Funny, Isn’t It

By: Jeanne Charters

 

So far, 2012 has been jammed with travel, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to slow down any time soon. There was, of course, the long drive back and forth to Colorado when my daughter had surgery. That took up most of April. (She’s doing great, by the way, and is mid-way through chemotherapy. Please keep those prayers coming.)

 

Then, in late May, we flew to California for our granddaughter Lily Belle’s June graduation from high school. Lily, the consummate California girl, was lucky enough to attend Pacifica Collegiate High School in Santa Cruz, recently named by Newsweek as the sixth best high school in the nation. Soon, she will be off to U.C. San Francisco for college.

 

Her commencement was w-a-a-y different than others Matt and I have attended. For one thing, there were 72 graduating seniors—as opposed to the 500-700 students we’ve watched graduate in Raleigh and Saratoga, New York. That last one was held at the Saratoga Performance Center (SPAC). After many speeches, we watched as the grads lined up to cross the vast stage to pick up their diplomas. Matt timed it at 30+ seconds for each person to cross. Thus, at 700 crossings, this could take between three and four hours. I gave up on trying to take pictures at that point.

 

Yes, the California graduation was different (as are most things in California). For one thing, it was outdoors and pretty casual. The sky was a brilliant blue—a perfect day. But Sunny!! Although we wore straw hats and 50+ sun screen, it wasn’t long until I was looking for shade. I found it, but at the loss of hearing some of the speeches by teachers and students.

 

I did come out into the glare long enough to hear one young professor/PhD speak. What he said, I believe, warrants our consideration.

 

He said, “The one thing to always question is certainty. As you stand here today, you are absolutely certain about many things. I guarantee you that in five years that certainty will have changed.”

 

That stopped me in my tracks. Think about it. What were you absolutely certain about at 17? I remember clearly that I was certain I would live in Springfield, Ohio, where I had been born, that I would attend some college, get married young, and eventually, have children. I figured I’d get a job as a secretary somewhere until my first baby was born and then “retire” to be a wife/housewife/mother for the rest of my life.

 

My husband, you see, was “certain” to be operating a successful business that could support me and all our progeny in the manner to which I wished to become accustomed.

 

I would love him desperately (like in the Rock Hudson—Doris Day movies) and any arguments we might have would be settled with a kiss before bedtime.

 

Somewhere in my figuring was a membership in the Junior Service League. I had no idea what “the league” was or did, but the Society page of the local newspaper was always plastered with pictures of their members looking rich and glam. The Junior Service League, however, was never a “certainty.” Just a dream (that thankfully, did not come true).

 

Some of my “certainties” did happen. I went to college (for a while), got a job, and married at age 20. The “eventually” have a child turned into exactly nine months and ten days after the wedding when Corinne Elaine Charters made her way into this world. Within six years, she would be joined by Stacia Jeanne, Julia Ann and Caroline Marie Charters.

 

But the “certainty” of the family business that Ed was “certain” to own some day dissolved when Charters-Patterson Menswear bellied up. Hmmm, maybe things were not as “certain” as I had assumed they would be—maybe my life might zig zag into uncharted territories never dreamed of before. Scary.

 

With two babies in arms and one more in utero, we moved to Chicago.

 

We lived in a walk-up flat in a clannish Polish neighborhood. The people took one look at our Irish-American faces and turned their backs. I was so lonely. All my family and friends were back in Springfield, and I was certain that life as I loved it was over.

 

Before I could blink, there were six of us packed into that 700-square foot. apartment. The lady downstairs would hit the ceiling with a broom handle each time one of the kids ran across the floor. Temper tantrums were cause for threatened eviction.

 

Keeping four baby girls under six years old from making noise nearly turned my hair gray—and I was only 26!

 

Finally, we were able to squeeze out the down payment for a tiny house in the burbs. I kissed the walls the day we moved in.

 

One thing still seemed certain. I would never get a divorce! No one in my family had ever done that, and I would certainly not be the first. But then again, no one in my family had ever gone through the women’s movement or the sexual revolution either.

 

Women’s consciousness groups started to form. Everyone questioned things that had always seemed certain in the past. Things like getting married at 20—like women staying home while men went off to the cities on trains and traveled to exotic places on planes—things like what in the hell is life about anyway?

 

I sometimes wonder what my life would be today had I stayed in Springfield, Ohio—remained with my first husband—never started a career—lived the very certain life I thought I was destined to live.

 

Maybe my daughters would live closer to me. But would they be the strong, successful women they are today?

 

Perhaps I’d be a traditional grandmother. That would be nice—I think. But I’m not certain.

 

Maybe those grandkids like me the way I am. Maybe they’re certain I’m exactly the grandma they need me to be. I hope so. But I’m just not certain about that—or, in truth about much of anything any more. Funny, isn’t it?

 

Again, what were you certain about when you graduated from high school? Think about it. And, by all means, let me know if you figure out what you want to be when you grow up. I’m still working on that one.

 

Jeanne Charters, a transplant from New York, is a writer living in Asheville with her husband and mutt, Sparky. Her collection of columns, “Funny, isn’t it?” is available at Malaprops, Mountain Made in the Grove Arcade, or at jeannecharters.com.  She has written three novels and has acquired an agent for her young adult novel, “Shanty Gold.” Jeanne is working on edits, per that agent, and hopes to have a publisher this year, but she isn’t certain that will happen. She can be reached at jcharters@bellsouth.net.

 

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