One queen-sized bed, one foldout couch, one double-sized bed, one futon, and one king-sized bed. These are places where I rested my head on a recent visit to hometown Chicago.
My initial motivation in accepting invitations from five dear ones was to save hotel fees. And, while it might have been easier to settle into just one of the proffered rooms, and not have to schlep luggage from car trunk to car trunk, each visit brought its own reward: a chance to deeply bond with my host. For despite being acquainted with these friends for years -- that ranged from three to sixty-five -- we rarely had the luxury that dozens of uninterrupted hours could bring.
Each morning, as I drank coffee that was thoughtfully prepared the night before, I'd listen for the opening of a bedroom door, the sound of slippered feet coming my way, and the familiar greeting from a bathrobed friend.
As I'd watch each enter her kitchen, pull a mug from a cabinet, and pour her hot drink, I felt as if I had been reunited with a long-lost sister. But it wasn't DNA that matched us, simply years of traveling together through life's joys and sorrows. A trio of these friends had known me through first marriage and divorce, and all cleaved to me through my second husband's illness and death.
In the dark Evanston, Morton Grove, and Chicago mornings, we'd bring each other up-to-date on the goings on during the nearly five months since I departed from my longtime home. And even though I chat frequently with these friends, and view Facebook status reports, these early morning kitchen conversations were as precious as an heirloom.
These recent scenes were what I had been attempting to create many years ago with my daughters. When I was still living in Chicago and they would visit from Boston or Los Angeles, I would plead for them to stay at our house. After all, Tommy and I had a spare room with a queen--sized bed that was decorated with photographs and paintings of these girls and their families. I would often joke to my friends that this space was a shrine to my kids.
I had tried to explain the joy of seeing a loved one slowly drift down the stairs from the second floor to the kitchen, where I had been up for hours. Their hair tossed like brunette haystacks, eyes still sleepy from travel and time differences, crinkly tee shirts and shorts serving as pajamas, and faces still unfolded from sleep.
While one daughter easily accepted my invitation, the other insisted on a hotel. "I'll be over first thing in the morning," she'd promise.
"It's not the same thing," I'd say into the phone, my left hand cradling cheek and chin. How could I explain that the showered, dressed, and put-together young woman who would be ringing my doorbell was not the one I had longed to envelop.
Once though, when both daughters were traveling with their children, the recalcitrant gal agreed to stay over. I can still see my grandchildren leaping from bed to air mattress, jumps that doubled my delight.
After Tommy died and I moved to my River North high rise, one of its bonuses was a fully furnished guest apartment. I was in heaven! Now, just 10 floors down from my 19th floor unit, my clan was tucked in for easy access. As soon as I'd wake, I'd check my cell phone to learn who was up, who wanted coffee, and who was available for breakfast. Although they weren't within my four walls, I could win the early morning scenes I relished.
Now that I live in Los Angeles and are about three miles away from my offspring, I will frequently hire a Lyft or Uber to take me in the 6 a.m. darkness to their house. Along with my just-awoken daughters, I now am blessed with grandchildren still wearing their own nighttime outfits, their hair adorably messed, and yawns intermixed with "Hi, Grandma."
In a few months, I'll likely venture from LA and return to Chicago to again see my left-behind dear friends. Because I was a good guest -- stripped linens and picked up an occasional restaurant check -- I assume their queen-, double, foldout, futon, and king-sized beds will welcome me. If not, could I sleep at your place? An air mattress will do, but you must promise a first-in-the-morning cup of coffee with a sisterly hug for me.