NY Times report that here is living room furniture with the memories locked in, waiting for release:
An upright piano gives way to 50 folding chairs, each fitted with a cushioned seat, set up in neat rows that run into the hallway of Apartment 3F, 555 Edgecombe Avenue in Harlem.This has been the home of Marjorie Eliot for 29 years. And for the last 18 of them, she has presented live jazz in her parlor, 52 Sundays a year, 4 p.m. sharp-ish. City Lore declared her a New York landmark. The French sent a documentary maker. The guidebooks have steered tourists to her. On Friday morning, a tray of granola bars has already been lined up for the next wave of visitors.
So it had taken her a full day to organize her emotions for what she intended to speak about Friday.
She nodded to a shelf near the piano. A month ago, the youngest of her five sons, Shaun, celebrated his 32nd birthday. He got a recorder, the simple woodwind instrument, as a gift.
“He said he wanted to learn the flute,” Ms. Eliot said. An accomplished pianist and teacher, she knew quite well that a recorder was not nearly a flute, and a flicker of smile crossed her face.
On the morning of Feb. 9, Shaun Eliot boarded the M101 bus on Amsterdam Avenue at 160th Street, a few blocks from home. He had $10, a MetroCard with a day or two of rides left on it. He wore a black leather jacket and blue jeans; his hair was braided. His face, a recent picture shows, is that of a man who looks much younger than 32. He stood 5-11 and weighed 255 pounds.
“He was going to a transition house on Wards Island,” Ms. Eliot said. “He was with me on weekends, and came to visit a day here and there.”
Shaun has mental illness, not diagnosed with a specificity that Ms. Eliot credits, and emotional problems, after the deaths of two brothers, that she believes were not given attention in the treatment he received. He has been medicated since being sent to the first of three psychiatric hospitals more than five years ago. “They don’t do talk therapy anymore,” she said. “It’s like Freud never existed.”
He was released to transitional housing last summer, and was making progress with a tutor, Ms. Eliot said. After coming home for an appointment with the family doctor two weeks ago, he stayed over an extra night with his mother to avoid returning to Wards Island during a siege of frigid weather.
“He still didn’t want to go back,” she said, “but I made him.”
Her conversation here is an act of faith in the people who may see his picture and get help if they spot him. “My hesitancy in talking about this was that people so judge, and they see this as, ‘Uh-oh, someone’s crazy,’ ” she said.
Her son Phil died in 1992, at 32, from debilitating kidney problems. His death came on a Sunday, and she began the concerts as a bridge past the day; the music became a prayer that answered itself. In 2006, another son, Michael, 47, fell ill with meningitis; his health collapsed and he died. Ms. Eliot was raised as a regular churchgoer — “we weren’t fanatics, but Sundays we went to church” — and still has faith, though not in a particular house of worship.
When each of her sons became sick, she said: “Oh no. Not my kid, that’s not going to happen.”
As their illnesses progressed, she found that letting go allowed her to be present for what was happening, not locked every moment into her own longing. “Just trying to make that day pretty,” she said. “I’d pray: ‘God, I don’t want to bargain with you, but I want to be there. Please let me be there. I won’t ask for anything else.’ So I was holding Michael and Phil when they left.”
Shaun’s disappearance has forced her to renegotiate. “Now, I say: ‘God, I promised I wouldn’t ask for anything else. Here I go again. Please give me a chance to be a better mother to him.’ ”
On Sunday, she will ring the buzzer again, as the guests arrive. When the concert ends, she said, she will give each a flier with Shaun’s picture.