Our mother raised my sister and me to strive to be independent, to reach as far and wide as our wings will carry us. As Navy brats, our upbringing, technically speaking, is scattered among a half dozen ports, the last few within a couple miles of the home we left once our respective times came to fly the coop. Technicalities aside, I like to say that our mother still resides in the house where we “grew up.” This is the place life landed her after years spent as a Navy wife and later as a single mother.
Now decades in, she claims as her home this smallish town in the southeast corner of Connecticut. Touted as the Submarine Capital of the World, the town is anchored by the Electric Boat Division of General Dynamics. Pfizer pharmaceuticals is the other major local employer. Boasting stunning coastline views, a nationally ranked public school system, a world class network of healthcare providers, it is not entirely a toy town. That said, by no stretch of the imagination is it a transportation hub.
My sister and her family have settled in Orange County, CA. My family and I make our home base in Travis County, TX. Gary Clark Jr. is wailing away inside my headphones as we speak. Big Sis and I have been back and forth home over the past several months helping our mother through her most recent bout with the dreaded C-word. C-word sucks. Hartford or Providence affords the closest reach by air. You need to go through Boston or New York if you’re hoping for a direct flight. Getting here of late has become a plane to train to Uber or Lyft affair, as our mother’s chauffeuring abilities have diminished a good little bit since her treatments began.
Born nineteen months apart, my sister and I enjoy five months a year as sandwich siblings, a stretch of time where we appear just a year different in age. Our parents divorced when she was eleven. I was ten. But that is not where this chapter of our story begins. Life ran our father down some six, seven years ago. Again, C-word sucks. He in all likelihood would no longer be here by our mother’s side even had the two elected to stay together all those years ago. That is when my sister and I first got wings, each of us armed with that proverbial key on a string or shoelace or hair ribbon hanging around each of our necks. I hated the hair ribbons — a cotton puff thick rope braid dispensed in shockingly bright colors for a boy to wear should someone catch sight of the knotted end peeking out from beneath the collar of his T-shirt. After an afternoon tearing it up on the playground, that cotton rope itched to no end, puffs of stray fibers sticking to little pools of accumulated sweat.
A former latchkey kid, himself, our father eventually found a new port of calling, charted a new dot on the map to call home. This permitted my sister and I to stay put, to complete K through 12 within the same school district as where we started out. Those years lent needed stability, served to establish lifelong ties. The need to spread our wings, fueled by our mother’s desire that we see the world beyond the bounds of our toy town, would keep a few more years.
I have since studied and worked and lived up and down the East Coast. My sister has taken even bigger leaps. By the time I graduated high school, she was stationed at an Air Force Base in Japan. She settled in California once she returned stateside. Now a retired Chief, she completed her tour of active duty followed by several years in the reserves on the West Coast. Suffice it to say, that neither of us is an easy drive home, not a sensible one anyway. I suppose it is to be expected that a couple of latchkey kids would turn out to be latchkey adults. On the one hand, time spent far flung has left us a bit more squirrely, a bit harder to cozy up to, to pin down than either of us might otherwise have been. At the same time, having been tasked with experiencing the world head-on has equipped us with the tools needed to make our way anyplace you might think to send us.
Our kids are no different. My mother likes to say that my niece was born with a luggage handle affixed between her shoulder blades. She toddled farther in the world than many adults will venture to see their entire lifetimes. Both my girls have chosen universities about as far as far gets from home. Like the rest of their generation, each of them considers herself at home anywhere in reach of strong Wi-Fi and a fast charging station. And just like our mother did for my sister and me, we encourage them to fly as far as their wings will carry. We’ll be sure to maintain a home for them to return to whenever the need should strike. After all, no amount of adventure in the world can take the place of home.
This morning, I dropped my sister at the train station on her way to Logan Airport. Having spent the better part of the past three months here, she’s taking a brief respite to check on her “home”, to get some face time at work. I’ll follow suit later this week and head back to Austin, an extended latchkey strapped securely around my neck.
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