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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

CHARLES SAID, "UH-OH, WE'RE ALMOST OUT OF GAS." (18)



Captain of My Soul

         Between the dark and the daylight,
   When the night is beginning to lower,
   Comes a pause in the day’s occupation,
  That is known as the Children’s Hour.from 

“The Children’s Hour” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, first appearing in the September 1860 issue of “The Atlantic Monthly”

            Vacation!  All my teaching years, the first week of summer vacation meant ten hours of sleep at night and long naps every morning and afternoon.  It meant going for walks in the neighborhood, knitting for hours at a stretch, eating breakfast over the morning paper, and reading to my heart’s delight.  It meant a delicious lunch at home rather than a bag lunch at my desk in school.
Initially, retirement was no different.  By the third day, however, I began to notice a subtle distinction between this summer and all the others.  I wasn’t on vacation; I was retired and my days of leisure could go on forever.  The tension of trying to cram all the relaxation possible into every day of the summer gradually disappeared and joy permeated my entire being.  
            While I had loved teaching with a passion, my sense of relief was palpable.  At first, I found this hard to understand.  Why was I so happy to be retired when I had been completely fulfilled and satisfied in my work?  Then I remembered my mother’s advice about listening to my body.  I was slowing down and retirement had become a physical necessity.  I had done the right thing at the right time.
By the middle of the second week, I began to give some thought to the future. All I had to do was figure out what that was.  I knew Jon and Jo were expecting me to move north to be with them, but I was hesitant.  I didn’t want to jeopardize my relationship with Jo and her family by imposing on them.  I was confident I could be helpful with the two children, yet worried that Jon might come to resent my presence, despite his protests to the contrary.
I waffled back and forth, torn between a fear that it wouldn’t work out and a desire to be close to my family and help with my grandchildren.  Drawing me toward the move were memories of the summers at Ocean Beach when my mother and grandmother worked together beautifully.  Then Karyl and I continued the tradition with stress-free summers at Cape Cod where, along with my mother and grandmother, we ran a large household efficiently and happily.  Could Jo and Jon and I be as successful year-round?  Would they tire of me and regret inviting me to join them?  How could I give up my condo in Los Angeles when I had such reservations?
While I was vacillating, Jo called to say, “When are you coming?  We’re waiting for you.”
When she said those words, it was as if she’d given a stamp of approval to my moving in with them.  I believed that Jo and Jon really wanted me to come, but I told her of my concerns.  Jo suggested I spend a few weeks at home resting and thinking about it and then fly up for a visit.  Once I was there, we could talk some more and I could try establishing a routine and see how it felt.  Jo found the balance between letting me know I was welcome and respecting the legitimacy of my concerns.  For the next three weeks, I walked around singing to myself, “I’m reviewing the situation,” imitating Fagin in the movie musical Oliver! as he tried to decide if he should retire from his life of crime.
When I arrived at the San Francisco airport, Jo had left work early so she could meet my plane.  We drove to her townhouse in San Mateo where I settled into the guestroom.  For the first few minutes, I sat by the window, looking at the panoramic view of the bay and trying to picture what it would be like to live there.  Then I went outdoors and breathed in the fresh, pure air, free from the smog I hated in Los Angeles.  I could definitely get used to this.
Before long, it was time to pick up the children from daycare and Jo invited me to join her.  She pointed out landmarks so I’d eventually be able to find my own way.  I imagined how I would feel if I were taking the children to and from daycare by myself, knowing this would make the work day easier for Jo and Jon.  I knew I could handle it.
Over dinner that night, when I told Jo and Jon I hadn’t planned to move for about a year, they said they’d been assuming I’d move in just a few weeks.  I explained that I was still waffling. For one thing, I couldn’t make the move and live in their guest room; I’d have to have my own space.
They respected my wishes and Jo suggested that instead of waiting until they could afford to buy a house with an in-law apartment, I consider living in an apartment nearby. That way, I could make the move immediately without giving up my independence.  If I was nervous about whether it would work, I could hold off on selling my condo and instead lease it for the year.
This solution addressed my concerns, while at the same time allowing me to move north more quickly, so I agreed to Jo’s proposal.  For the next two days, Jon watched the children at home while Jo and I hunted for an apartment.  We must have looked at over a dozen places.  One apartment was at the bottom of a cliff and every time I looked up, I felt as if the rocks might tumble down on top of me.  I knew my fear was irrational, but it was there nonetheless. My timidity appeared to be growing worse as I got older.    
Another apartment required driving down a steep hill, something I’d recently had more and more difficulty negotiating.  My fear of heights made my stomach twist and turn, and I knew I couldn’t do it every day.  The next place we looked at was in a great location, but the interior was dark and gloomy.
I was almost ready to give up.  Having moved so many times, I knew instinctively if something would be right for me and we hadn’t found it.  I was beginning to think that subconsciously, I wasn’t ready to move, when we saw a “for rent” sign on an apartment building that was within walking distance of Jo and Jon’s townhouse.
It was perfect.  Not only was it close to the Ivesters, it was a two-minute walk from a shopping center with a grocery store, a little bakery, and several other stores.  The apartment was a large one-bedroom unit with a patio overlooking a canyon.  The moment we stepped onto the patio, I saw deer grazing nearby and then Jo pointed out a red fox.  It was the ideal mix of city amenities with rural peacefulness.  The icing on the cake was an inviting pool with the water heated to the temperature I liked.
I leased the apartment for a year, flew home to Los Angeles and started making arrangements for my move.  My friends and family were happy for me.  We made the usual promises that we’d visit often and our goodbyes were cheerful, accompanied by dinners out or an evening of entertainment.  I worried that my son Charles would be upset by my leaving, as he’d been years earlier when I'd left him in Miami at the age of sixteen, but even he took my move in stride.  As a graduate student at Cal State Long Beach, he had a busy life with many friends.  Clearly, he would be fine without me.
As for me, I’d always viewed moving as an adventure.  Ever since World War II when I lived all over the country, I knew I would find a way to adjust to whatever life handed me.  I'd turned sixty-six years old a few months earlier but once my decision was made, an apartment rented, my condo leased, and a moving company hired, I was ready to leave my old life behind.  As much as I loved the existence I’d carved out in Los Angeles, I knew that being with my grandchildren would be even more satisfying.
My last day in Los Angeles was spent working with the movers, getting everything packed for the move.  They left me at the end of the day with a bed and a suitcase and I slept well, mentally excited but physically exhausted.  When I awoke, I was bubbling over with joy as I looked toward what I trusted would be a rewarding new stage of my life.
My first stop was the service station.  Although the gas crisis of the 1970s was long gone, it had left me with a fear of being stranded by the roadside.  Problems that in my younger days I would have seen as mere inconveniences had grown to substantial obstacles because I was less able to deal with them physically.  Furthermore, without Leon, I had no partner to help me through tough situations.  I’d modified my life accordingly, seeking to anticipate difficulties and avoid them before they occurred.  As I waited for an attendant to fill my tank, I thought about how convenient it would be to have Jo and Jon close at hand, able to provide the kind of support I’d done without since my divorce.
 Once the car was gassed up, I drove south to Charles’s apartment in Long Beach.  He’d offered to drive to Jo and Jon’s with me, saying he could return by plane the next day so as not to miss any classes.  Glad for companionship on the long drive to San Francisco, I accepted his offer.
Ever since I’d been a child going on trips with my parents, I had loved to travel.  Watching the scenery go by, stopping at restaurants along the way, and exploring new territory was an adventure. This trip was no different.  Charles took the wheel as soon as we dropped his car off at the airport where it would be waiting for him upon his return, and we began the journey.  We stopped in Malibu at a quaint restaurant on the beach for breakfast and then drove north on the scenic Pacific Coast Highway to Solvang for a Danish lunch.  About an hour later, when we were out in the middle of nowhere, Charles said, “Uh oh.  We’re almost out of gas.”
My heart sank and my stomach lurched in anticipation of the problem facing us, the hours to be wasted.  Nevertheless, always the Pollyanna, I swallowed my anger and said, “Let’s look for a gas station.”  Charles was oblivious to my annoyance, either because I hid it well or because he was at ease with the situation.  During the ten minutes that passed before we pulled into a dumpy little gas station, I thought about how different my children’s attitudes were from mine.  They all teased me about my anxieties, but – with the exception of Charles –tried to accommodate me, recognizing how worked up I could get over trivialities.
After we gassed up and got back on the road, Charles said cheerfully, “Well, that was exciting!”  While I’d worried that our entire trip was about to be ruined, he viewed the incident as part of the adventure.  Once again, I realized he was going to be fine on his own in Los Angeles.  I may have been concerned that he would flounder without my ongoing support, but he was ready to laugh at whatever difficulties he might face.  
The rest of our trip passed uneventfully and we arrived at the Ivesters’ in time for dinner.  On Monday morning, Jon left for work before dawn and Jo stayed home long enough to help me wake the children and prepare them for daycare.  In the afternoon, I picked them up and played with them until Jo and Jon got home.  The week flew by as I relaxed in the middle of each day and bonded with my grandchildren in the morning and late afternoon.  
My furniture arrived Saturday morning, and Jo and Jon helped me move into my new home.  By lunchtime, everything was in place, and they left to run errands.  I ate lunch at my new dinette table, which I’d placed by my patio door so I could gaze out over the canyon.  It was more than a dinette table; it was a symbol of my new life.
When Leon walked out 15 years earlier, he left me with a dinette table I’d never liked.  He’d bought it when we first moved to Pasadena.  We’d walked around the store for half an hour, looking over different sets.  I pointed out the ones I liked, but he selected one that appealed to him.  Eager to please, I didn’t complain.
The dinette set I disliked had been a constant reminder of Leon’s failure to consider my desires.  Now the memory was replaced by a different one.  When I told Jo I’d left the table behind and needed to find a new one – preferably a small, round glass-top table, with ice-cream parlor chairs – she took me to Sears and helped me find what I wanted.    
The morning after I moved into my new apartment, I walked to the bakery, Le Petit Boulangerie, and ordered coffee and a cinnamon bun.  I sat by the window watching the world go by, reminiscing about how often I’d done this, always alone, the spectator looking in on the lives of others.  As I observed people milling about in the shopping center, I daydreamed about who they were and why they were there.  I smiled at the sight of a tall man walking between two toddlers, holding their hands and engrossed in conversation.  What fortunate children to have a father who so clearly appreciated them.  As they came closer, I saw that it  was Jon on his way to the grocery store with Elizabeth and Ben.
I knocked on the window to get their attention and they came in, the children rushing over for hugs and kisses.  Jon drank a cup of coffee while my grandchildren finished what was left of my sweet roll.  Then the three of them went shopping, leaving me with a pleasant sense of satisfaction.
      For the next few weeks, I grew accustomed to our routine.  Early mornings and late afternoons were spent caring for Elizabeth and Ben, and the hours in between were mine to enjoy.  I was content to read by the pool, knit while I listened to the news on TV, or sit at my table looking out over the canyon while I wrote long letters to friends in California.  All that was missing was a friend with whom I could share the hours when I wasn't with the Ivesters.
       A few weeks after my arrival in San Mateo, I happened to be standing at the grocery's checkout   counter chatting with the clerk.  The woman behind me overheard me say I was new in the area and joined the conversation by asking if I’d made any friends yet.  In the past, my shyness would have taken over and I would have responded in a way that made it clear I wasn’t looking for her to become my friend.  This time, however, I hesitated, reflecting that I’d entered a new phase in my life, could reach out to others and allow them to reach out to me.  At 66, I was at last becoming the captain of my soul.
        I told her I had not yet met anyone.  She said she would like to be my friend and we exchanged phone numbers.  As I walked home, I decided I would wait a day and then call her. I heard my phone ringing as I walked in the door and it was Ruth, saying she would pick me up the next day and we’d go for lunch.
      That was the beginning of a friendship that expanded to include several other interesting, intelligent women.  We traveled around the Bay Area together, exploring San Francisco, driving out Highway 92 to Half Moon Bay and the coastal communities dotting the western side of the peninsula.  We attended classes, one on current events and another on music appreciation.  We purchased season tickets to the opera, the ballet, and to musicals.  I signed up for a tap-dance class for senior citizens and found I still remembered some of the dance steps of my youth.  At the end of the year, we performed for an audience, much to the delight of my grandchildren. 
       The companions I met through Ruth kept me busy at least five days a week, making my life in retirement  more active than I’d thought possible.  I never had time to feel lonely, and our conversations helped me to understand for the first time some of the emotions I’d experienced during my marriage.  She was a family therapist and we spent many hours discussing interpersonal relationships.
      During one of those conversations, she recommended that I read Dance of Anger, by Harriet Lerner.  It was an eye opener.   Lerner described how women in our society are discouraged from expressing anger.  She wrote, “It is our job to please, protect, and placate the world.”  Reading this opening paragraph, I saw myself.  Like the women she wrote about, I was so hesitant to accept feelings of anger that I was virtually unaware of them.  To this day, I tell people I have no anger toward Leon, only a sadness and bewilderment.
       In later chapters, Lerner suggested that because women are focused on creating peace and harmony, it is natural for them to serve as a buffer between others who are angry.  When I talked about this with Ruth, I realized I’d been doing this my entire life.  The most obvious example was the way I stepped in whenever Leon was angry at Charles.  At the time, I thought I was doing the right thing.  I still believe Charles needed me to fill that role, that it was my job as his mother to do so.  My conversations with Ruth never led to any conclusions about these specific issues, but it was fascinating to discuss my family history with a trained family therapist.
       I soon discovered that I missed teaching and decided to look into working in adult education.  Within a week, I found a course catalog for adult classes, one of which was aimed at reducing foreign accents.  As I read the course description, I knew I could teach it.  I wouldn’t have to do any work to develop a curriculum because I could use the same material I’d used in my high school speech classes. I signed up to teach two evenings a week.
       Between teaching classes, taking classes, attending cultural events, and helping my family, I soon felt as if I'd become an integral part of my new community.  Several months went by, incredibly happy ones.  A major reason for my happiness was that the Ivester household was the calmest I’d ever known.  A voice was never raised, a child never spanked; a contented, casual atmosphere pervaded.  I thought about how Leon and I, early on in our marriage, had compared the different atmospheres in our childhood homes and then decided to incorporate into our own household the features we most liked.  What I saw in Jo and Jon’s home appealed to me even more.
       Elizabeth and Ben were extremely affectionate and I felt loved and wanted.  When my own children were toddlers, I was so busy that it often seemed as if I didn’t have time to enjoy them.  As a grandma, it was different.  I had all of the fun and little of the responsibility.  I could watch the children grow, treasuring each new development, yet when it came to anything difficult – like discipline or dealing with injuries and illnesses – their parents could take over.
       It took about six months of this happy, peaceful existence for me to recover completely from my last half-year working full-time.  The end of my high school teaching career was physically debilitating and in retrospect, I realized I probably shouldn’t have taught that last year.  But, oh how I'd loved what I was doing!  At the time, I couldn’t imagine retirement being anywhere near as fulfilling, so I delayed it as long as I could.  How grateful I was to discover I’d been wrong:  taking care of my grandchildren was even more satisfying than teaching.
      After six months, it was clear that our arrangement was working.  I never felt as if I were imposing on the Ivesters and I could see that my presence was helpful.  Having made the decision to remain in northern California with them, I considered staying in my own apartment for the long term, but there were two problem.  First, when Elizabeth or Ben became ill, I’d stay at the Ivester house the entire day.  Despite my best efforts to bring everything I might need or want, I’d invariably forget something.
The second problem was that I found it difficult to deal with the early morning's chilly weather, even though all I had to do was walk to and from my car.  It had been almost 20 years since I’d needed winter clothes and I was no longer accustomed to cold weather.  My hands would cramp up and it would take several hours for them to relax.
     Given the success of our experiment and the problems with my living in separate quarters, Jo, Jon, and I sat down to strategize about what to do next.  It turned out that they’d  been waiting for me to say I was ready.  They’d paid off the last of their student loans and were now able to buy a house.  They loved the townhouse they’d bought when they first entered the housing market, but they’d always viewed this as an intermediate step before purchasing a stand alone residence.  Finally, they told me the timing was good because Jo was pregnant and wanted to make the move before the baby came.
       Another baby!  I was ecstatic.  For the first time, I would be intimately involved with a grandchild from the very beginning.  I could be with Jo every day of the pregnancy.  I accompanied her when she went for check-ups and I listened to the baby’s heartbeat.  I watched the ultrasound exam and heard the doctor say with a straight face, “It must be a girl.  I don’t see a thing hanging out.”
       Often during the pregnancy, Jo and Jon joked that I had helped so much with Elizabeth and Ben that they were going to give me a reward.  I still refer to my third Ivester grandchild as “Grandma’s reward.”
       The summer before the baby was due, I received a letter with information about my 50th high school reunion in September.  I remembered that Leon and I had served on the organizing committee for our 25th, and I longed to return to Newton to see my old friends.  Yet I was hesitant.  At the previous one, Leon was there to hold my hand.  This time, I would be alone and would have to face all my old friends with the news that Leon and I were divorced.  I cringed at the thought.  As many times as I’d stood teaching in front of a class of teenagers or adults, as many times as I’d spoken in public to large groups and once in a televised interview, I was still basically unsure of myself.  My former classmates didn’t know me as a professional and would recall me as an awkward teenager.  For the first time in years, I was afraid I wouldn’t fit in.
     After thinking about it for a few days, however, I became determined to "screw my courage to the sticking-place," as so eloquently stated by Lady Macbeth, and greet my former classmates with head held high.  They would see that I was happy with the woman I’d become.  I’d make Grandma Lena proud; nobody would say, “Poor Aura.”
     By the time September arrived, I no longer dreaded the reunion, but looked forward to it.  The planning committee had selected as a venue Norumbega Park's hotel, on the site of the old Totem Pole ballroom where we used to go dancing as teenagers.  As I stood on the balcony looking out over the Charles River, I could almost hear the music of the big bands and feel the rhythm course through me.  Later, when I walked around near the water’s edge, I passed the spot where I used to go with my parents to feed the ducks when I was a little girl.  The memories were sweet.
       My sister Karyl’s daughter Susan brought her husband and children to join me for dinner the evening before the reunion festivities began.  During the meal, Susan remarked that she had never been in a restaurant before where there were so many old people.  We didn't realize we were looking at my classmates.  Three days later, as I had my last breakfast in the coffee shop, I looked around at the same group of people and recognized almost every one.  Not one looked elderly to me, for by then I’d rekindled friendships and saw not the frail bodies but the youthful hearts.  Our master of ceremonies captured this sentiment.
       “At our twenty-fifth reunion, we recognized one another and talked about our accomplishments, our families.  Here at our fiftieth, most of us are retired and we need name tags for identification, but, hey, we’re here!”
       I’d been asked by the planning committee to staff the hospitality suite, which I willingly agreed to do knowing it would be a marvelous opportunity to chat with former classmates.  While I was there, in walked Barbara Beyer Malley, Leon’s girlfriend during our last year of high school, the girl with whom he’d cuddled in the stands while we rehearsed A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Barbara and I had first connected when we worked together to organize our 25th reunion; now, at our 50th,  we discovered that our paths since then had been similar:  we were both divorced and had built new lives for ourselves.  She wanted to know about Leon and I told her as much as I could.  By the end of our conversation, we’d become fast friends.  
       Soon after Barbara left, my shift in the hospitality suite ended and I was walking toward the elevator to freshen up in my room before the festivities began.  Suddenly I heard a familiar voice call  “Aura!”  I turned and saw my friend Hal Fisher, twin brother of one of my high school sweethearts, Norman.  We hugged hello and then I asked how he’d recognized me from the back.  He laughed and said, “You were the shortest student in our class fifty years ago and you haven’t grown any since.  I’d know you anywhere.”
       A moment later, our conversation grew serious when I asked for Norman and Hal told me his brother had passed away.  Tears welled as I thought back to our high school dance parties and how happy we’d all been together.  I was saddened again when I discovered a page in the reunion program presenting a list of our classmates who were no longer with us.  Despite these occasional serious moments, however, I had a magnificent time in Boston.  My life in California fulfilled me, but it was good to visit old friends and relive old memories.
       When I returned from my sojourn to the East Coast, Jo and Jon greeted me with the news that they’d made an offer on a house in Redwood City and we’d be moving in a couple of months.  It was an L-shaped single story home with four bedrooms, a small sewing room, and three baths.  Two of the bedrooms, the sewing room, and one bathroom occupied one end of the L, and they proposed converting that space into a one bedroom apartment for me, complete with my own kitchen, bath, and living room.  This would leave the Ivesters with a master bedroom and a children’s bedroom, as well as a living-room, dining room, kitchen, and family room.  When I pointed out that one bedroom for three children would be small as the kids grew older, they told me they planned to add a second floor with two more bedrooms.  Once that was done, the house would be perfect in every way.
       For the first time since leaving Miami, I would live in a quiet, residential neighborhood.  Our little house in Florida was pleasant, but the architectural style and landscaping were quite different from my native New England.  In Redwood City,  I felt as if I could be walking down a street in the suburbs of Boston.  I’d finally come home.
      Our move was delayed when an earthquake hit San Francisco in late October.  It was five in the afternoon and I’d just turned on the TV to watch the Giants take on the Oakland A’s in the World Series.  Jo and Jon were picking up the children, leaving me free to enjoy the game.  While standing in the kitchen preparing a snack, I heard what sounded like the rumble of a train.  Earthquake!  Since I’d been through a number of them in Southern California, I knew what to do and stepped into a doorway until the trembling stopped.  It was the worst earthquake I’d ever experienced.
      Pausing first to make sure all was motionless, I walked back into my living room to see what the TV announcers had to say, only to discover that the earthquake had knocked it off the air.  When I turned on my portable radio, I learned there was major damage.  Before I had a chance to worry about the Ivesters, Jo and Elizabeth dashed through my door, and Jo told me that Jon had dropped them off to check on me while he drove to the temple to get Ben from daycare.
      We settled down in the living room and Jo turned on the TV.  I started to tell her it wouldn’t work, but then saw that she’d found a working station.  The stories were pouring in.  The San Francisco marina district was in flames.  A section of the Bay Bridge had fallen into the water.  A stretch of highway in Oakland collapsed crushing the cars beneath it.  As we realized how terrible conditions were, Jo began to worry about Jon.  Roads were damaged everywhere, and she was afraid he’d been unable to get to the temple.  She said she’d walk the route if she didn’t hear soon, but she was finally able to get a phone call through and verify that Ben was fine and Jon had arrived safely.  Relaxing for the first time since we turned on the television, we sat and watched the news while we waited for Jon and Ben.
      In the days that followed, non-critical workers were asked to stay home and I was relieved when Jon decided not to venture out.  Jo stayed at home as well, despite the fact that her job was normally one that should be staffed in an emergency.  Her team was responsible for making sure the transit system’s tunnels were safe to use, and she felt guilty for not contributing to that effort but decided that at seven-and-a-half months pregnant, she couldn’t cope with what had become a two- to three-hour commute.
      A week later, the commute wasn’t much better.  Jo made the trip several times, but found she was useless by the time she arrived in the city and exhausted by the effort.  She decided to take a slightly early maternity leave.  A few days after she stopped working, it was time to move to our new home and we were settled just in time for Jo’s ninth month. 
      Elizabeth was five years old and ensconced in her kindergarten class at Clifford Elementary School, just a few minutes’ drive from our house.  Ben was almost three and excited about the baby, not having a clue that it would be a few years before his little sister could become a playmate.  When Jo went into labor and she and Jon left for the hospital, I stayed home with the two children, telling them what it would be like when Mommy and Daddy came home.  Ten hours later the call came, telling us that healthy Emily Amber had arrived. I gave each grandchild a teddy bear I’d set aside to celebrate the occasion and make them feel a part of it.
       Emily Amber.  What a beautiful name!  I knew Jo and Jon picked it because they liked the way it sounded, but in my mind, she was named for my paternal grandmother, Ethel Abrams, whose initials were the same.  In a similar twist of fate, Benjamin David shared not only my mother’s initials, B-D for Bertha Dolores, but also her birthday.  So although I knew Ben was named for two grandfathers on Jon’s side of the family, I’ll always associate his name with my mother.  And then, of course, there’s Elizabeth, who has my middle name.  
       But now, in November 1989, it was Emily who was the newly named baby.  Jo and Jon came home from the hospital with their two-day old daughter and placed my “reward” in my arms.  It had been 32 years since I held Jo, my youngest, moments after she was born.  I’d loved caring for a newborn then, and now, as I looked down at baby Emily sleeping in my arms, I could have the experience all over again.
       It was a joy to be a part of a household with a youngster, a toddler, and a baby, but in the evenings, I’d withdraw to my rooms so that Jon and Jo could enjoy their little family on their own.  Although they assured me I was welcome to stay, I believed it was important for them to have time without me there.  
       It was gratifying to be able to help with the baby, so Jo could  rest.  Sometimes I’d sit peacefully rocking my granddaughter in my arms while my daughter caught an afternoon nap.  I remembered how helpful my mother had been each summer at Cape Cod, and it felt good to carry on the tradition.  Even more satisfying was the way I felt when I’d watch Jo take care of the three children.  For years I’d watched her thrive in her career; now I was able to observe her parenting skills.  Jo may not have craved motherhood the way I did when I was a child, but her maternal instincts were as strong as mine.     
       While Jo was home on maternity leave, she began to consider changing jobs.  Not only did she find the commute intolerable following the devastation of the October earthquake, she was also saddened by the departure of her boss, the transit system’s general manager.  They’d worked well together and she had tremendous respect for him.  She wasn’t at all confident that she would enjoy her job now that he was gone.  Jo and Jon spent weeks discussing her future and she decided to move into high-tech.  After a couple of months of networking and interviewing, she ended up joining Jon at Applied Materials, where he’d been employed since finishing business school five years earlier.
       Half way through her first week back at work, Jo’s temperature shot up and she developed flu-like symptoms.  For three days, she slept around the clock, waking only to feed Emily.  One afternoon while Jon was at work, Emily wouldn’t stop crying.  She’d had her noon meal, so I knew she wasn’t hungry.  I checked her diaper.  I tried rocking her and taking her for a walk.  No matter what I tried, the crying continued.
       Then I remembered the night almost thirty years earlier Mother comforted my inconsolable baby Charles by rocking him in such a way that he could see me lying in my bed.  Hoping the strategy might work this time, I pulled a rocking chair close to Jo’s bed.  It was magic.  Not only did Emily quiet down, she began murmuring in her sleep, and Jo responded with murmuring sounds of her own.  I was awed by the special bond between a mother and a baby, illustrated by their wordless conversation as they slept..
       Jo recovered by the end of the week and was able to begin work in earnest the following Monday.  She and Jon commuted together early each morning, leaving me to take the children to and from school and daycare.  Baby Emily slept in her car seat while Elizabeth, Ben and I sang songs.  Like my mother before me, I encouraged the children to notice our beautiful surroundings, pointing out flowers, cloud formations, and the occasional rainbow.  
       In the late afternoon, the four of us would sit in the family room, playing games and reading books while we waited for their mommy and daddy to come home.  I began to think of this period as the children’s hour, described in Longfellow’s poem:  “Between the dark and the daylight, when the night is beginning to lower, comes a pause in the day’s occupation that is known as the children’s hour.” 
       The only blemish on this otherwise idyllic life was that Jo and Jon worked long hours, leaving before six each morning, returning after seven each night.  I worried that they were driving themselves to exhaustion, but they seemed not to notice.  I kept my concerns to myself, remembering something my father had said to my mother my first year at college, when Mother worried that the six-hour train ride to and from Syracuse in upstate New York was more than I could handle.  Dad reminded her that what seemed overwhelming to her at forty was easy for a 17-year-old.  Not only were Jo and Jon uncomplaining about the demanding pace they maintained, they seemed to thrive on it.
       Several months went by and our household settled into a sustainable routine.  The children were happy; work was going well; I was content.  Believing this was the life they would lead for the next twenty years, Jo and Jon decided the time had come to expand their house and they soon had plans drawn up, the roof removed, and construction begun on a second floor.  Their two bedrooms and bathroom were uninhabitable during this time, so Jo and Jon moved into the living room and turned the dining room into a bunk-room for the children.  Their kitchen became the dining room, while their powder room became their bathroom; they came to my end of the house for their showers.  In other households, the resulting crowding might have led to tension and short tempers, but everyone continued to get along well, viewing the chaos as one more adventure.
       In the midst of this turmoil, the senior management team at Applied Materials asked Jon if he would move to Austin, Texas to open a manufacturing facility there.  At first, Jo and Jon laughed at the request, unable to see themselves as Texans.  After a long weekend of exploring, however, they fell in love with Austin.  They came home saying it would be the perfect place to raise their family.  The schools were outstanding, the community friendly, and the cost of living substantially lower than in California.
       The only drawback to moving was there would be no job for Jo, but she decided she wouldn’t worry about it.  She and Jon were fliriting with the idea of a fourth child and having Jo become a stay-at-home mom, so they weren’t particularly concerned about her chances for employment.
      As they became more serious about moving to Austin, Jo and Jon told me they wouldn’t do so unless I wanted to go as well.  I was touched by this sign that they’d come to view me as part of their immediate family and assured them I would be happy to make the move unless the climate aggravated my arthritis to the point of crippling me.  To find out if this was the case, Jo and I spent a long weekend in Austin.  She kept looking at my hands to see if they were swollen, for she didn’t trust me to be honest about it if they began to hurt.  She knew me well enough to know that unless the pain were intolerable, I would have hidden it from her, not wanting it to be a factor in their decision.  As it turned out, it wasn’t.  Austin was almost as dry as California and I had no problem.
       Not only was I pleased that the climate in Austin was good for my health, I was also delighted with everything I saw.  The Eanes school district just west of Austin was as good as the one both my children and I had attended in Newton, Massachusetts many years earlier.  When Jo and I drove through neighborhoods in the district, we found them all inviting.  I loved the limestone houses surrounded by heavily wooded yards and was excited when I saw a herd of deer wandering about.
       The real estate agent pointed out that despite the winding roads and rustic environment, Austin was a good-sized city, the state capital and home of the University of Texas, known by the locals as UT.  She said we would find many amenities and told us about the symphony and the opera, the restaurants and the live theater, summing up her comments with the promise that Austin was truly cosmopolitan.
       Our real estate agent obviously believed what she said, but Jo and I had our doubts the following morning when we came downstairs for breakfast in the hotel dining room.  It happened to be the weekend of the World Series and since we hadn’t watched the game the day before, I asked the restaurant hostess, “Who won last night?”
       I was confused when she answered, “We did.”  The series in 1991 was between the Minnesota Twins and the Atlanta Braves; so no Texas teams were involved.  The man in line behind us, seeing the look on my face, said to the hostess, “I think she was asking about the World Series, not the UT football game.”  Jo and I enjoyed a good laugh over that one.  Possibly Austin was not quite as cosmopolitan as the real estate agent believed.
       Since Austin was not a particularly large metropolitan area, there were no direct flights to San Francisco and Jo and I had to transfer planes in Dallas.  On the trip there, this wasn’t a problem.  On our return flight, however, we discovered that the connection was often difficultm due to thunderstorms in Dallas in the early evenings.  After circling the Dallas airport for an hour while waiting for a break in the storm, the pilot announced we were running low on fuel and would have to land in Oklahoma City.
       By this time, it was late evening and I was feeling sick.  Jo suggested that instead of staying on the plane, we spend the night in Oklahoma.  When we told the flight attendant of our plans, we were told we’d have to wait on board because the airport was so crowded, there was no gate.  The plane would fuel up on the tarmac, and once the storm cleared Dallas, we’d take off again.  Nobody was to be allowed off the plane.  Even a passenger whose final destination was Oklahoma City would have to go to Dallas and then catch the next flight back.
       Concerned by my weakened condition, Jo politely asked if an exception could be made in my case in consideration of my age and a heart problem.  The flight attendant denied the request and told Jo to sit down.  When Jo refused to do so, saying she wanted the flight crew to radio her request to a supervisor, she was told that if she didn’t sit down immediately, the police would be called and she would be arrested.
       Jo said, “That’s fine.  Go ahead and have us arrested.  We’ll spend the night at the police station where I can get proper medical treatment for my mother.  It’ll make a great human interest story on the front page of tomorrow’s paper.”
       Alarmed by the prospect of adverse publicity, the flight attendant sought and received authorization to honor our request.  In the meantime, several other passengers had gathered at the front of the plane, also desiring to leave.  At first, they were told that only Jo and I were to be permitted to disembark, but Jo convinced the airline staff to acquiesce to their requests as well.  Eventually, about half a dozen of us accompanied the flight crew on the walk from the airplane to the terminal, and Jo and I spent the night in a nearby hotel before catching a flight to San Francisco the next day.  We found out in the morning that the rest of the passengers sat on the plane for several hours, waiting for a new flight crew.  They landed in Dallas at three in the morning and then had to wait in the airport for their connecting flights.
      Despite our difficulties returning to California, I thought our weekend in Austin was wonderful and I told Jo and Jon that if they wanted to move there, I would be happy to come along.  For several weeks they kept changing their minds, content with their life in Redwood City, yet aware that Texas might be even better.  I suggested that if they were really ambivalent, they should make the move, because whenever we live someplace new, we grow.      
       I learned later that they were impressed that at almost seventy years old, I was still not only willing to move, but also to view it as an adventure to be embraced.  I thought about my father’s comment to my mother years earlier about letting the next generation make their own mistakes and refrain from giving advice unless it was specifically requested, but in this case I was glad I spoke up.  Jo and Jon made the decision to move and we’ve never regretted it.  
       Within weeks, Jon began flying back and forth to help set up the manufacturing plant.  Every once in
awhile, Jo would join him and they’d go house hunting.  They looked for a home with a suitable in-law unit but couldn’t find anything they liked.  If the main house worked for them, the apartment for me was run-down.  The houses with a space they thought I’d like were inadequate for the rest of the family.  Finally, after much searching and deliberation, they decided to buy a vacant lot and build the perfect home for all of us.  And they did just that, even including a screened-in porch for me.
       How different my life had turned out from what I’d expected!  I grew up believing I lived in the best house on the best street in the best town in the best state of the Union.  Consequently, in the early days of my marriage, the thought of moving away from the Boston area was daunting.  When Leon suggested a fresh start somewhere else where he could set up a new pediatric practice, I cringed at the thought, finding one reason after another to persuade him to stay.  Since that time, I’d moved several times and had grown accustomed to the process.  Now, as I approached my seventieth birthday, not only did it seem easy, it also appealed to me as an adventure, I'd would share with Jo, Jon and my three grandchildren.
       Before I had the chance to embark on this voyage, Philip and Nancy called with a proposal for yet another exciting journey.  They were planning a vacation in Paris for a couple of weeks and invited me to join them.  Paris!  I’d longed to visit Europe ever since the eighth grade, when I had studied France and Italy and written an essay about an imaginary trip there.  Without hesitation, I thanked Philip and Nancy for their offer and said, “When do we go?”
       As it turned out, United Airlines introduced a non-stop flight from San Francisco to Paris on the very day I planned to depart.  My life had been filled with serendipitous moments, and this certainly was among the most unusual.  I viewed it as a good omen, booked my ticket, and began wondering if I would remember enough of my schoolgirl French to communicate with the locals.
       The vacation was one of the highlights of my life, each moment more thrilling than the last.  I even loved the taxi ride from Orly Airport, during which I tried out my French on the cabdriver.  When we pulled up in front of our hotel one block off the Champs-Elysees and two blocks from the Arc de Triomphe, Philip was outside waiting for me, eager to show me to the room I’d be sharing with teenage Amelia.  In our first few minutes, Philip asked me to give him a list of what I’d like to see while we were there and planned our excursions to include everything I wanted, even a rail trip out to Giverny to the home and garden of my favorite artist, impressionist Claude Monet.
       On several occasions, Philip and Nancy went off on their own, leaving me with Amelia.  It was the first time since she was a small child that I'd had the chance to spend significant time with her, and we bonded closely.  We ate breakfast in our room together, chatting the whole time about what was going on in her life.  When she told me her English teacher was concerned about her missing school because they were reading Romeo and Juliet out loud and it would be difficult for Amelia to make up the work, I offered to read it with her, as I had done with my students over the years.
       Some of our best times were when Philip and Nancy went off alone for dinner and Amelia and I walked to a restaurant nearby for our own special date.  After ten days of playing tourist, Philip asked if I was ready to go home and I was, but if he’d instead offered me the opportunity to live in Paris for a couple of years, I might well have answered “Yes!”
       By the time I got back to California, the spring was drawing to a close and my 70th birthday was approaching.  Jo asked if I’d enjoy a large celebration with my children and grandchildren and when I told her I loved the idea, she called her brothers and sister and everyone agreed to come.   In addition, we invited not only my local friends, but also those closest to me from my days in Southern California. On  July 26, 1992, as I looked around at all my loved ones gathered together in one place at one time, I kept thinking of the closing pages of Little Women in which three generations gathered together for an afternoon of picking apples and picnicking on the lawn, and I was euphoric.
       Our upcoming move to Texas was one of the major topics of conversation during my birthday party.  Construction of the new house was going well and we planned to move to Austin after the first of the year.  We’d have to stay in a furnished apartment for at least a month, but were willing to do this so that the children could start the spring semester already enrolled in their new schools, Elizabeth in third grade and Ben in kindergarten.  Emily had turned three just before Christmas and we weren’t especially concerned about her transition from one daycare to another and since Jo wouldn’t be working initially, we’d have plenty of time to identify a good facility.  I’d be able to help out until then by watching my granddaughter whenever Jo was busy with either the new house or the older children.
       I looked forward to spending more time with Emily.  She and I had grown close during the last three years.  I especially enjoyed the pre-dawn hours when she would waddle into my room in her Dr. Denton’s and creep into bed with me. Some time later, Jon would wake up, check on the children, find sleeping Emily, and return her to her own bed.  Before morning, however, she’d be back and we’d snuggle until it was time to get up for breakfast. 
       In the months prior to our move, Connie called with big news.  A couple of years earlier, she had decided to seek out her birth parents.  Some adoptive parents hesitate to provide background information, fearing they might lose their children.  I held no such fears and willingly told her everything I could remember regarding names, dates, and places.  My only regret was that I couldn’t also supply her with any of the paperwork, since it had long since been lost in one of my many moves.  As it turned out, Connie didn’t need the paperwork; my verbal information was adequate.  After searching for a long time, her efforts had born fruit and she called to say, “I’ve found Phyllis.”
       A sense of joy washed over me and I prayed that the relationship between Connie and her birth mother would be a good one.  I wanted to write to Phyllis myself, to thank her for her decision over forty years earlier to allow Connie to be adopted.  I didn’t do so, however, because I had no idea how Connie would feel about a connection between her birth and adoptive mothers and I wanted to give her time to sort out her feelings before I broached the matter.
       Phyllis, on the other hand, felt no such concern, for within the week, I received a letter from her in which she wrote of how overjoyed she was to have heard from Connie.  She’d dreamed of this happening for many years but felt she had no right to initiate anything.  She wanted me to know that she understood that I was Connie’s mother; she wanted to be Connie’s friend, and mine too, if possible.  As I read her letter, I knew she was the special individual I’d always believed her to be, and I was grateful that her attitude was similar to mine in that we both were more concerned with Connie’s feelings than our own.  I wrote back the same day, telling Phyllis how elated I was to hear from her and assuring her I had no fears regarding her relationship with Connie.  My daughter would be the beneficiary of a friend or even a second mother, and this had to be good for all of us.  
       The holiday season was upon us and it was time for me to begin saying goodbye to my California friends and family.  I drove to Los Angeles to spend a couple of days with my son Charles and to bring Amelia back for a brief visit at the Ivester household.  Nobody seemed surprised that I was able to make the long drive  alone; I was pleased that at seventy I was as capable as I’d ever been.
I had my doubts at first and would never have planned such a long trip if I hadn’t expected to have a friend along for company.  At the last minute, however, she called and said she couldn’t go after all.  My first reaction was to give up the trip, even though it meant a lot to me and I knew that if I didn’t go, both Charles and Amelia would be very disappointed.  Then I gave myself a pep talk, saying, “Aura, you can do this.  Think about the approach that Charles has told you about from his AA meetings.  Take one step at a time and don’t worry about the future.”
I sat in the driveway gripping the wheel, still debating with myself.  Finally, I decided to give it a whirl.  I knew I could drive south for about forty-five minutes and then stop for breakfast.  When that was successful, I turned my attention to making it to Solvang for lunch, since I knew the restaurants there from my many visits with John Finch and Charles.  Once there, I asked my waiter where to go for gas, and then asked the station attendant how to get back onto Highway 101.  Step by step, I completed the long drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles. It was an exhilarating experience.
       Upon my return to Northern California, it was time to say goodbye to my friends.  Ruth told me she was disappointed in me for making the move and convinced I would be miserable; at seventy I would find it difficult to make a new life and to find new friends. 
       When I joined my friend Louise for lunch, it was a different story.  She said she thought I would love it in Texas, and that new friends would flock in my direction because of my outgoing personality.  I thanked Louise for her confidence in me and told her she’d done a lot for my morale.
       When it came time to pack, our task was made slightly more difficult by the fact that we’d be living in temporary housing for at least a month.  All our belongings had to be separated into three groups:  those we wouldn’t need until we moved into our permanent home, those we’d want with us during our first week while waiting for the moving van to arrive, and everything else in the third group.  If, at any moment, I felt overwhelmed, I had only to look at Jo and Jon who had to pack for five.  Their only problem was that Elizabeth, at eight years old, was upset with them for making her leave her friends and life in Redwood City.  Ben, at six, was perfectly happy once he learned we’d have a swimming pool in our backyard.  Emily hardly understood what was going on.  At three years old, all she needed to know was that she would still have her family.
       On our last evening in California, Elizabeth and I sat together for a long time while she vented her frustration and occasionally lapsed into tears.  I reminded her how successfully she had transferred from kindergarten in San Mateo to the new one in Redwood City.  When she expressed concern that she’d never have new friends as close as her current ones, I reminded her of what her kindergarten teacher had said over two years ago during their graduation ceremony.
       As each student came to the front of the room to receive their “diploma,” the teacher made a comment about the child.  When it was Elizabeth’s turn, Mrs. Stromberg hugged my granddaughter and asked everyone to notice Elizabeth’s special smile.  Then she said, “Elizabeth came to us from another school in another city at the end of October when we were already a cohesive group.  That beautiful smile was on her face when she arrived and it has never left.  She has endeared herself to all of us.”
       I had been touched when I first heard those words, and I choked up once again when I repeated them to Elizabeth, promising she would find it as easy to make the move in third grade as she had in kindergarten.  As I held her in my arms, I was reminded once again of how fortunate I was to have found such a wonderful life in retirement.  Moments such as Elizabeth’s kindergarten graduation and our intimate conversation on the eve of our departure from California were my rewards.
       As I sat on the plane the following morning, I stared out the window at the clouds below, reflecting on the unexpected turns my life had taken ever since that day over 25 years earlier when Leon first announced that we were moving to Mississippi.  I’d followed Leon to the middle of nowhere because I believed this was what a good wife should do.  Now I followed the Ivesters because I’d become an integral part of their family and wanted to remain with them and continue to share in the growth and development of my grandchildren.
       I realized I had Leon to thank for having pulled me away from the traditional suburban housewife role to pursue his noble dream of serving the poor.  His dream had become my dream, and the life I led as a result was far more exciting and rewarding than it would have been had we never transplanted ourselves to the cotton fields of the Deep South in the heart of the civil rights movement.
      I had left my shyness and lack of confidence behind, and was now totally comfortable with the person I had become.  I was happy and pleased with what I’d accomplished over the years and now, at the age of seventy, instead of living the winter of my life, I was still waiting for winter, eagerly looking forward to the new experiences awaiting me.


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