So. We leave this morning for Colorado. Jack is miraculously sleeping past 6 am, something I didn’t think possible during this trip. I have a little time, then, to annoy you with some more personal reflections as we travel west.
A few weeks ago, I polled my cousins on my mom’s side of the family. I had had the impression that Mom had shrunk to suit my dad’s preferences and lifestyle, and I still think that’s at least somewhat true. But my cousins are all a fair bit older than I am, and they remember her before she met my dad, so I asked for their perspective. I was expecting scandal and intrigue and disturbing family dirt. And I got some.
My cousin Billy mentioned visiting my parents in San Diego, “before your dad’s arrest.” As though I knew about that. What? What??!! So I asked for details. I assumed it was a DUI, like the one he got when I was in high school. But no, this was work related. Billy asked his mother, my Aunt Maggie, about it, and she said that it had something to do with a construction project he was working on for the VA hospital there. It involved his boss, too. They were trying to expedite the process of paperwork and red tape and got caught. Because it was the Veterans Administration, the case resulted in federal charges. He didn’t spend any time in jail, Billy said, but he did lose his job.
I found this fascinating. I had always known that my parents moved from the Chicago area to San Diego, where I was born, and then back to Chicago. I always wondered why anyone in their right mind would move from San Diego back to Chicago. Ugh. Plus, my mother had had a stillbirth during their first time in Chicago, so I can’t imagine they’d want to go back for sentimental reasons. If the VA is anything like the other government agencies I’ve worked with, it’s far more likely that they relocated my dad, rather than firing him. And after the second stint in Chicago, Dad left the VA and we all moved to Florida.
But not one of my cousins mentioned my mom being or seeming unhappy with my dad. They all remember them, on the contrary, seeming very happy and devoted to one another. I see that, too. Maybe Mom didn’t paint as much or do artsy things as much, after she married Dad, but I do know that she adored him. And as imperfect and infuriating as my dad could be, I know that after Mom died, he was never, ever the same. He missed her so keenly. And it broke his heart for Mom to ever be angry with him.
My dear friend Jen gave us two “traveling” CDs, mixes of songs both upbeat and mellow. At the end of the mellow CD was a song by Dar Williams. I knew the song already, because when we moved to Wilmington, my friend Mary made a mix including that same song. The song starts out, “Go ahead. Push your luck. Find out how much love the world can hold.” It makes me cry pretty much every time I hear it, especially when we’re in the middle of a move. But this time, I noticed different lyrics, later in the song, where she talks about exploring her family history to get some peace. She says, “I am the daughter of a great romance. And they are the children of the war.”
I am thankful to Archangel Michael or whoever it was who kept my car on I-70 as I listened to that line and sobbed, driving westward, realizing that my parents had their own pain and their own difficulties, but that they were very much in love. And that their love is a very large gift to me. My friend Jen who gave me the CD told me before we left: “Jack knows that you both love him, and that you love each other. And that is a very big and important thing for him to know.”
We have survived four nights in hotel rooms across the country with all four of us in a very cramped place: Brian, Jack, Alex the cat, and me. I am proud of us. We are a team even stronger than I had expected us to be. So I hope that one day, in the midst of therapy over all the things we’ve done wrong, Jack will realize that he, too, is a child of a great romance. And I hope that knowing that fact will help him sleep.