Roots and Wings

 

It is a commonplace saying that your children need both roots and wings—roots to make them feel safe and give them a “starter” identity, wings to fly to new places and ways of being in the world. This past weekend I went to my 60th high school reunion in Torrington, Connecticut.  It was my first reunion ever.  In 1959, I spread my wings and fled Torrington into the richer soil of academia, first in Storrs at UConn, then in South Carolina as a Clemson professor.

Torrington is an old town full of dead factories and new housing developments.  My family on both sides has lived there for many generations.  I grew up in the church of my maternal ancestors, and I was married there. Aunts, uncles and cousins dotted the landscape. At the Congregational church we sang from the Pilgrim Hymnal and attended Pilgrim Fellowship in high school. We knew who we were, New England Yankees, frugal, often unimaginative, cautious.

It was a surprisingly pleasant reunion, warm welcome, old familiar faces, catching up on everyone’s past.  I was assured that I was so smart and they knew I would do great things—me, Alan, and Carol, the three nerds at the top of the class.  Later I visited UConn, the place where my wings first landed me,  with a college roommate.  Unlike Torrington, UConn had changed.  We sought out the few familiar landmarks-the skating pond, the Congregational church.  Our old dorm still bore the same name but had been updated, as did ”The Jungle”, a group of men’s dorms where my future husband was living in 1959.

My mother gave me roots, but she didn’t think wings were such a good idea. I could go to the local branch of UConn, she said.  No, I said, I’m going to the main campus.  You can be a teacher, a nurse, or a secretary, she said.  I think I’ll be an engineer, I replied. (That was shortly after Sputnik.)  But it was being rooted in time and space among ancestors and hills, relatives and neighbors, that enabled me to sprout wings. They eventually flew me to marriage and an adult life in faraway South Carolina.

There I repotted myself and put down new roots, which in turn provided soil for my three daughters to have a home town, high school friends (they regularly attend reunions), second cousins and a grandmother who moved her ten years after I did.  Two of them still enjoy visiting their home town, while the oldest lives here. One daughter and two sons-in-law are Clemson grads. My oldest daughter moved away, saying she was too liberal to live in the South, but after adventures in Charlotte and Dallas she would up back in Clemson  working for Clemson as a graphic designer. Another daughter lives a few hours away in Aiken SC, while the third developed big wings that took her to many places before settling in New Jersey.

There are no Congregational churches in the area, so I became a Unitarian Universalist, which shares a history and a liberal approach to religion with my ancestral faith. I learned how to respectfully hold onto and affirm my liberal New England worldview while treating those of others with respect. I let my daughters choose their colleges (within some financial limits) and their majors—an economist and a physicist looking on in wonder as the daughters spread their wings as an artist, a musician, and a librarian.

I am grateful for my roots and my wings, and I am pleased that my daughters return to their roots while having spread their wings.  I wish the same for every child.

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