I am many miles away from my house in Orient. It’s a beautiful end-of-September day. Shouldn’t I be pulling up in my driveway? The sound of the tires hitting the bird’s-eye gravel. Each time we arrive, I can say we’re safe, we’re home. It’s a semicircular driveway. Trees still heavy with rich foliage, the crisp, dry air a gift of the season. Will we ever fully understand how blessed we are with our half-acres of land so close to Orient Harbor and Long Island Sound? I have known this land for over half a century.
My brother, Jean, arrived on his Peugeot bicycle after a hundred miles of pedaling from New York, falling in love with the North Fork. The village of Orient so unexpected, a New England retreat among the potato fields, as it was then. Oh, the whole family followed: grandmother, mother, sister and myself, Jean having rushed back by train to drive us in his old two-tone grey 1940 Dodge sedan, the first car we ever owned.
In France, where we had come from, cars were for the wealthy. How often did I watch Peugeots, Renaults, Fiats passing by with their mysteries or struggling to park in impossibly tight spaces? When I ran on the streets in Paris as a child, I would hum to myself the growl of engines as best I could. Dreams were fulfilled in our land of America. The first night my brother parked the Dodge in front of our rented house on Burns Street in Forest Hills, Queens, I could not sleep and made sure the 1940 Dodge hadn’t disappeared. No, it was there, all right, a reassuring sight of our new way of life, the American way, with cars and skyscrapers.
I have never regretted being born again here and learning a new language. Perhaps the most absurd language confusion occurred when I went to buy oranges down the street for the first time and the sales clerk asked me if the oranges were for juice, but I thought he had asked if they were for Jews. Oh, well. I never forgot my mistake.
Today, windows opened, the living room drenched in light and sun, my dog asleep on the dusty oriental rug, I wonder, what’s next, what land will I discover, what little towns, how far away? More likely, I will have to content myself with what I know already. New York City, Orient and, yes, Oceanside, Calif., near San Diego, where my wife’s parents lived. Now, it’s just George, my wife’s father, with whom I speak so often. A gift from Nancy, I feel, this West Coast attachment.
Not a day goes by without my loss of Nancy haunting me. So much younger than I, yet gone first. Nancy had helped me organize my Orient house. She was a painter and had planned to paint many Orient scenes. She did a few. They hang on my walls. I look at them, close my eyes, look again. I’m proud to tell visitors, my wife did this.
In New York City. That’s where the doctors are. My social engagements for the next few days: doctors, doctors … To be back in Orient soon, soon, the bird’s-eye gravel, getting out of the car, breathing deeply the cool salty air; if only it could be now. I will have to wait. A few days, a week or two? If I can convince my brother and sister to plan a trip to Orient, I’d be ready. Alone, without Nancy, I don’t know if I can. Of course, I will make it, but when? Nina, my dog, has a reproachful look. She, too, wants to get out of the city and take a good look at the rabbits: elusive, darting balls of fur. She never caught one and never will. I’ll make sure of that.
I still remember lying on the sand across from the Bay House, where my family spent many summers before we had a house of our own. It seemed nothing anywhere in the world could feel as good as such moments. Betty King, who ran the Bay House, conveyed a distinctive elegance to her picturesque hotel with a priceless view of the bay and Orient Yacht Club and its many sailboats. We had meals there. The place was impeccably kept. There was a shine to everything. We met Betty’s brother, Floyd King, and he and Betty became part of our life in Orient.
Oh, how much do I wish we could all go back some 50 years and be together again with our old Orient friends.
Pierre Gazarian is a poet and a writer of one-act plays. Email: [email protected]