The Reality Hotel: latter days

balcony hotelA snail climbed on the back of a turtle.
What did it say?

The house sale is moving at the same speed. When it finally closes, Clara and I can bust out of the Reality Hotel. Today it inches forward as the money from the sale of the Vegas house finally hits the bank account of the vendor of the house in Pine Mountain. Meanwhile Clara and I have been living in the second floor of this three roomed hotel since early July.

We have large airy rooms with excellent showers and a kitchenette in Clara’s room, but no phones or internet, no stove or hot plate, only a microwave and a toaster oven, in a town where restaurants keep mountain hours and Wednesdays they all close. Of course there is a general store next door where you can buy almost anything, including good French champagne, which I bought to celebrate getting the keys. Trouble was we trooped over to see the house that was almost Clara’s and the keys didn’t work. Turns out the key which over-rides the code was in the house and we didn’t have the code. We drank the champagne to make us feel better.

Now that little problem is solved. All we have to wait for is the house to be cleaned and the pod with the furniture to arrive from Las Vegas. Possibly not next week, say the pod people. Not to worry. There is a storage unit at the foot of the mountain with furniture in it, including the mats that Clara slept on in the last days in Vegas. I long to lie my ancient bones down on the floor. I dreamed last night that I was going from house to house looking for a bed to sleep on. I was still looking when I woke up.

But life here in the old Reality Hotel (Realty really, but it is all so surreal ) got better by the addition of two items.

hot potA $13 Proctor Silas plastic hot pot, which boils water for tea and cooks porridge.

hot wireNo not the Mac Air book, the gizmo beside it, a hot wire that magically allows me to get the WiFi signal from the house in the pines. It had been lying in a drawer in that house, completely unrecognized for the miracle it is.

Now I can get on-line of course and that is good for a blogger, but the best thing, the very best thing, is that I can use Skype to make phone calls. Out-going at least. I haven’t convinced others to sign up for Skype so they can call me. Except my Brussels brother.

Previously I have had to rouse Clara and borrow her cell phone. (My phone is AT&T and gets no service at all on the mountain.) Because Clara’s hearing seems to be worse up here at altitude, getting her phone can be trying. Up to now, on occasion, I have just jumped on the golf cart and gone to knock on a door.

But here I am with a morning off so far as I know. The sun is shining in the balcony door. The breeze is swelling the curtain. The Stellars jays are calling. The ventilator over the store is humming away. No, no, Joyce, positive stuff. The mountains are embracing the village on every side. And the possibility of living in a home is inching ever closer.

“I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills/ from whence cometh my help”

view from hotel

Living in 3 Time Zones: a matriarch’s tale

There were stars overhead. A long-legged eight year-old had plunked himself down in the bed beside me. We could hear the revelers downstairs, but youngest and oldest, we craved rest. The stars on the ceiling glowed in the dark and I remembered sleeping under just such stars 20 years ago in Venice Beach, California, an ocean and a continent away. This is how far my family has spread. This is how far I have had to spread my arms to keep them – what? – not safe, for that is impossible. Let us just say “to keep them”.

Technology has made the job easier in the last 15 or 20 years. E-mail was a great help, so much faster that snail mail. Answering machines and FAX machines appeared. Then long distance rates started to fall, the mobile phone came along, and texting became possible. Distances were easier to bridge.

In Brussels last week, I watched the last episode of the BBC’s David Copperfield in which the Micawbers embarked on a sailing ship for a new life in Australia. Something had finally come up, as Mr Micawber so optimistically kept on saying it would, throughout his disastrous life. The villain of the story, Uriah Heep, was also on his way there, barefoot, chained to other prisoners, to pay for his crimes. His mother cried out, “My poor boy. I’ll never see him again.” Australia was just too far then, even supposing Heep lived to get released. Letters might be exchanged, but probably only two or three a year, given the time the voyage took.

In 1945 when my father moved us from the Eastern Townships of Quebec to Hamilton Ontario, my nine year-old self seriously doubted that I would ever get back to the mountains and the family I loved. Letters were posted and received weekly, but we had no phone. In the event of something momentous like a new baby brother, we could borrow the neighbour’s phone and pay the exorbitant long distance cost. In fact, we did return the summer after my brother Rob was born, in 1947.

Rob was the first family emigrant, hying himself off with a backpack at the age of 19 to explore the world. Our mother cashed in his life insurance policy to finance his getaway. By then it was a tossup whether our father would murder Rob or Rob would murder our father. All of the three older girls in the family harboured the same homicidal urge, but were not as capable of the deed.

Rob stayed safely out of reach of familial harm in Afghanistan, India, and Turkey, where various strangers had a go at him. Finally, he settled in Belgium. Where he had a phone which I could now afford to call to tell him our mother had been given only weeks to live. He thought it was a trick, and indeed, our mother survived against all odds for another 6 years. She had that ace in her pocket though -imminent death- and he came back for a visit – 3 years after he had left. He invited us to visit him and  2 years later I did, with my young family. We formed a friendship then that had not been possible before. So I began the process of long distance living. What time is it here? What time is it in Belgium or Italy or Sweden, wherever his career as a film gaffer took him?

Just when I got the knack of that, my daughter Julia took off for New York City. No problem, same time zone. But -what’s this? She’s off to the west coast. She’s getting married in Las Vegas. And so I began living in 3 -count’em – 3 time zones.

It’s quite dizzying. Whenever I want to talk to Rob, he’s already asleep. Initially, after I returned from Brussels last week, I woke up at 4 a.m., Eastern Standard Time, thinking it was already 10 a.m., and called him then. My daughter up on her west coast mountain would be snoozing away in her 1 a.m. world. As I acclimatized to Toronto time, I kept missing windows of communication. I ended up texting Rob while he slept and getting his reply when I woke up. Julia is beyond the reach of cell phone texts at present, but I catch her at odd moments as she builds the fire in early morning.

As I lay there on Christmas Eve, looking up at the stars, I thought about all the grandparents who travel great distances to be with their far-flung families and sleep as like me in children’s bedrooms. I thought about older women alone in their cars on lonely highways and on long distance flights. Like me, they may well count over 50 such trips and see the results in maturing children who know they are part of something bigger.

That something is family. I can’t help it. I have to communicate, to be there. Someone needs to hold the family together and time has made me the matriarch.