Monday, January 09, 2017

What a long, strange trip it's been

I just came across this post that I had started and abandoned in June.  Even though the triggering event is less timely now, it still feels worth finishing and posting.

A few days ago I went to the memorial service for a woman I had known most of my life.  Except, as so often happens, it turns out that I had known only one little portion of her.  Grayce was the mother of a childhood friend, and though I had always been aware that she was an accomplished woman, I had never grasped the extent of her accomplishments, nor the complexity of her life.  It was very moving, and it triggered waves of introspection.

One of the things I had been unaware of was her difficult childhood.  Grayce's mother had died before she was 3, and her father left her and her siblings with relatives and went off to make money to support them.  They were raised by various relatives, and I gather they did not have an easy way of it either emotionally or financially.  I had experienced Grayce as an extremely generous person, and suddenly it all made sense:  someone who knew what it was like to do without would be likely to watch out for others and try to prevent anyone else from having that experience.

There's a lot more I could write about Grayce, but since I was really friends with her daughter and only tangentially with her, I don't feel that her story is mine to share. But it did really make me think about some of life's big questions. The main thought I had as I left the memorial was, "If someone came to a service and heard my life summarized, what would suddenly be explained?"

For my early childhood, my family was kind of nomadic. After years of my mom and siblings living in one place while my dad traveled through the week to earn a living, my parents decided to try moving all of us to follow his work. I'm kind of a second family for my parents, so when we started moving --just as I was starting school -- my brothers were already out of the house and my sister was in high school. Then she graduated and moved on, too. But the whole business of following Dad's work never really worked -- we were perpetually one move behind, so he was still away throughout the work week for most of my life, with us living someplace where we had no family or old friends.  I wonder what parts of my character is explained by that narrative -- the constant uprooting, always being the new kid in school, spending so much time with just my mom.  Hard to say. I'm sure it contributed to my love of books, as they were faithful friends.  And my ability to strike up a conversation with almost anyone.  I wonder what else.

My dad died when I was 13, and it's a little easier to see the marks that left on me.  My mom had been a housewife, very good at keeping a house and raising children, but totally dependent on my dad financially.  She didn't even really know what bills there were.  She just knew he paid them, and gave her an allowance to run the house on.  So when he died, she went through a very rough time. I took on a lot of adult responsibilities and tried to take care of her as much as she took care of me -- to shield her from things that would upset her.  Even I can see how that made me a little crazy over being in control of my own life and feeling unduly responsible for everyone and everything. I'm sure there's other residue as well.

And that just covers the first 16 years or so of my life!  There have been so many chapters since then, so many different kinds of experiences that have left such a variety of marks on me.  College. My six-year first marriage. Graduate school. My successful almost-30-year marriage. The twists and turns of my career. Twenty-three years of child rearing.  In the immortal words of the Grateful Dead, "What a long, strange trip it's been!"

Guess I'll leave it there for today.  I am dead-set that I WILL post this time.  But I feel like there is fodder there for further thought.  Perhaps some of it will make its way to publication later.