This has been a hellish 11 months for many of us, especially for the families of the nearly 500,000 souls, whose lives were cut-short by COVID—including that of our own beloved family matriarch, Ethel Jacobson Hamburger.
The pain of disease, isolation, desolation, depression and financial wreckage has hit many good friends, family and colleagues across the country. It’s a time to be grateful for every breath we take. Literally.
My life-long partner, Carol Villano, and I wake up each morning acknowledging how blessed we are to be alive and healthy, with a comfortable home, enough food, and the ability to hug our son and three granddaughters, who are, mercifully, part of our “COVID Bubble.” We know we are far luckier than most, and have attempted, in small ways, to pay our good fortune forward, to grocery store workers, health care professionals, First Responders, and those not able to work from home.
The pandemic has forced individuals and families everywhere to re-evaluate everything; what’s important in life, and who matters most to you; what’s worth your limited time on earth, and with whom you’d most like to share it. Daily, I am acutely aware of my favorite Rosh Hashanah prayer:
““On Rosh Hashanah it is written,
On Yom Kippur it is sealed:
How many shall pass on, how many shall come to be?
Who shall live and who shall die?
Who shall see ripe age, and who shall not?
Who shall perish by fire and who by water?
Who by sword, and who by beast?
Who by hunger and who by thirst?
Who by earthquake and who by plague?”
COVID has concentrated our minds, hearts and souls on life and love, loss and lost time, and forced us—regardless of age—to face our own mortality. At 72 years old, death is always glancing at us, waiting to dance with us, and often—as friends and family disappear, we understand, without needing to say it, how swiftly a bright and glowing candle can be puffed out.
Until, of course, we pinch ourselves for proof that we are alive, still human and full of love, realizing that our gift of life, of each breath, commands us to hold tighter those we love and to seize the opportunity to open new doors, and, as Amanda Gorman said at Joe Biden’s Inauguration, “to be the light.”
So, Carol and I moved toward the light, and toward unconditional love, and in the midst of a pandemic—and fearful that others wouldn’t be as fastidious about COVID protocols as we are– sold our home in Napa and bought another just about a mile or so from our son and three granddaughters in Sonoma County.
It’s not the first time we’ve done that in almost 50 years together, having moved 17 times during our life-long odyssey. Nearly 12 years ago, when our oldest granddaughter was born, we picked ourselves up from Manhattan’s Upper West Side, packed our essential belongings in our Honda SUV, and drove cross-country to San Francisco, to live nearer to our only child, and be part of our new granddaughter’s life. My mother’s death in Southern California about 18 months earlier hit me like an earthquake, shaking loose any notions I had of never being able to leave New York. The pull of family, and of a new baby girl, was impossible to resist.
Now, with 3 granddaughters ages 11, 9 and 5—and a loving, welcoming son — not even a pandemic could keep us away. Our house in Napa sold in 3 days for asking price. Contrary to what we expected, it was the smoothest, safest move we had among all of our previous 16. COVID restrictions eliminated “Open Houses,” the bane of any seller’s existence; only pre-approved buyers, wearing masks and abiding by public health protocols, could come through, and only one at a time, accompanied by our realtor who, serendipitously, sold us our Napa home 5 years earlier on the very same day we signed a new contract with this year’s buyer.
House hunting in Healdsburg, Sonoma County –one of the best small towns in the US—concerned us. Would the homeowners on that end be as COVID careful as we were? Prices were high, but interest rates were at record lows, and if this past year taught us anything it was how much we enjoyed sharing life and love with our son and his three daughters. Nothing else mattered.
Fortunately, the few homes we saw were vacant, and meticulously sanitized before we walked through them. I zoomed on Zillow for months, memorizing every home that came onto the market, and spotted each new one the instant it appeared. I had my eye on a particular neighborhood for years, and when just the right, newly remodeled contemporary home came on sale, to quote NYC’s Boss Tweed, “we seen our opportunity, and we took it.”
The new house is walking distance to town, and to our granddaughters’ schools, and comes with a community pool, tennis courts and a bocce ball court. The house has a “bonus room”, big enough for all 3 girls to decorate as their own, and deep closets to double as Harry Potter-like hideouts. For an added bonus, the principal of the Nursery School all 3 girls attended over an 8-year span—and where I hosted a fund-raiser for my 70th birthday—lived next door. We “air-hugged” when we discovered we’d be neighbors.
As if all of this kissing-good kismet wasn’t enough, we discovered that the same local construction firm which renovated our son’s house did the complete makeover of our new one, and the contractor is a family friend. If ever a move was meant to be, this one was it.
So, the day we closed on our Sonoma County home, we celebrated with cupcakes—each in their own little home, the girls’ noted–and we opened the front door to their squeals of delight, and let them run free, into a future full of fun and change and the pleasure of simply being alive, each of us “being the light” to one another.