When Edie, my youngest sister, recently announced she was moving to Rochester, N.Y., I admit I let out a decipherable gasp on the other end of the phone.
“Moving again,” I thought to myself. How does someone (well, not just anyone — my sister) pick up, pack up and take off — each time moving further and further away from family and this place we call home?
There is, of course, a very sane and logical answer. She and her husband are physicians. They save lives. And their professions have taken them all over the planet. While most of us were “playing doctor,” she was studying and preparing for the rigors of the real profession.
After high school, she headed straight for the University of California at Los Angeles, then off to medical school in Chicago, followed by a sleep-deprived residency in obstetrics and gynecology. She has been practicing medicine and delivering babies ever since — in Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and very soon now — New York.
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Gone for more than three decades and here I am still missing her, wishing she would move home. Her absence hits me hard this time of year. Holiday visits are too few and far between — never long enough to finish sentences. Too rushed.
Too much commotion. In my fantasy world, our entire family lives within walking distance, meeting up for group dinners on Sundays and enjoying spur-of-the-moment gatherings whenever the spirit moves us.
Her recent announcement got me thinking about my own life and how deeply I rely upon these Valley roots for just about everything. I am glued to our community, bad air, drought, warts and all. Can’t begin to fathom walking into a restaurant or movie theater and not running into friends. I know I often write about my own wanderlust and love of foreign travel, but as much as I enjoy boarding airplanes and flying off into the sunset, it’s during that final descent into Fresno, that precise moment when the captain turns on the “fasten seatbelt” sign, when I feel whole and human again. The sight of vines and fruit trees, majestic mountains, neighborhoods that convey familiarity and comfort — punctuate the journey and promise a happy landing. Simply put: I love coming home.
Last weekend I spotted what I thought would be a perfect housewarming gift for my sister — delicate wind chimes hanging on display in a tiny quaint shop tucked in the corner of Fig Garden Village, right behind the French bakery. Holding the chimes together was a vintage, cut glass doorknob. Dangling beneath the chimes was an oversized skeleton key. As I studied it, without hint or warning, a gust of wind swung the shop door wide open, causing the chimes to sing. Carefully pulling them from the display, I knew in that moment they were meant for my sister. I embraced them as though they were breathing.
Thinking about how far away my sister had drifted, knowing my own roots were planted here for good, my face must have shown signs of melancholy. The shopkeeper either saw me deep in thought or noticed my eyes glistening.
A wonderful woman short in stature but colossal in heart, she stepped out from behind the counter and without saying a word, rested her hand on my shoulder, the sort of thing a good friend does when she sees you teetering. I can’t recall a time when I’ve been in her store when we haven’t stirred up a dialogue, which, over time has morphed the relationship into what, now, is obviously a friendship. Isn’t that the beauty of Fresno? Familiar faces in all the right places.
We began talking about our roots and the sheer wonder of having friends stashed in every nook and cranny of this town — how it offers the kind of safety net and support system that can get you through just about anything. As she handed me my purchase, I left a little less heavy-hearted and excited to mail off the wind chimes.
During the following week, as my sister sent texts about having to box up and move to a new state, my state of mind drifted to all the people and places I’ve come to know and love through the years. They are the friends I’ve grown up with, storefronts and restaurants that hold keepsake memories, and a host of strangers who have come to know my back story and many of my once-guarded secrets.
Together, we share life.
When you’ve lived here forever, it’s easy to take things for granted. Like when you need a referral to a doctor or a plumber on Sunday. If you move away, you do a Google search or consult the Yellow Pages. If you live in the Valley — you call someone who knows someone else.
I’m not sure what made me stay in Fresno. But I know what keeps me here.