I drove to Oberlin and back, and then I drove to Iowa with Walker, and we picked up my mother at the Cedar Rapids airport. We met Ron, who had flown to St. Louis and driven to Warrensburg and then up to Grinnell in the car that we bought from his mother to give to Eleanor as a graduation present. We had two hotel rooms that I had reserved two years in advance.
On Sunday we went to Baccalareate and the president’s reception and visited with Eleanor’s friends and their parents. Our friends the Schumachers arrived in time for a party at a local picnic shelter and a round of Telephone Pictionary in the student center. They brought an extensively-wrapped* graduation present—a banjo. Now Eleanor will never be sad again (Steve Martin claims that you can’t sing a depressing song when you’re playing the banjo).
Monday, the morning of commencement, dawned sunny, windy and cold. We put on all the layers we had and went to breakfast with the English department; Eleanor is a double major in History and English, but she had to pick one for the breakfast. We got to meet the professor who assigned Eleanor’s Old English song video. Then we crossed the railroad tracks and went to the middle of the campus, where we watched Eleanor receive her diploma. Afterwards, there was a picnic and the beginnings of goodbyes.
We went back to the motel to change clothes, and then Ron, Walker, and Glynis went to help Eleanor move her stuff out of her third-floor dorm room into her “new” car. We played some games of Rage at the motel and went out for dinner. Eleanor went to say another goodbye to her circle of friends.
On Tuesday we drove back, switching drivers for the two cars between the four of us. We detoured to take my mother back to the Cedar Rapids airport, so we didn’t caravan with Schumachers, who were headed to take Glynis back to her apartment in Cleveland before turning south for home.
Our house is full now–of things, and people, and noise, and purpose. I think of Richard Wilbur’s poem “The Writer” and am glad that writing no longer makes such a racket, although the penetrating silence of a household with writers in it is just as intense. Eleanor will be here for a month or two, before she clears the sill of our world… and makes it larger, as she did when she headed off for Iowa, a place I’d never been before.
In her room at the prow of the house
Where light breaks, and the windows are tossed with linden,
My daughter is writing a story.
I pause in the stairwell, hearing
From her shut door a commotion of typewriter-keys
Like a chain hauled over a gunwale.
Young as she is, the stuff
Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:
I wish her a lucky passage.
But now it is she who pauses,
As if to reject my thought and its easy figure.
A stillness greatens, in which
The whole house seems to be thinking,
And then she is at it again with a bunched clamor
Of strokes, and again is silent.
I remember the dazed starling
Which was trapped in that very room, two years ago;
How we stole in, lifted a sash
And retreated, not to affright it;
And how for a helpless hour, through the crack of the door,
We watched the sleek, wild, dark
And iridescent creature
Batter against the brilliance, drop like a glove
To the hard floor, or the desk-top,
And wait then, humped and bloody,
For the wits to try it again; and how our spirits
Rose when, suddenly sure,
It lifted off from a chair-back,
Beating a smooth course for the right window
And clearing the sill of the world.
It is always a matter, my darling,
Of life or death, as I had forgotten. I wish
What I wished you before, but harder.
The stuff of Eleanor’s life is indeed a great cargo, and we’re thinking that a car, a banjo, an inflatable couch, and a folding bookcase full of books are the main pieces she needs as she prepares to set forth.
*the wrapping for the banjo featured pieces of fruit that we all pitched in on characterizing, after the card the Schumachers found which featured the “banana of destiny.” There were the blueberries of justice, the red apple of impatience, the green apple of asperity, the pineapple of virtue, the blackberries of irony, and the coconut of fortitude, among others.