The Westward Cycle

“Go west, young man” has been the advice of every Easterner since Horace Greeley, famed New York Tribune editor who coined the phrase to express his vision of the eternal hope of the frontier, the open country, the direction in which expansion and new prosperity could best be found.  Young men have ever since followed his advice, and relatively few of them have gone “back East,” as westerners call the site of the original thirteen colonies.  When do you go west?  When life has stagnated in the east, when there are few clues suggesting it could get better, when there seems to be hope in the golden sunsets of the Pacific more than the foggy sunrises of the Atlantic.

And so it was that we found ourselves packing moving boxes in Savannah, GA, last Saturday, a day we had planned originally as the first of a brief vacation visit with son Jon, daughter-in-law Jen, and the grandkids: Emilee (14), Gracie (8), and Jackson (3½).  On rather short notice they had run up against it in east Georgia, with jobs that underperformed the promises, public schools so bad that the only option was the expense of private schools, summer weather that makes a Turkish Bath seem dry and slightly chilly by comparison, and flora and fauna that include an inordinate number of poisonous, oversize, dangerous, or just plain gross species over a long breeding season.

They had set their sights irrevocably on the San Diego area, Jen’s childhood home and present location of parents and friends.  Jen, at least, was cycling back to her roots.  The 26′ Penske truck (diesel, with only 5600 miles on it) was in the drive (after Budget failed miserably to make good on its promises); it would be one-way, but clearly would cycle back to Savannah with the next cross-country, one-way rental.   The house was in a shambles, a jumble of furniture and belongings that had been in a cycle of movement from VA to Chicago to several Savannah sites.  Yet everybody was in a pretty good mood.  Emilee was hanging out with her best friend; she would be changing schools, cycling into a new life phase, but so would everybody her age in San Diego.  The move, in fact, was being rushed to make sure the kids got in on the start of the new school year, another cycle: registration, orientations, tryouts, first classes.

Another unexpected cycle was the presence of my ex-wife and her husband.  They’d arranged to make a last-minute support trip, and Ken did most of the heavy lifting in helping Jon load the van.  We all enjoyed the time with the kids, got along well enough together, and enjoyed a hilarious game of Trivial Pursuit on Saturday night.  Jane and I held up the tradition we’d established with Anne and Henry on the Norwegian Cruise Line, as Trivial Pursuit Champs.  But the fun was with the game, the silliness, the relaxation after a long day and a somewhat anxious time.

Just as the first wagons west had traveled for day across trackless prairie, so our beloved kids and grandkids were embarking on a trip to the Great Unknown.  Not trackless, of course, but with “friends” regaling them with stories of bugs the size of Blue Jays, and rental trucks that failed en route, they were given reasons to fear.  Who wouldn’t worry a bit?  But they made it, straight across the deep south, through Selma, Dallas, El Paso, and Tucson to San Diego.  They had real bravery, a grasp of common sense and resolve, optimism, and close family bonds that are the envy of us.

When they arrived in California, of course, they had to start coming down to earth.  the Golden State may be a dream that could come true, but life is what it is.  Jen, who is a great writer with a feel for the ironies of life, had this to say about the third day in her old stomping grounds:

Driving around my hometown today in my mom’s car with the sunroof open, wind in my hair and Van Halen on the CD player, feeling like a teen again….and then the sippy cup came flying and hit me on the head from the back seat and it was back to reality.

I couldn’t improve on that.

Other cycles of life impinged on the move.  The family had adopted two cats several weeks before the move.  The young calico had a litter only two or three days before we arrived.  Gracie, the eight-year-old, showed me the mother and her kittens.  Eyes still not open, the youngsters huddled together for security and warmth.  Gracie and I talked about the plan to leave them with friends for a week, until Jon returned to GA briefly to tie up the loose ends.  Then they would be taken to the shelter or sold.  Gracie opined with smiling confidence that these were such sweet, innocent (her word!), loving kittens that people would gladly pay $200 each for them.  I felt like hugging her and affirming her judgment.   For, dear Gracie, if people were as they should be you could easily get $200 apiece for your kittens, and the Pentagon would have to hold a yard sale to unload those dreary matte black white elephants they call B-2 bombers.

Our generation’s cycle is almost over, Gracie.  I pray that your generation’s cycle can make the love of kittens and the hatred of armaments the center of human values.  We, you, all of us need that, need that badly.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010.

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