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The Song of Purple Summer

August 22, 2012

Driving into the rising sun as it lifts the mist from the fields, I am surrounded by an invisible chorus singing “The Song of Purple Summer” from the musical Spring Awakening. It is becoming a spectacularly green morning, an appropriate response to the song’s promise that “the earth will wave with corn.”

I am driving back to Ohio from Iowa, having delivered Eleanor and a pretty good amount of her stuff to college for her second year. I am driving farther than I’ve ever driven alone before, and having gotten tired of my audiobook–Ray Bradbury short stories—I am playing old music CDs, ones that Eleanor made for me at various times, including Spring Awakening, which has gotten to this part as I round Fort Wayne:

A summer’s day
a mother sings
a song of purple summer
through the heart of everything
and heaven waits
so close it seems
to show her child the wonders
of a world beyond her dreams

Some of the roadside weeds appear to have a purple underside; none of them are brown or dusty yet. The tall grass has gone to seed. Vines drape themselves over the fences. I drive through miles of construction barrels, with multiple signs warning of the draconian consequences should I accidentally hit a worker, but everyone on the road with me is speeding through because there are no workers out yet this morning. The fields stretch away from the road on both sides, revealed at an absolute peak of greenness as the sun finally rises above windshield level. I think of Keats as I continue to drive through the “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.”

I think of Eleanor, left at her college, and not without echoes of last year’s sadness and apprehension. I think about Walker, who needs to be taken to visit colleges this fall as he decides where he will be heading next year at this time. I think that, rather than feeling like an empty nest, home feels more stretched than it ever has before. There will be many more dark highways leading into the dawn.

Where are the songs of spring?” They have been playing, and this last song is the culmination. I think I have succeeded in showing the children a few of the wonders of a world beyond my dreams, and now I have to try to expand the contours of my own dreams so I can continue with them a little ways, to give them that push at the end of the driveway, sending them wobbling out on their own into the road that goes ever on and on.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. drgeek permalink
    August 22, 2012 4:38 pm

    I feel like a song by Iron & Wine should somehow accompany this image because it is both pastoral and transitional. Those are both themes that Sam Beam seems to reference in his music. Yet nothing seems to come to mind… his reminiscences seem too wistful, too oblique, or too melancholy. While there is journey and separation in what you say, there is little loss… and that an inevitable one.

    • August 23, 2012 8:57 am

      Flightless Bird/American Mouth has some of the perplexities of wanting/not wanting to change in it…but I think it’s hard to find a song that looks at this process of change from the parent’s point of view.

  2. August 23, 2012 8:12 am

    What a bittersweet time for you. It didn’t take me long to be glad when it was time for our son to head off to school again.

    • August 23, 2012 9:20 am

      Yes…there was a moment last night when I realized that the half bath in our house is once again mine, all mine!

  3. August 23, 2012 8:21 am


  4. August 23, 2012 8:50 am

    ” I think that, rather than feeling like an empty nest, home feels more stretched than it ever has before.” I love this. It gives me hope.

    • August 23, 2012 9:19 am

      It’s a matter of perspective, isn’t it? I don’t consider that she’s left me, but that I’m widening my horizons. Driving there and back again on my own is one of the tough things that I’m having to learn how to do.

      • August 23, 2012 1:03 pm

        This is beauty.

      • August 23, 2012 8:16 pm

        I sort of remember this from the other side, from being a daughter and realizing my mom wasn’t around to share everything with. And of course, they are supposed to leave. And even when we don’t want it, we want it.

  5. August 23, 2012 12:16 pm

    ”I think that, rather than feeling like an empty nest, home feels more stretched than it ever has before.” I think this is true — it’s exciting to think of my oldest moving into her own apartment for the first time in a city I’ve never lived in, and it’s exciting to watch M decide, all on her own, to take a scary class I think she’ll like. I’m going to miss M a lot, and yet I’m definitely looking forward to having that piece of my brain back again — I’m thinking about swimming after work and just being freer to make plans without having to factor in M’s activities.

    • August 24, 2012 7:23 am

      Oh yes. It’s like having the bathroom back, getting that piece of the brain back again!

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