Yesterday morning my sister, Judy, and her youngest son and his wife left for Oklahoma from California in a sort of reverse migration of events in American history. Many of the reasons were the same: untenable living conditions and keeping (most of) the family together. Compared to the bloated and collapsing California economy, Oklahoma has reasonable housing prices and more available work. And of course there’s my sister’s oldest son, wife, and two year old child already there; the growing edge of a thinned out family tree. A small part of a new American history, a large part of a new family story.
Well, new and old actually. My father emigrated from Denmark in the wake of the crumbling European aristocracy in the 1920’s, my Iowa-farm-girl mother fled alcoholism and domestic violence for the big city of Chicago. Eventually they left Illinois for work and a healthier climate and worked their way to California in their two-toned 1951 Chevy, my sister and I in the back seat munching cookies. Route 66.
The last days of preparing to leave were, of course, chaotic. It’s impossible to pull up roots without loosening the very soil around you. And there are no close passive observers in family moves, my roots were being yanked even though I wasn’t moving. We drew closer and more honest about our feelings. And more honest about what life looks like through the cracks of altered ordinariness. Every interaction became a reminder that it was one of the last before the big change. If excited, we reveled in the betweeness; if tired, we retreated to observations of how “it could be worse”. Family stories of births and deaths circulated amongst the constant revision of plans.
The big day came. Nancy’s and my house became the staging ground for the departure and I cooked a big breakfast. At times giddy, at times stuck in a middle distance gaze, we were reminded that much of what is good in life is unbelievable.
After they left I started cleaning the house but it was as if I had one foot nailed to the floor. I went from task to task without completing anything. Objects defied me and hid themselves from my use or just broke at my approach. When the computer froze and wouldn’t allow me to send an email to the nephew in Oklahoma, I bolted in frustration and went out on the front porch for some fresh air. I found there a hummingbird trapping itself against the glass ceiling of a skylight, frantically beating itself against the unseen. Her situation spoke to me directly.
I slowed down the internal rush of anxiety, exhaustion, and excitement and fetched the ladder. Step by small step, I put the ladder in place and carefully climbed to the hummingbird, gently caught it, and stepped down the ladder. Each step was an act complete in itself, each feeling of completeness releasing an individual emotion. This step: sadness; this step: joy; this step: fear; this step: release. As I cleaned off the cobwebs on her wings, the hummingbird cleaned off mine. We were both spent. Opening my hand, she rested briefly and flew off.