Bee's picture
Tue, 01/11/2011 - 21:00 -- Bee

I said a regretful goodbye to my mother, promising to come back soon, promising to arrange another European trip for her. What sort of daughter leaves home and stays away? Difficult and disobedient just about sums it up, though the older I get the more I have in common with the women who founded the family.

We don't even know our original surname, let alone why the great-grandparents fled from the old country. There are no documents, no letters, just a few photographs - and I look like them. I am like some of them, specifically those who left after 1917: disorderly, impetuous, itinerant, political, profligate, sneaky.

Driving toward San Diego I was thinking about the complexities of leaving your country of birth; nowadays it is at least possible to call, write, visit. When my people moved the choice was more disruptive, brutal, final.

I live between two places, never quite part of either, feeling the distance as pain and displacement, but my great-grandma would have called that a luxury. When she left Europe she left everything, everyone. And the map kept changing behind her as she continued moving for another eight decades without ever settling down. Though I doubt she cared all that much - I suspect her runaway heart was never fixed on any goal, person, or place.

We deviate from each other in a few critical ways; for instance, I was successful in acquiring citizenship in my new homeland. I divorce the people I break up with. And, of course, I have brought my children along with me, and would never leave them behind, not under any circumstances, no matter how extreme. I don't understand how any parent, male or female, could function otherwise, though I come from a clan known to discard babies.

But that is a mystery for another day, because as the car sped down the freeway I realised we were near San Juan Capistrano and asked Byron to stop.

Bushwhacking my way through a list leftover from the cancer years, this is Childhood Ambition Number Five: I wanted to see the swallows.

In the intervening time I've studied history, moved country, toured the Vatican, visited the Alhambra, paid tribute to the Infant of Prague. I know just a little bit too much about ecclesiastical controversies, imperial ambitions, and the factual destruction of native communities.

It is very difficult, at age forty, to feel simple delight while contemplating the fountains in the courtyards of Father Serra's missions.

But of course the place is beautiful, the conservation impressive, and as always, it was good to say hello to Peregrine.

Though I was too late to see the swallows.