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Mason Jars by the Window

August 25, 2015

So after a summer of having both kids home, I set off with Eleanor to drive her car to Arizona last week. IMG_3244

We drove to Cape Girardeau, Missouri first, to spend the night with my mother. From there, we planned to spend the next night in Oklahoma City (where we arose and dutifully sang every song we could remember from the musical Oklahoma, starting with “Oh what a Beautiful Morning”). The next day we drove to Albuquerque, and on that day the terrain started looking gratifyingly different from what we were used to—much drier, and with different vegetation. On the fourth day, we set out to do some sightseeing. Originally, we’d planned to see Chaco Canyon, but the car was so heavily loaded and I am such a short-distance hiker that we decided to give that up in favor of going to see Sky City, an Aconda pueblo village, and driving through the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest on our way to that night’s destination—the Grand Canyon.

IMG_3321 (1)Walker Percy was right about the Grand Canyon (in “The Loss of the Creature” in The Message in the Bottle). When we got there just before sunset, hardly anyone was looking at it. They were all busily taking and posing for pictures so they could look at it later. When we came back soon after sunrise the next day, we had more luck being able to experience the canyon, especially since we found a trail with no handrails, just rocks marking the edge of the great yawning chasm.

We got to Tucson at the end of our fifth day on the road. It was like another country… Saguaro cactuses and palm trees. Dry heat. Dust obscuring the top of the mountains on the horizon.IMG_3331

I stayed a few days, and then I left Eleanor there with her friend and all her things and the promise of adventure. I flew home, where the cats and the guys were glad to see me.

It ended so quickly! She is living beyond our happiness, with someone else who I can only hope will always be on her side. It might be as Alberto Rios, an Arizona poet, has imagined:

Mason Jars by the Window

Yes, but beyond happiness what is there?
The question has not yet been answered.
No great quotations have issued forth
From there, we have no still photographs
Full of men in fine leather hiking boots,
Women with new-cut walking sticks.
So yes, it is the realm of thin tigers
Prowling, out to earn even more stripes;
It is the smell of seven or eight perfumes
Not currently available in America.
Maybe this is wrong, of course.
The place may after all be populated,
Or over-populated, with dented trash cans
In the streets and news of genital herpes
In every smart article in every slick magazine
Everywhere in the place.
But everybody there smiles—
Laughs, even, every time a breath can be caught.
This is all true.
Beyond happiness, it’s all the same,
Things come back to where we are now.
Of course maybe this is wrong,
But don’t believe it: a happiness exists,
All right, I have seen it for myself,
Touched it, touched the woman
Who with her daughter together keep
Ammonia in Mason jars by the side window.
They will throw it all in his face God
Damn him if he ever comes close again.

IMG_3336What can happen beyond the happiness of this summer, of my family being together? I guess I’ve got to keep moving to see.

What did you see this summer?

13 Comments leave one →
  1. August 25, 2015 7:01 am

    I think you wrote what’s needed for you when you wrote this:

    When we got there just before sunset, hardly anyone was looking at it. They were all busily taking and posing for pictures so they could look at it later.

    You get to look at the Grand Canyon of your children growing up, becoming self sufficient adults who are still your beloved children. It’s an amazing view and worth savoring.

    And as you know from some of the struggles my own adult children have had this year, being a parent never ends. What we actually do as parents changes, but being there for our children, loving them and supporting them and cheering them on never stops.

    • August 28, 2015 4:18 pm

      That’s an awfully good metaphor–the grand canyon as a view of children becoming self-sufficient adults. It seems so daunting when you step back, but when both of you were in there carving it out, there didn’t always seem to be quite enough elbow room!

  2. August 25, 2015 8:20 am

    Parenting changes each year. Sometimes the change is so tiny you don’t notice it right away and sometimes it’s huge. Yours is huge. But it’s all good and necessary. I saw my kids shed their cicada skins from one grade/school to prepare for another. I watched M work her ass off at the crack of dawn in the searing heat to do the thing she wanted to do and she’s never complained except in that weary way we all complain about a long, hard day. A friend is having difficulty sending her son off to college but I think we’ve done our job well if they leave us, become independent, and break our hearts a tiny bit.

    • August 28, 2015 4:21 pm

      It is huge. I think that, like M, Eleanor is going to like what she’s chosen and that will help. If she was miserable I’d want to go rescue her, but if she’s happy, I’ll just envy her weather and want to go visit a lot.

  3. rohanmaitzen permalink
    August 25, 2015 9:08 am

    Such a momentous journey, in so many ways! My own son is moving into residence in a couple of weeks, and even though he’ll be just a couple of miles from home — and barely a block from my office! — it feels a bit cliff-like too. I suppose it helps a bit thinking of our own similar moves out and on. I stayed near home for my undergraduate degree but crossed the continent for grad school and have never gone back. “Every limit is a beginning as well as an ending.” It sounds like your daughter is in a really good place (literally and metaphorically). Good luck to you all!

    • August 28, 2015 4:25 pm

      It does help to think of my own similar moves. I’ve been thinking a lot about the summer after college, when I was 22. I got married and then moved from Missouri to Rhode Island. My parents started traveling then, and I’d love to travel more, including to wherever Eleanor is at the time.

  4. August 25, 2015 10:46 am

    What a great trip you had! What did you think of the petrified forest? It’s kind of surreal place, isn’t it? Loved the poem!

    • August 28, 2015 4:27 pm

      I loved the petrified forest. When I was a kid, I had a big rock collection, and my step-grandfather gave me a piece from the petrified forest. I guess he bought it at one of the stands, or something. Anyway, it was immensely satisfying to get to see the place for myself.

  5. PAJ permalink
    August 25, 2015 3:58 pm

    I saw long-time friends during a mini-vacation this summer (that was a highlight of the season). I saw my daughter get a “real” job in her field of interest and move away from home to do the job. Visiting her in her new place was like a visit to the future–she was employed doing something she loves. She radiated happiness and confidence. It was a glorious moment in the parent journey that eases the pain of that “Grand Canyon view” of life beyond her college years.
    Glad your journey was good. Welcome home.

    • August 28, 2015 4:29 pm

      Niagara-on-the-Lake was indeed a highlight of the season, and I do want to go back!
      A visit to the future, huh? I’ll have to remember that when we visit after Eleanor has started her job.

  6. August 27, 2015 1:58 pm

    This was a beautiful post. And thank you for sharing the wonderful poem. As the mother of a four year old I enjoy reading your reflections on parenting your grown children.

    • August 28, 2015 4:32 pm

      Oh, four-year-olds teach you patience! And then you look up, and they’re fourteen and then twenty-four and you’ve learned to take the long view. I think that’s where the Grand Canyon metaphor comes in–you appreciate each wrinkle and curve of the landscape, because you’ve been up close for so long and so intensely.

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