Wednesday, November 4, 2009
The morning we were moving from the apartment we’d lived in for 37 years, the glass beaker of our Bodum Chambord French Press—the same glass beaker that had served me for two decades of freshly brewed tea—cracked as I poured boiling water onto the Keemun tea leaves in it. That afternoon, as our cleaning lady prepared the apartment for the buyer, the vacuum quit. Inanimate things know.
I lived in my apartment long enough. Long enough to see the trees in Central Park grow so tall with 37 springs that their leafy tops threatened to obscure my view east to Fifth Avenue. Will its new residents gaze at what I looked forward to daily?— the reflection, at sundown, of the sun setting in the west, producing a transitory bronze blaze in the panes of the windows facing us from across the park.
I lived in my apartment long enough to identify and associate the nicks in the woodwork and walls with my two daughters’ growing-up years. The ever-so-slight indentation in a baseboard from Haley’s three-wheeled bike. The brief trail of indentations in the parquet floor from Lauren’s stiletto heels (a phase that passed quickly, thank God). A faint, blunt impression in wallpaper from the impact of a ball after several schoolboy chums were unable to resist using a spacious bedroom as a playing field and played catch across it.
Lived there long enough for my mind’s eye still to be able to see the scorch under the wallpaper—from the night Lauren declared she was old enough to live on her own… but not before starting a fire in the mini-oven.
Long enough to see our children become adults. And our two grandchildren make it their own and romp through on foot, bike and scooter as if it were their park.
I lived in my apartment long enough to see the parade passing by—the Thanksgiving Day Parade, 37 times. For Jean and me to host rooms full of children and their parents at our windows. To wipe little hand prints and nose prints from the glass at the end of day.
We lived in that apartment long enough to start seeing it through other people’s eyes. It was home, our home, but its impression on other people eventually brought home to me how fortunate we were. Composer Cy Coleman, who moved around in fancier circles than any man I knew, would only live on the East Side of Manhattan. “I could never live on the West Side,” I’m told he would say—then add, with a glint in his eye, “Unless it was in Ray Fox’s apartment.” For me, that was like receiving the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.
Our daughters insisted on a farewell bash. Their friends, many of whom felt they grew up in our apartment, were the most sentimental. Lauren and Haley made speeches. By consensus, they pronounced, “It’s not the apartment, it’s the environment the people in it created.”
As the days wound down, Lauren would drop by daily to take “one more last” lingering view of Central Park in all its glory. Haley would visit and revisit the rooms. Heartwarming to witness what I already knew—theirs was such a happy childhood.
When the apartment was completely vacant, each made it a point to take a last-look, father-daughter tour with me, and each left a few tears on my shoulder. The park’s leaves turning bright with autumn didn’t make leaving easier. On the other hand, the glaringly bare walls, stripped of their art and framed family photos, and the damned echo in every room, made it time for me to go; I’d lived in the apartment long enough. Haley joined me bright and early that last morning to see the last large item, our irreplaceable piano, crated and moved.
Many, many years ago, when Jean and I were apartment hunting, I came across a small blackboard in one of the kitchens. On it, scrawled in chalk, were words that impressed and stayed with me: This was a happy home.
This was a happy home. And now we’ve left it, with no regrets, for good. My 6-year-old grandson Maddan was the wisest about it. He said, “It’s not sad, because we take the love with us.”