Not only did I read letters they had written to each other and various church publications my grandfather had written for, but I also interviewed their children--my father, my aunt, and my uncles. When I posed a question to one of my uncles, he gave an interesting answer. The question was: when did you leave home? His answer was--Leave home? I didn't leave home, home left me.
Leaving home has been a repeating occurrence in my life. And those times--having to say goodbye--are what I think were the events that moved me from childhood to adulthood. I can't really say--as my uncle did--that home left me. But my first leaving home was something precipitated by choices my parents made.
(Click to enlarge...I am the one in the yellow dress. Apparently I didn't get the message to wear a blue dress.)
When I was 5 (turning 6 in a month), I first went to boarding school. You see, my parents were also missionaries in southern Africa. One of the dilemmas that my parents had (as did many people who were "aliens" in a country and culture not their own) was what to do about educating their children. For the first two years, my mother taught me, using correspondence material. But, soon it became clear that as the only missionary child on the mission station, I needed a different environment. I only recently learned that part of the impetus for my early departure for boarding school was the fact that I began to be "too bossy" around the African students at the mission school.
So, my parents took me to a boarding school. That was the first of several such schools. Each time, I was away from home with holiday stretches in between terms. Then, when I was 15 we returned to the U.S. However, my parents did not stay here. After a year's furlough (kind of a working vacation) they returned to southern Africa.
My parents asked me if I wanted to stay in the U.S. I was in 10th grade, and college would be the next stop on my educational pathway, which would mean either I stayed in the U.S., or returned. I chose to stay.
That was, as I now reflect, the moment when I crossed over from childhood to adulthood. Oh, there were other gradual maturations along the way. But once my parents were on another continent, I had many decisions to make on my own. My uncle* and aunt had accepted guardianship for me, but I did much on my own. For example, I opened a bank account...which was at a bank in a town 5 miles away from where I lived. No such thing as on-line banking.
Even though I turned 16 about the time my parents returned to southern Africa, I did NOT learn how to drive. My uncle was not too keen on a teenage "daughter" learning to drive. Oh, I forgot to mention that my uncle and aunt had no children of their own, so suddenly having a teenager on their hands was a real shock.
For two years, I lived with my uncle and aunt where my uncle was college president. Then I went to college at that place. One year after I began college, my uncle accepted another position, and moved half the country away. I stayed put, of course, being in college. So my self-reliance increased.
When the college was closed for holidays, I had to find a place to be. Very kind dear friends at times invited me home with them. Or I was in college choir, and we toured during spring breaks. Summers were another challenge. For 3 summers, I traveled to near Fort Erie, Ontario to work in wealthy folks' summer homes along Lake Erie. How did I get to Canada and back? From central Pennsylvania? I have no idea, except somehow I managed to arrange rides.
So, did I leave home? Or did home leave me? Whichever (or both) I certainly had to grow up. Not long before her death, my mother expressed to me her regret that she and my dad had agreed to allow me to stay in the U.S. I thought for just a few moments, and then said to my mother--don't. Don't regret a decision you thought you had to make. I like who I am now, and obviously part of what made me who I am is a consequence of the life I have lived. So don't regret your decision.
*Not the same uncle as in the story in the first paragraph.