By Tom Lamia
I write from Toluca Lake, California, long-time residence of Bob Hope and other early Hollywood notables. The weather is, of course, shockingly good; the sun blinding through the windshield as one drives east in the morning rush or west in the evening. One of my daughters lives here and is giving me my annual opportunity to question my decision 39 years ago to move from my home state and home metropolitan area of Los Angeles to Washington, D.C.; then to New York City; and then again to South Bristol, Maine. This questioning is never comfortable. Los Angeles, through its several challenging times (earthquakes, fires, droughts and unfavorable comparisons to San Francisco), has been consistently a winner among American cities that offer the best of climate, economy and recreation. The best that can be said for anyone who abandons Southern California is that a search for something better is a noble effort even if it fails.
My sister, a bit older than I, is nearing life’s end. The alert I received a week ago that she was “dwindling” and being assessed for hospice care prodded my coming here to Southern California more or less immediately. This required a scramble to cover a great distance in minimal time: bolting from home with what seemed to be inadequate preparation; flying under today’s conditions of ever-shrinking space for body and bags; driving an unfamiliar car on the hive-like streets of a city that has grown too fast; and living out of a suitcase for a week. All things difficult and mostly unpleasant.
The mission that brought me here does nothing to lighten the burden, but it does make complaining staggeringly inappropriate. What this visit, under these circumstances, has revealed is the benefit that comes from concentrating a lifetime of sibling memories into a week of sitting beside a much-loved sister who is shrinking physically and mentally.
In a day or two I will retrace the journey to South Bristol, Maine. Once there in the snow and ice and awaiting the dreaded mud season that is soon to come, the recollection of lemon trees in the back yard and sun-warmed patios in February will be with me. Also with me will be the recollection of Los Angeles traffic that clogs all routes major and minor during morning and evening commutes and causes stress-ravaged charioteers to battle for positions of meaningless, momentary advantage while building unhealthy rage against their fellow motorists.
Perhaps the fact that my sister never drove a car in Los Angeles traffic, or any other, is now working to her advantage. An internal reservoir of calm resolve to endure what she is now passing through seems to have filled during the years when she was not behind the wheel. Or, it may be the result of a lifetime spent as a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet, ministering to children and their parents in schools or tending to those who were in nursing homes run by the order that is now looking after her. Whatever the cause, she continues to smile and bear with her infirmities without complaint.