2Fulbright riffs, 1991 — day 92, Thursday August 29th
Last day of my Fulbright Fellowship. Packing doesn’t take long and there is plenty of time for a last walk with Jayne around Maplewood. While Jayne does some window shopping I get one last haircut from lovely Carmelia. She says I look like Phil Collins and that everybody thinks she is Pia Zadora. As I squint into the mirror without my glasses I judge her perceived likeness the more credible.
There wasn’t time on our wedding anniversary to buy Jayne a present, but the Maplewood Gallery has some fine jewellery and I get her some long earrings inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright. In Scriveners, a collectors’ shop, I buy some back editions of comics for my Dad. We grab some fresh fish from Kings for lunch.
After lunch it’s time to depart. Rowland drives us to the airport but wants to squeeze in one final visit, to the Reed-Reeves Arboretum at Summit.
We’re not at our most relaxed on this briefest of visits, looking anxiously at our watches, but it gives me one last chance to appreciate the American continent’s greatest resource — its trees.
We need not have worried about missing the plane. Rowland drops us outside Newark departures and we say goodbye: I can’t thank him enough for all his hospitality, kindness and recommendations (and I do forgive him his tin can recycling mania). We drift expectantly into the check-in area only to find that the airport’s computer system is down and that our flight will be delayed by at least two hours while they wrestle with manual alternatives.
We take off exactly two hours late, at 20:40, make up no time during the flight. As we great circled over the Atlantic, hundreds of disconnected impressions from the last three months run through my mind: an extraordinary legacy of new places, new sounds, new faces, new tastes, new experiences.
We land at 8:10 to a fresh, bright day at Gatwick. We retrieve our car from the long-stay and arrive back in Chatham just as Jayne’s father, Victor, and his partner Doreen are finishing breakfast on our patio.
Before we sleep off our jet lag I have enough time to admire all the home improvements since I’ve been away: new curtains in the bedroom; two pianos in the music room, including the grand piano borrowed from Susan and Patrick while they’re away in Naples; the greenhouse and its grape vine restored. The old apple and pear trees are laden and the roses are still in full bloom. But the hi-fi will have to remain perched on one of the upturned tea chests we used for moving out of London and I am already accepting that most of the exterior will have to be repaired and repainted before winter.
Our sleep is interrupted by very unfamiliar sounds: our neighbour, encumbered by a small child and heavy bags of shopping is struggling to open the front door. Loud barks from the Alsatian in her hallway, echoed by several others in the vicinity, are not helping. I get up to give her a hand and introduce myself. In all the time we were living in London we barely saw or spoke with neighbours, and heard them even less. None of them kept dogs. Chatham, it turns out, not only has one of the highest birth rates in the country, but seems also to top the league of dog ownership, as demonstrated by the state of the pavements — pre poop bags.
Victor and Doreen are also preparing to leave at this neighbourly moment. A a new routine is about to commence.
In the afternoon, Jayne drives me to some of the local garden centres she’s been exploring all summer. It’s all very nice but I can’t help noticing that the horizon has shrunk.