buddy's Pizza.  Movies.  Following the Tigers and Michigan football.  Looking through old photos.  

Even as an adult, it was a place where we spent Thanksgivings or just visited at other times of the year to check in with the relatives and recharge our familial batteries.

Detroit (or more accurately, its suburbs) was a place of comfort and familiarity.  Particularly with my peripatetic upbringing, it was a constant in my life -- something that didn't change, even when everything else about my life changed constantly.

And when Zeke and I were flying out last Tuesday, I remember looking out the window as the plane gained altitude and thinking, "I have no idea when I will ever be back here."

It felt like losing yet another relative.

*I still have some aunts and uncles there, and one grandmother, but it was really my mother's parents that were the draw that kept us going back there.  My dad's mom is in a nursing home and doesn't seem terribly interested in seeing us (in response to one grandson's regular phone calls, she complained, "why does he keep calling me??"), plus she doesn't really talk so visiting her consists of about 10 minutes of saying "hello" and then staring at the walls.  

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