As we know, according to my Mother, I was born asking where the next bus was. I’ve never been content in this incarnation, this body, much less in being settled in one place. In my head, I’ve been planning my journey around the world for years. I’ve been longing for a life on a tropical island since I was eight years old.
My Mother’s mother went from home to home in the South and Midwest with my grandfather, who would buy land, build a house, live in it, teach school, farm, then sell the place, buy land somewhere, build a house, live in it…you get the picture. I suppose my grandmother was content with this lifestyle – I never thought to ask. But I know that at some point, late in her life, she had some kind of epiphany, which resulted in my Mother receiving a letter that started with, “By the time you read this, I will be in Yugoslavia.” I think she had the wanderlust in her as well. I have two mental images of my grandmother – one is of her sitting in a chair in The Barn, the last house my grandfather remodeled. She’s wearing a plaid shirt, her glasses, looking away, looking peaceful. The other is of her in a trenchcoat, her head covered by a white scarf, walking on a hill at the Acropolis. Such a contrast, both so lovely. Both so her.
My Mother was very like my grandmother – practical, peaceful. On one of our last days together, we talked about the wanderlust thread that runs through the women in our family. She had it too, always happy moving from house to house, always wanting to go to Europe, to see the Grand Canyon. Her burning desire for most of her life was to go to India. She never told me about that until that conversation. My father was never happier than when at home, and so her dreams of journeying were thwarted. She never resented it. But after he died – in fact, while we were still in the room following his memorial service, she turned to her friend Jane and started discussing going on a Caribbean cruise. (She felt a little bad about that, but she had no reason to.)
She did go on her Caribbean cruise that Fall, and I met her in Tortola and took her and her best friend around the island. It was wonderful for all of us. But she never got to see the Grand Canyon. I suppose now she’s able to see it all, and that’s a nice thought.
Then there’s me. Always planning, sometimes going. I am learning that having the right place to call home is a good complement to traveling. It changes the wandering from an escape, a search for something, to pure adventure and peaceful exploration.
Kelsea daily says to me, “You know what I want? I want to go to Ireland.” She fell in love with Ireland, even moreso than she loves Wales, when she went to Europe last summer. I told her that I never even got on a plane until I was 14, and here she’s been to Europe twice. She can now say, in an annoyingly blase manner, “I didn’t care for Paris. I much preferred London.” To which I snarl, “I’ve never SEEN Paris.”
She says this is all my fault. I’m the one who put travel posters (one, ironically, of the Eiffel Tower) on the walls of her nursery. I’m the one who showed her pictures of exotic places around the world from the time she could sit in my lap. I’m the one who sent her to Europe to experience other cultures. And all of that is true. But it’s not my fault.
It’s something in our bloodline, something that runs through the women just like the shine does, a spark that makes us want to see the world, while having a true home to which to return. A longing for a life that is a perpetual Grand Tour. A desire to meditate with Buddhist monks in Tibet, to beachcomb on deserted islands off the coast of Brazil, to watch breaching whales in Alaska’s waters, and swim with seals in the Galapagos. To see lava creep down a Caribbean volcano in Montserrat, the moonlight on the Taj Mahal, and the sun shine through the ceiling of the Pantheon. To climb the hills of Bray, and count each sheep in Wales.
Homer said, “There is nothing worse for mortals than a wandering life.” I heartily disagree. My thinking is more in line with Robert Louis Stevenson’s: “I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” (Stevenson died and is buried on an island in the South Pacific.)
In my eyes, our women’s wanderlust is a true blessing. My mother and my grandmother are smiling.