We sat by the gate, my oldest daughter and I, waiting for the plane that would return her to Texas. This was not the return trip I had envisioned two years earlier, when at my urging she had gone to Austin to get a master’s degree in music. I had expected that she would return to Northern California. Now after a brief post-graduation visit home, she was returning to Austin, to stay.
What awaited her there? She just had said, “I have no money. I have no job. I have no place to live.” She ended that melancholy list with, “I have no car.” Compared with the rest, I found the last entry almost funny. “Then why go back to Austin?” I asked her. “Because I have to find out what my life will be,” she replied.
Parents are ever saying goodbye to children leaving to find out what their lives will be. My own family moved, through five successive generations, from the Atlantic shore to the Pacific. My parents made the final jump, leaving their families in Kansas and moving to Oregon. I left them in Oregon and moved to California. Now our oldest daughter was leaving, too. Before long, her brother would be gone to Seattle, her sister to San Diego.
We are a nation of wanderers, the descendants of wanderers who crossed oceans or walked across some long lost land bridge to arrive in a new land. Is it some hereditary drive that makes us move on? Probably most of the wanderers among us would say that we leave because there is a better job elsewhere. I moved to California because I believed that is where the jobs were. Still, there is more to it than the job. When I am asked why I left Oregon, I have a stock reply: I like to see the sun more often than six weeks a year. I like not owning heavy coats. I like it that when the rain comes it behaves like a good house guest and leaves after a pleasant visit.
But there is more to it than the weather. When I got out of the Army in 1964 it was in my mind to leave home, to get away, to find out what my life would be in some other place. Our three children have done the same.
Some, of course, do find what their lives will be without leaving the cites where they grew up. Our neighbors of more than 25 years raised three daughters, close in age to our own children, and all of them remained in Sacramento. On summer afternoons, I feel a touch of envy as the sounds of grandchildren splashing in the pool drift over the fence.
But what about those of us who feel compelled to go? Is it a search for freedom, freedom from the problems that touch all families, freedom from family intervention, freedom from the burdens parents or siblings might place on us? If that is the reason, it will not work. The evening phone call will find us, sooner or later, regardless of where we are.
So why do we leave? I have considered this question many times. I thought about it when I asked my dad one summer if he would consider moving to Sacramento, leaving the house he had lived in for 50 years. His response made me swallow. “Will you let me live here one more year?” he asked. “I feel closer to her here.” He was referring to my mother, who had died in their home. This was not a response I had expected, because I was not in the habit of telling him what he could or could not do. One year passed, then two. I never did tell him it was time to move in with us, and he stayed in his house to the end.
So I do not have an answer to why we leave our families in search of what our lives will be. What I do know is that although families may be far apart it is their obligation to stay in the presence of each other. A picture will not connect you with a new grandson. But you will connect if you carry him around the living room soothing his newborn cries. You cannot, by telephone, advise a 10-year-old granddaughter about how to deal with a classmate who has said a hurtful thing. She will never tell you this on the telephone. But she will tell you while you are sitting together on the porch swing. So if they cannot come to you, you must go to them.
It was 1987 when I sat with my oldest daughter waiting for the plane that would take her back to Texas. So far, in order of discovery, she has found that her life will be cellist in the Austin Symphony Orchestra, wife, mom and music contractor. Now my wife and I are sitting at the gate, waiting for the plane that will take us to Austin. Or does this one go to San Diego? Or to Seattle? We live far apart, but we will try to stay close.
Ronald Blubaugh recently retired after almost 28 years as an attorney and administrative law judge for the State of California.