Tag Archives: New Jersey

Even Young Girls Get The Blues

Shells 6

The familiar sights and sounds of my neighborhood were far away, 3637 miles to be more exact. The games of SPUD and Kick the Can played after dark in the deadend circle of my street were only memories. My new apartment building fronted a busy roadway and there was no neighborhood gang to whistle up for a game of Flashlight Tag. I began to feel the pangs of homesickness, the ailment of the ex-pat tired of being alone.

Relocation is commonplace in 21st century America. Companies transfer employees from East to West, retirees leave hometowns for warmer climes and college students settle in their chosen cities after graduation. Americans love to move.  The agents find houses, locate schools and transportation and with minimal disruption, children enter a new school, parents commute via new routes and the families settle in. Now there is the internet for Skype conversations, cell phones send pictures and messages and email zips a letter across the ocean in less time than it takes to tie a shoe.

I moved before all that. I moved from New Jersey to Paris in 1966, when a letter written on onion skin paper was sent via Airmail and still took a week to get to my friends. I was a new teenager, alone with my family 3637 miles from my friends, school, church and community. I learned about homesickness. I learned about loneliness and I learned about making a fresh start. I later learned the relocation process can be habit-forming but that’s in retrospect.

We left New Jersey after a whirlwind month of dance recitals, house renovations and bon voyage parties. Although  we were dizzy from the anticipation and excitement of leaving a small suburban town for the ancient city of Paris, France, our new life was a blank slate, a grand adventure and a flat-out mystery. “Keep a journal” one friend advised. “Write a letter home every week and tell us all about it” said another. We were determined to stay connected and never thought of the effect time and distance would have on our friendships.

There were daily letters to and from several friends during those first two months. Exciting descriptions of our new city, life in an apartment and the daily challenge of learning a new language filled page after page as I tried to describe my new life. I eagerly awaited my father’s arrival each day with the bundle of mail he brought home from the NATO base where he worked. At first, there were long detailed letters filled with details about parties and boys, summer romances and vacation plans.  I saved them all for that lifeline to my home and friends, my antidote to loneliness. My education about homesickness, loneliness and living abroad had begun.

Homesickness

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Continuing to Walk

Walking near trees at Ft. Fisher, NC

My brother and I were first time flyers when we boarded the Pan Am jet at John F. Kennedy airport in New York. We were fascinated by the little bathrooms, small soaps and the fold down lap tables attached to the seats. Looking out the small porthole windows we watched the Statue of Liberty fade into the skyline as we soared north toward Nova Scotia. The flight was long, six hours aloft, with only a meal and snack to break the tedium. The attendants were kind, offering gum to chew as we climbed to our cruising altitude. My mother had wisely packed books and magazines for us to read during the flight. These were the days before in-flight movies and there was only radio available with expensive ear phones for rent.

I remember wearing a new dress made of lace, a garter belt and stockings with patent leather flats. Those were the days of elegant travel for all passengers and of course, we were en route to Paris, we had to be fashionable. The flight boredom set in and I tried to nap under the miniature blanket provided. Just as today, the meal arrived as I dozed off. Excitement warred with exhaustion as I realized it was a flight to the unknown. Here I sat on an airplane bound for Paris with every possibility before me and yet, I had no idea. My father waited for us at the airport to drive us to our new home but he was the only link to the United States. My mother and brothers were eager to begin a new life, but I had no idea what to expect at the end of that flight. I  left a small suburban community in New Jersey, all my friends from childhood and our extended family. I left the sordid and the good. It would be many years after that first flight before I realized the past is carried with you until you let go of the baggage.

Our arrival at Orly airport was a noisy confusion of baggage claims, hugs and tears. Exhaustion began to set in as we gathered belongings, suitcases, purses, briefcases and the myriad souvenirs of the flight. Everyone spoke at once when we greeted my father at the arrivals gate. Clearing customs was a blur of passport stamps, rapid French and a long line to the baggage area.  I remember a long walk with a heavy suitcase to the rental car, a crowded seat and a long ride in the twilight to our new home. No house for us, we were now apartment dwellers at Boulevard Victor Hugo.

 

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