Monday, November 28, 2011

The First Four Years

There was no wonder I picked Hoboken as the place to relocate when I first saw it back in June 2007. The wide sidewalks of Washington Street were welcoming, the skies were blue, the people friendly as those in a small town. It had the self-contained feeling of a historical and pleasant community, yet it was only 20 minutes from the heart of New York City by bus or subway.

I put my house on the market, sold 3/4 of my furniture and possessions--including my car--bought a one-way airline ticket, and packed my bags. I was returning north from the town founded as utopia to the one known as the mile-square city. I had lived my happiest years in New York back in the 1960s and 70s, but with the way things were I found it impossible to afford now. Hoboken would have to do, even though I assumed I would be spending a lot of time in Manhattan. That was four years ago. On December 1, Fairhope friends drove me to the Pensacola airport, where I flew to Newark and spend the first night of my new life in a Marriott in Jersey City. It was much colder in Jersey City than in south Alabama which I had just left, but I was prepared for that. The Marriott is in a neighborhood I know pretty well now, across from the Pavonia Newport Mall.

I walked, that cold December day, from the Marriott to Target and bought a pair of folding chairs, carrying them back to my hotel room. There would be no furniture in the new apartment but an inflatable bed and these until the moving men brought my stuff from Alabama in a few days. I've been around long enough to know a body does need a chair or two.

My furniture did arrive as scheduled, and I began to make adjustments to my new location bit by bit. I found that what furniture I'd kept more than filled the 800-sq.-ft. apartment. Luckily there were lots of big closets, and most of the stuff was shoved in. I bought a little single bed since the bedroom was too tiny to get even a double in comfortably. I was also able to use the little room for my laptop. I began my new blog.

Right away I found a doctor, a dentist, and the public library. I explored Hoboken on foot and got a little disoriented looking for basics like the A & P; tried to adapt to the colder climate, and wrote about all my new situations on the blog. A compulsive blogger in my home town, writing about my life helped me clarify things in my own mind.

The enormity of what I had done was slow to sink in. I had thought about the climate, the isolation, the difficulties of getting everywhere on foot--the blank slate that lay before me--and it all confronted me every morning. It was a whole new life. There would be no phone calls, no board meetings, club meetings, organizational meetings. I didn’t know anybody. I didn’t experience this as loneliness, but rather as a transition to something I couldn’t possibly understand. It seemed like an opportunity, but I couldn’t define for what.

I felt a little uncomfortable in my own skin, as if I were in a dream or on vacation in a place where I could speak the language but nothing else. I would get confused on the city streets, even in my old neighborhood in Manhattan. I took it slowly and didn’t push myself into doing too much too soon. It seemed as if my feet always hurt, from the walking and from minor foot surgery I had endured at the end of summer. I was never sure my clothes looked right--everybody in New York and New Jersey seemed to wear black all the time, not the bright colors and patterns I had been looking at in the South for almost 20 years. It took time to realize that this was less about Hoboken than about myself, facing a new phase of life in which I had to admit the person in the mirror looked didn’t look much like the self I had once known.

Writing a blog about these things was helpful in surprising ways. Within a few months people were actually reading the blog, which had not necessarily been the case of my blog in my home town, “Finding Fair Hope.” On the Fairhope blog I had had a few regular readers, but most of them were people I had known in the distant past, keeping in touch with me from far flung outposts. I had about five regulars from contemporary Fairhope, and they were all people I knew who seemed a little uncomfortable about the thought that I might quiz them about the blog the next time I saw them. Hoboken brought me an average of some 40 readers a day, and they began to make themselves known to me by sending me emails and commenting on the blog. The blog posts about "old" Hoboken brought interesting responses and commenters enlivened the blog and informed me about my new-found home. I learned what Hoboken was like in the 1940s and 50s, about the making of On the Waterfront, about the ice cream parlors and the Fabian Theater, Mr. Stover of Demarest High School and what it meant to be a b-n-r in those days. From Chris and Mary I learned where to get the best mutz in town (Lisa's); and I met Christina, who has been a loyal and kind friend in need ever since. I heard many stories about Frank Sinatra, and about the history of Hoboken as the birthplace of baseball and as a place of debarkation for the doughboys of WWI.

As time went by I felt less and less like a visitor and more convinced that this was indeed my real life. I could hop a bus and go see a matinee on Broadway in less than an hour's time and I saw some great ones: Bernadette Peters in both A Little Night Music and Follies, Kevin Kline in Cyrano de Bergerac, Christopher Walken in A Behanding in Spokane, Anything Goes, The Book of Mormon and the extraordinary English import Jerusalem I took my grandsons (who met me at the Port Authority Bus Terminal), to The Farnsworth Invention,, Blythe Spirit with Angela Lansbury, Avenue Q and All My Sons with John Lithgow. I've even omitted a few, but I've seen a boatload of plays.

I took part in a local reading of The Flora Dora Girls by Hoboken playwright Louis La Russo II and met a number of Hoboken and Jersey City actresses in the process. I wrote reviews on my blog of the productions of Hoboken's Hudson Theater Company every year.

With a little time and distance, my perspective on recent life events changes; I rewrote my book about Fairhope Meet Me at the Butterfly Tree, retitled and repackaged it as The Fair Hope of Heaven.
I surprised myself by writing a novel last year, set in the utopian Fairhope of 1921, about a young teacher from Hoboken who finds herself there, finds romance, and moves on. It has been rewritten three or four times now and is in the hands of its second editor. I've learned that it's one thing to sail through the writing of fiction and quite another to make it come alive and interesting (nay, compelling) to an unbiased reader. It's more than a project--it is a new experience. An adventure.

After that first year I discovered the joy of going south for at least a month every winter. Last winter, full of blizzards and bitter temperatures in the Northeast, I decided to make that two months this year. I love the beginning of winter, the look of the city at Christmastime, the crunch of snow under my boots, but month and month of grey skies, layering clothes, and dodging slippery black ice, is wearing to the spirit. From South Alabama, I had become accustomed to a flowery and fragrant March. I shall spend that month where it is already spring, and when I return to Hoboken it will be spring here too.

Wherever I am based, things keep happening to me. Over time in Hoboken I've made new friends. I have the option of lunch with a friend or the theatre in New York, a visit with my daughter and her family upstate, or a movie date with a nice guy I met online. People still ask me why I chose Hoboken, and the answer is always that you may not know it, but it's a beautiful little town. I invite you to scroll through this blog for old posts that deal with my growing affection for Hoboken and my life here. It was a good move, just four years ago, and I love living with the promise of still better things to come.


Cheryl A. said...

What a brave thing to do: move like that all by yourself. Incredible. What a journey!

bnr chris said...

Welcome home!

Betty said...

I love it!
You truly captured the place, time, atmosphere and emotions of one picking up and starting on a new path. I experienced something quite similar when I left my husband and literally squatted in what what our summer home in Geneva-on-the-Lake. Unlike you, I had furniture in place and knew a bit about the area as I had spent a part of every summer of my life in GOTL. But, I had no heating system and no job. But, that's another story. Thank you so for so beautifully sharing yours.

Irene of Hoboken said...

I have no idea what brought me to your blog at first, but I always remember your writing about getting turned around finding the A&P. As someone who has only moved a few blocks I so admire your bravery and adventure! I really enjoy seeing Hoboken thru your fresh eyes. Happy 4yr Anniversary!

Fairhope Betsy said...

Enjoyed reading about your new life in Hoboken. Such a brave thing to do. Hope to see you on your next visit to Fairhope.

Gail said...

We still miss you in Fairhope. Maybe we'll see you on your next visit.

Mary Lois said...

Help me out, Gail, with the rest of your name. I'll be there for two months this year.

Jerry Andersen said...

Your picking up and doing this all by your self is inspiring. At the moment, I am frozen just thinking about all I have to do around here to get the house ready to put on the market in the spring...and then finding a new place in New England, packing, unpacking.....I think I'll go back to bed.