Monday, January 31, 2011

Family Ties

But you're so far away
Doesn't anybody stay in one place anymore?
It would be so fine to see your face at my door,
And it doesn't help to know you're so far away
 -   “So Far Away,” lyrics by Carole King
* *                          *
I had our Great Dane out for her morning constitutional, and one of the new neighbors stopped to admire her.    
“She’s a beautiful dog,” he said, as she tried to climb up into what would have been his lap if he were sitting.  “My name’s Rick, by the way.”
“Chuck,” I said, reaching out to shake his hand.  “We live around the corner in the yellow house.  She’s just a pup.  She has a lot of filling out to do yet.  Our son in Tennessee brought her up for us the last time he came up for a visit.”
“Tennessee?” he said.  “My dad was from Tennessee, near Sparta.”
“No kidding?” I said.  “My dad was born in Kentucky, but he and my mother lived in Tennessee for a few years before they moved to West Virginia.”
“So you’re from West Virginia originally?” he asked.  
“Yep,” I said.  “The state calls itself America’s Switzerland sometimes, but that’s a joke.  Switzerland is rich, educated, and secure.  They would no more strip mine their mountains than they’d desecrate a painting by Paul Klee or drive a bulldozer through their front door.  We're actually the Ireland of America.  Just like the Irish, we labored for the benefit of absentee landlords, were driven out of our homes to find food and work, and scattered all over the world, taking our music and our accents with us.”
“So where did you scatter to?” he wanted to know.
“Oh, I worked for a few years in North Carolina, and then got a job at an assembly plant in Ohio.”
“Is that right?” he said.  “Where in Ohio?  I was stationed there after I got back from Vietnam.”
“Near Cincinnati,” I said.  “I worked in a GM assembly plant.  It’s shut down now.”
“No kidding!” he said.  “I was stationed at Wright-Patterson outside Dayton.  I was two years there before I got transferred to Edwards AFB in California.”
“Our youngest daughter lived in San Francisco for a few years,” I told him.  “Then her husband’s company relocated.  They were in Seattle and then Chicago.  They’re up in Portland, Oregon, now.”
“Sounds as if your kids are pretty scattered,” he commented.
“Well, the oldest boy is in Alabama.  He met a girl from there when they were in school together in Georgia.  The next one is the one in Tennessee.  He got a job there after he finished school in Kansas.  And then there’s the daughter in Oregon, and another one in Minnesota.  She wants us to move up there, but I told her I have a tough enough time with the winters here in Virginia.”
“Must be hard seeing your grandkids, if you have any,” he said.
“We’ve got five.  We’d like to see a lot more of them,” I admitted.  “The oldest just graduated from MIT.  He took a job with a company in Connecticut--something to do with extreme low temperature physics.  How about you?  You have any kids?”
“Just two, both girls,” he said.  “The younger one’s a teacher up in Alaska.  She went to school in New Jersey and then graduate school in New York City.  The older one is living in New Mexico.  She was working in Louisiana, but got driven out by Katrina.  She moved to Nevada but didn’t care for it.  She says she likes it in New Mexico, though.”
“I drove through it once when my sister and her husband were living in California,” I said.  “But they’re in Colorado now.”
“Colorado’s a beautiful place,” he said, “but it’s getting overrun.  It’s like Arizona; too popular for its own good.”
“I guess so,” I said.  “My uncle and his wife moved to Phoenix years ago because of his asthma.  But I hear the air is as bad there now as it is anywhere else.  Maybe worse.”
“I don’t know about that,” he laughed.  “My brother lives in Pittsburgh, and the air there will peel the paint right off of your car.  Imagine what is does to your lungs.”
“I’ve got a niece in Houston,” I said.  “She says the pollution there is a nightmare.”  
“One of my cousins lives in Dallas,” he told me.  “She was an Army nurse for twenty years and out.  Lived in nine different countries.  I haven’t seen her in--gosh, must be thirty years now.”
“Are you originally from Texas?” I asked.
“No,” he laughed, shaking his head.  “I was born in Mississippi, but we moved to Missouri when I was just a kid.  My father’s brother went to work in the oil fields in Oklahoma, and one of his daughters married a petroleum engineer.  That’s how they wound up in Texas.  But they’ve been all over the world.”
“So how did you end up here in Virginia?” I asked.
“Oh, after I got out of the Air Force I took a job with the government in DC.  We lived in Maryland and commuted for years.  But when I retired, we decided to move some place walkable, where traffic doesn’t dominate your life.”
“Maryland,” I said.  “Where in Maryland?”
“Bethesda,” he said.
“My wife’s brother lived in Silver Spring for years,” I said.  “He’s from Iowa, but he lost his job there when the company he was working for outsourced his job to India.  He and his wife moved to Maine a few years ago when they retired.”
“Is that right?” he said.  “Small world, isn’t it?”
“It doesn’t feel so small when you’re missing someone,” I said.  “We’re a nation of nomads.  Freedom’s just another word for somewhere else to move.”
“‘Me and Bobby McGee,’” he laughed.  “I loved that song, back when I was living in....  Darn, where was I living then?”   
© Tony Russell, 2011

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