“Mom, I can’t talk now,” said David, “ I’m at the airport. I’ll call later, O.K.?”
Much later, David called.
“Mom, I’m in St Louis. Had a great interview at Washington University. I think the job is mine. You should see the place – reminds me of Harvard. But I can’t talk now; I’m at the airport catching a plane. I’ll call later when I’m home, O.K.?”
“I’m so happy for you,” I said. “I know you’ve been looking for a position like this for a long time.”
I hung up the phone and burst into tears.
SUNY Albany, where David was professor of physical anthropology had been a disappointment for him for some time. He took the position there as assistant professor twelve years ago only because he and his wife Paige had had an informal pre-nuptial agreement that they would always live on a farm where she could keep horses – she could not imagine life without them. The area around Albany had been ideal for horse farms, so when SUNY Albany offered a tenure track position to David shortly after he received his doctorate, he felt obliged to take it and hoped that somehow he could find fulfillment in a department and university that he felt was lacking in certain basic essential elements such as funding and interest of colleagues.
For everyone else, David’s tenure at SUNY Albany had been ideal. Paige had the horse farm of her dream. As for me, an eighty two year-old widow, what more could I have asked for? Their house was less than an hour from our Hudson River country house – the location of frequent family gatherings – and only a little more than three hours to New York City where I live. For twelve years, I had taken for granted that I would always be a physical presence and actively involved in the lives of my children and grandchildren. The sudden news that this would end was devastating.
Then I thought, “It was just a matter of time for this to happen. I will adjust. “
I immediately turned to my computer, searched Google for the flight time from New York City to St. Louis, and read, 2 hours 11 minutes.
“It’s do-able,” I said to myself, “not much longer than the drive from New York City to our Hudson River house”.
In my head, I was already planning trips for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Spring Vacation and birthdays.
A few weeks later, Paige was in New York City for a visit. She immediately told me that David had been offered the job, that David would accept if she consented, that they were in the process of selling their house and farm in Albany, that they were looking for a similar piece of property near St. Louis, and that she was very, very distressed about having to move. We hugged, held each other tight, and burst into tears.
“But, Mommy,” she continued, “ we will not buy a house that doesn’t have a room where you can always come to and stay, a place that is yours alone.”
I was deeply moved. For days afterwards, the most prominent thought in my head was, “I am a fortunate woman. I will not end life in a nursing home. David and Paige will take care of me.”
Yet, even as I was comforted, a dark thought was lurking in my mind. What would I do in that room of my own in rural Missouri? Was that my destiny? Could I continue to be me if everything that defined me were ripped from my life – the quiet moments I spend alone in Central Park, my participation in the intellectual and cultural life of New York City, and perhaps most importantly, my many New York friends cultivated through fifty-eight years of living in that city? These troubling thoughts became a menacing presence. Were they irrational? Like unwelcome strangers, they disrupted even my most private moments.
A few weeks later, on Mother’s Day, my son Paul, who is an emergency room doctor currently, practicing in Wisconsin, was in New York City. He and I would drive to our Hudson River house to spend the day with David, Paige and the grandchildren.
As usual, Paul and I chatted about family matters as he drove. On this occasion, we talked about David’s new appointment at Washington University; how exciting it was for David; how upsetting it was for Paige; how wonderful it was for me that they would find a place with a room where I can always go and stay; how grateful I was that I would not end life in a nursing home; and how much I would miss New York City.
I was continuing on in this way when quite unexpectedly Paul turned to me and said, matter of factly, “Mom! You don’t have to go anywhere! We’ll come home. I can always work in New York City.”
These words rang like church bells in my head.
Suddenly, like boulders crashing down a cliff and out to sea, all my anxieties of old age were swept away.
We arrived at our country house. From the edge of the river where he and the grandchildren were skipping stones, David saw us coming and called up in his big cheerful voice, “Mom, Happy Mother’s Day!”