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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.

I’m not a morning person, as I think I’ve hinted at before.  Neither is Kelsea, though interestingly, she used to be.  As a baby, she would wake up early and happy, and I recall saying that I was so thankful for that, because her life would have been shortened significantly had she woken up early and grumpy.  Now, as a teenager, waking her up is harder than waking myself up, and that’s saying something.

Nevertheless, I DO get up (and so does she).  This morning, as I was puttering around the kitchen making breakfast (gasp! yes, it’s true) and doing dishes (gasp gasp!), I found myself singing.  Now, let’s get one thing straight.  I don’t sing.  Nope.  I don’t. 

It’s not that I don’t have a nice singing voice.  It’s actually okay, if I say so myself.  I sing when I’m by myself in the car – along to the radio, or, back in the days when I didn’t have a car radio, as a radio substitute. 

So I know my voice isn’t ghastly.  It’s just that singing around other people makes me feel incredibly self-conscious.  I could take this to the Red Couch and try to analyze why my voice makes me shy (always hated participating in class, you can’t get me drunk enough to do karaoke, etc.) but I always loved dancing on stage.  We’ll just save that for another time.

Back to this morning.  I was singing.  I am not self-conscious about singing around Kelsea.  (And Kelsea likes to sing – she’s been in choir at school for two or three years now.)  I used to sing her lullabies when she was little – she used to ask for them.  I think I am almost unconscious of singing around her.  So, I was doing my own rendition of “The Lumberjack Song”,


and then launched into “Dancing Cheek to Cheek”,

when I realized that I was being like my Mother. 

Usually my Mother was alone in the kitchen when she was cooking (lazy, unhelpful slugs that her children were).  And so she would sing.  I discovered, upon reflection this morning, that that’s how I learned and came to love so many old tunes from the ’40s and earlier – because she used to sing them in the kitchen.  It was a lovely, warm feeling to know that somehow I had this part of her embedded in my soul.

Mother had a beautiful singing voice.  She sang lullabies to us, just as I did to Kelsea, and just as E-Bro does to his kids.  I was so homesick after I moved to Colorado, that she made a cassette of herself singing all of my old favorite lullabies.  I have only played it once.  It was entirely too poignant.  But I have it.  (Actually, I really need to rescue it from Pat’s house.) 

Because I never sang around her, she never really knew what my singing voice was like.  But I remember as vividly as if it were yesterday, one Christmas Eve.  I was about 17 and I’d been in tears in the early part of the evening.  I had been working my ass off at the restaurant over Christmas break, and just hadn’t been able to get in the Christmas spirit.  That had never happened to me before, and I just didn’t know what to do.  So I cried on my Mother’s shoulder.  She was her usual sympathetic and encouraging self, and took her treasured little Nativity set and put it up in my bedroom to see if that would help.  It did, a little. 

Our family went, as we always did, to the late Christmas Eve service at Duke Chapel, and while we were there, the spirit came upon me.  

I was singing “Angels We Have Heard On High” (or whatever the name of that carol is) and putting my whole soul into it (easy to do when you’re in a crowd).  Standing next to my Mother, I looked over at her, and she was looking at me with this expression of love in her eyes that was absolutely indescribable.  It brings tears to my own when I think of it now.  And she smiled at me as she was singing, with her beautiful voice, and her smile reached her eyes and made them even more radiant.

On the way to school today (yes, we were late again, ) I told Kelsea that although she didn’t know it now, she would discover that she’s unconsciously listening to me sing and picking up on all these old songs, which are the ones my Mother sang in her kitchen. 

When she’s in college, hanging out with her friends, someday, somewhere, she’ll hear one of those old, seldom-heard tunes, and it will strike a chord of amazement within her, and she’ll remember that her Mother used to sing that song in the mornings in the kitchen.

And the cycle of love will continue.

December 2019
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