I’ve been thinking about my mother today as I write about not knowing then, all those years ago, that I was looking for a mother when I met Jan in December 1979 after a Baltimore concert she’d sung with Leslie Guinn.

I was twelve, barely out of seventh grade, when my dad moved out. We stayed together, my younger sister, my mother and I, as I finished school, moving away my senior year from our western Maryland small town and closer to all my music and theater lessons near Baltimore. My first year at Eastman, my mother experienced a kind of emotional breakdown and sent my sister to Memphis to live with my father who had moved there several years before. When I was a sophomore at Eastman, my mother moved to New York City, the Upper East Side. From there, my mother traveled to Korea for an adventure.  In Seoul, she taught English in the Pagoda schools and researched Korean business methods. When I read about those two years in her journals after her death,  I learned she’d fallen in love with a Korean businessman. A mother I’d never known.

After returning from Korea, my parents reconciled. They hadn’t divorced and spent the rest of their lives together in a small cabin on a man-made lake 40 miles outside Oxford, Mississippi. Soon after returning to the states, my mother began taking her boat-sized, used green Cadillac out on long road trips.  Filled it with boxes and baskets of books and food and supplies, allowed her bully-of-a-mutt dog Brittany the passenger seat, and took to the highways: from Memphis to Virginia, to Maryland and Pennsylvania, into New England where she set up her Korean imported wares and homemade trinkets at flea markets all along these routes. Fleaing she learned it was called. Sat daily surrounded by other habitual flea-ers and took notes, studied her companions, [notes I read in other journals after her death]. At some point, she jumped into the study of Genealogy just as her brother Tom had done, and she traveled from Memphis all the way to Brunswick, Nova Scotia and the small Maine towns just below the border where her mother’s family members were buried. Visited the town where her grandfather owned and ran the general store. Drove and camped with Brittany, all the while writing notes. Discovered Sarah, a Tory, a revolutionary, whose own sons took up with the Green Mountain Boys, Ethan Allen, and who was eventually hanged in her Rhode Island town, a place she’d settled finally when her boys were jailed. Mom found all this and started to write stories about Sarah, another woman who journeyed.

Brian asked me during our brief time in Raleigh—before our sudden and unplanned separation–would I give him my word that I would not choose to go gallivanting halfway around the world to feed babies or build houses in Africa?  I was bemused. Surprised. He saw me in one iteration I had not imagined for myself.  Maybe he looked and saw my mother.  He needed reassurance.  That we would spend the next chapter, the next iteration of us as a married couple, together, planning and dreaming and forging, together. I assured him I wasn’t going anywhere.

But now I am.

Like my mother, who took off more than once during her separation, I am taking to the road. With all my research, books, music. All my questions. I am asking this trip to send me information and eventually, clarity. I am doing Wild, as Lorelai says, to which I want to retort, No! This is my trip, my own unique self-driven trip! But, come on, a woman on the road is as old as the dirt beneath her. Taking off. To outrun oppression, poverty. To have a baby. To secure safety. To grow up. To find. To listen. To fling it all into the wind. To arrive.



About dhaines54

Dawn Denham (formerly Haines) lives in the hill country of North Central Mississippi where she's writing a book about her mentor at the Eastman School of Music mezzo-soprano Jan DeGaetani and teaching writing at Oxford High School. Her work has been published in Poets and Writers magazine, Brevity, Zone 3, Literary Mama, and WILLA. Her book with authors Jacqueline Raphael and Susan Newcomer Writing Together: Transforming Your Writing in a Writing Group was the first book of its kind published in the US. Her essay Aleatorik about her mother’s death won the 2012 Solstice magazine Creative Nonfiction prize chosen by Jerald Walker and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She received an MFA in Nonfiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts, an MA in Rhetoric and Composition from the University of Arizona, and a BM in Voice from Eastman School of Music.
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2 Responses to Mother

  1. John Kramar says:

    Godspeed to you, Dear One — may your travels be entirely fulfilling!


  2. dhaines54 says:

    It was so so good to connect with you yesterday, John. I just keep seeing your warm and lovely smile this morning! (You may have “Jan hair” but there is nothing in your face that speaks age, my dear!) And stay posted. I plan on writing about our visit for today’s post! xoxoxoxoxo


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