Leaving Marblehead

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Marblehead is an amazing little town on Boston’s North Shore. My high school classmate, Naomi Riess, recently posted this piece on her Facebook page. I loved it so much that I asked her if I could publish it as a full post on 50 Shades. Thankfully, she agreed 😊 I’m not sure (yet) where this kind of story falls in the caregiver world, but I know it belongs here.  


My mother’s 81st birthday was a few days ago. I visited her in the Marblehead rehab nursing home where she is currently recovering from a stroke and brought her a birthday lobster roll from our favorite lobster roll place on Marblehead Little Harbor. We both know it was her last lobster roll – at least the last really great one, because tomorrow I’ll move her across the country to continue her rehab and then to live with me as soon as she is able. We didn’t talk about it being the last one.

Twelve years ago, I took my father’s hoarding house in Marblehead apart. It was a horrifying experience. My father had fallen in the house, been taken out and never saw his STUFF, his house and Marblehead again. Every layer of his home was a reminder of the good and the bad, treasured memories and nightmares I’d filed away, many of which had absolutely nothing to do with my father and some that were his own nightmares. I couldn’t save many of the things that had meant so much to him. Lost family heirlooms haunt me to this day.

When I was finished, I sold his house and drove the Marblehead tour, saying goodbye to my own roots, my special places, the scenery, the history, to my childhood. My father died a few years later in a nursing home in Colorado. I felt terrible that he never saw the Marblehead he loved so much, again. It took a few years, during which I went through some other, personal adult things, but eventually I came back, reconnected with childhood friends, went to high school reunions and said hello to Marblehead again. In a way taking his house apart was ultimately therapeutic. I was able to let go of the nightmares, the haunting and bad memories and I emerged on the other side, whole, happy, sane and feeling like a survivor.

My mother, witnessing from afar in her then home in Colorado, decided that she wouldn’t put me through that when her time came and over the next several years divested herself of all the unnecessary STUFF. She moved back to Marblehead into a tiny subsidized housing unit. She boxed and labeled the memories and pictures, pared down the furniture to the most essential items, filed important papers in a safe, became a décor minimalist and kept her affairs in order. She planned to die right there and every annual visit she reminded me of where things where and how to handle the arrangements. But that isn’t what happened and life dealt us a different plan. So here we go on a big adventure – I’m moving my elderly and significantly physically incapacitated stroke surviving mother 2000 miles across the country on commercial airline flights with one connection.

Meanwhile, tonight I spend my last night in a beautiful hotel and prepare to leave early. I’ve had a final exhausting day of taking her home apart, putting things in storage, trying to save the few family heirlooms she still used and the things she’ll want and need when she gets to Colorado. It’s torturous because this time, none of the memories are bad and I find myself having to say goodbye to Marblehead all over again. This time I’m saying goodbye to the things I always loved, to the great memories of my childhood and I’m saying goodbye to Marblehead for two of us this time. I’ve just taken apart the final pieces of her independent adult life in the place she has lived and loved for most of her adult life.

This summer I have been struck that I can drive every street and see something familiar. My mother’s housing office is located in my elementary school, that narrow sidewalk in front of my childhood home where I had to walk instead of ride my bike, the cemetery where I took gravestone rubbings, the rock I was sitting on in that picture of me when I was 2 – it’s posted on Facebook and it is only a few feet away from the spot my high school class took our class yearbook picture, the gun house that my father was instrumental in helping to preserve, the pond where I set my pet turtle Thomas free – I wonder if he is still there, Abbott Hall hourly chimes are easily heard at night from my mother’s home where I’ve slept all summer, the island where  my parents threw me birthday and end of school parties, the beach playground where Sniff and I stayed all day when we were 8 and we decided to run away with a lunch my mom packed for us, my cat Sophie is buried under that bush, I sang Christmas carols with my Brownie troupe in her nursing home, this new park is named for my much loved 9th grade History teacher who later was my mother’s boyfriend, I can smell the sea.

How do you say goodbye to a place where individual rocks have meaning? And how do you do it for someone else?

Being here so much this summer has been a reminder that Marblehead in 2019 is not a place I’d love to live. The scenery, the buildings, the history are unchanged. The around town walking and biking culture is strong. Children (and plenty of adults) roam the streets in their bathing suits. But just when I stop to be patient with another driver, as I have learned to do in Colorado, some old guy in a shiny white Mercedes beeps at me for impeding his progress on a one way. I am reminded that there is a reason I do not and could not live here. I will say goodbye to Marblehead again, for both of us. I’ll return for reunions but because my mother will not return, the goodbye feels permanent. Off we go, flying into a Rocky Mountain sunset. I’ve got a few rocks in my bag.


About the author ~

Naomi grew up in Marblehead, Mass. Raised by a mother who taught in the local school system and a geography and history professor father, both of whom were active in the community, Naomi developed a deep love of history and sense of place. She spent her childhood roaming the streets of Marblehead on the back of a parent’s bike and later on her own bike, hanging out on beaches, playing at the water’s edge and hearing robust discussions of local politics, culture and events over the dinner table. She graduated from Marblehead High School with the spirited Class of ’76 and anyone from Marblehead will understand that connection. Adult life moved Naomi to Southwest Colorado where she owns a farm and has grown to love the wide-open spaces, the mountains, the dessert, the scenery, the recreation and the ancient history of her adopted home. But, the Header in her has never left and her home is decorated with many Marblehead pictures, mementos and rocks.

Naomi Riess4 Comments