Before I go, I have something to say

The Unbreakable Cord 

I got a smarter-than-me phone for my birthday, late last year. My husband figured it was time one of us took the plunge, so there I was, trying to make sense of the thing one cold December night. I had to learn ASAP, because my daughter and I were talking on the phone a lot more than usual. Since the plan I’d signed up for gave me a bajillion minutes a month, I figured I’d better leave the landline for other uses.

Why were Allison and I talking on the phone so much in late December, not to mention early January? Because she found a Great New Job and had to move to my hometown in order to get to work on time each day. She is one of three new reference librarians at the Davenport Public Library, which is, ahem, quite a bit larger (three branches! one right by her new apartment!) than the one here in Dubuque. So far, it’s all good.

Having a child – a grown child, that is – move away is nothing new. They do it all the time, as they pursue a career or decide to marry or just want a new view of the world. I did it when I was twenty-four, freshly wed to a guy I’d met in my hometown who had lit out for the hills, or rather, the Rocky Mountains, shortly after graduation.

Boy, did I miss . . . everything. Don’t get me wrong. I loved (still do) the mountains, but I missed my family, my friends, and the green, green grass of Iowa. I’ll never forget my dad asking, “Is there a place where all you can see are rows and rows of corn growing?” I told him, “Of course,” but not that we didn’t live near that place. No, we had winter wheat growing on our quarter acre, and sand filling the windowsills when the Chinook winds blew.

Just to make things more guilt-inducing, I gave birth to my parents’ only two grandchildren in far-off Colorado. Sure, they drove west and we drove east for visits, and my mom and I set a world record for number of pages typed and sealed into envelopes to send by what was not yet referred to as poky “snail mail.” But it wasn’t the same as being nearby.

So when I put an end to that marriage, I narrowed my job search to places as close to the Quad Cities as I could get. We were all relieved when I landed one in Dubuque, a place, to quote John Denver, I’d never been before. Even with the awful two-lane highway between us and them, it was infinitely closer than we’d been for eight long years.

I’m happy Allison has found a good job, in a library where I spent one summer, when that first marriage was falling apart, working as a reference librarian myself. I loved that job. I had never before worked at a place where every single staff member was so supportive of the others. I can only hope that esprit de corps has prevailed, and she’ll be as happy there as I was.

Still, she’s not exactly next door. She wasn’t next door when she was living on her own in Dubuque, either, but way out west in what we laughingly called the suburbs. It was close enough, though, for her to pick up something at “her” Hy-Vee that “our” Hy-Vee was lacking, or to take care of our house and cat when we went away on vacation. (By “we” I mean, of course, my present husband – a vast improvement on the first – and I.)

I have to tell you, you’ve never seen a house-sitter like my daughter. The house was always in better order when we returned than when we left, the mail and papers sorted, my computer updated, the litter box clean. And the cat, well, he may be the world’s most antisocial feline, but if we were away longer than a few days, Leo’s resolve would start to weaken, allowing Allison to brush him, a ritual he usually tolerated only with me.

This change in her address has felt enormous at times, and bittersweet for us both. Sure, my son moved out almost before he finished high school, and now he’s married and living in Omaha, but we talk, we visit, and I’ve sort of gotten used to it.

So the phone has been getting a workout. One night, I was lying on the couch, playing around with my apps, when I put my finger on Maps. Darned if it didn’t know exactly where I was. Amused, I moved my finger around to inspect the neighborhood. There’s Loras! There’s Mercy! And then I veered a little further, and there was Highway 61. Trance-like,I kept swiping my finger, going a little further south with each swipe. Before I knew it, I was in Maquoketa, then Dewitt, and then, miraculously, in Davenport.

I typed her new address into the search box, and it brought up a picture. A picture of her unit, her very own west-facing deck. It was startling. It was as if, curled under the blanket on my own sofa, I had walked to Davenport, right up to my daughter’s door.

So now it doesn’t feel so far. And now that Highway 61 is four-lane, it takes under an hour to drive there. That highway, which we nearly wore out visiting my parents and sister, has become a sort of umbilical cord. Not the kind you cut to give your child life, but a kind of tether you use to remain close, even when you’re miles away.


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