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.