There's been a litany here for years. It goes like this. Our daughter Christina might ask: "When can I have my own bedroom?" The answer would always be: "When Daddy's a professor." Another daughter, Emily, might remark: "Will we ever stop moving and stay in one place?" To which we'd reply, "Maybe, when Daddy's a professor."
Maria's favorite question was, "When will we find a house that's really ours and not rented?" Even little Madeleine, who was only 1 when we left the security of our life on the family farm, has come to have her own wishes reverberate repeatedly throughout the years. Now, at 10, she is simply wondering when she will get the dog of her dreams, a dachshund.
Having left my own country, Cuba, at age 5, I understand my daughters' wish for permanence. The house is just a symbol for the need to feel settled. I understand the impatience with not belonging to a place and setting down deep roots that establish a sense of continuity.
When I was 12 we moved to another house just a few blocks away. I used to return to the old house, still uninhabited, to sit upon my familiar porch. I was not able to give up that sense of security even though the new house was bigger and had a pool. We moved again a few years later to the Dominican Republic.
It was in that unfamiliar, yet exotic place that I learned to enjoy the excitement of new places, the thrill of the unknown. Now with four daughters of my own, I've had to learn new lessons of stability in the midst of change.
Our daughters have been very patient, for the most part, during this extended pilgrimage, which began 10 years ago. We left our Kentucky farm and set out for what I call "the perpetual pursuit of the PhD." My husband and I did not intend for this career transition to last so long, nor would we have believed we could have persevered. From plowing fields to plowing through endless tomes on political science, my husband has come to learn a new kind of persistence.
Coaxing words onto a dissertation page is no easier than growing soybeans in a rain-starved field.
If there is one thing about farm life that assures a person, it is the comfort of rituals. The seasons bring their responsibilities and their rewards. Our harvests of the fruits and vegetables meant strawberry cheesecake, peach cobbler, and blackberry preserves. The sweet corn, tomatoes, and green beans meant days of husking, chopping, and snapping. Customers drove up to our fruit stand from spring through pumpkin harvest.
Sheep-shearing season meant the washing of wool for the year's spinning. Pigs escaped into a neighbor's flower beds and cattle trampled fences. A hay crop might get rained on. Challenges forced us to find solutions or just the courage to persevere.
Inevitably our farm life provided such delights as fresh- picked bouquets to brighten our rooms, endless newborn animals, and a kind of homey chaos of barn boots and bread dough, diapers and the sound of the tractor's motor in the field. Life was a daily pageant of the ordinary and unexpected.
I like to think that those 10 years on the farm gave our family the foundation to withstand 10 years on the move in rental homes in both city and suburb. When a master's degree in international relations at the University of Kentucky did not procure a job for my husband, we moved to Maryland, leaving grandparents, friends, and farm life even farther behind. My husband began his doctoral studies.
In spite of all these changes in geography and labor, we learned that we were still the same farm family. We still had our two farm dogs, Alice and Molly, who adapted heroically to the fenced-in yard and daily walk with leash. We acquired bunnies who lived in metal cages on our deck. Our backyard storage shed became a chicken coop when a drive past a farm-supply store advertised baby chicks and I couldn't resist.
Our windowsills were adorned with egg cartons sprouting seedlings in early spring, and we never missed the local farm stands and pick-your-own fields. I spun old wool and saw bits of hay and chaff fall from it, reminding me of spring meadows. The farm, we found, was still very much a part of who we were. But even more important, we knew how to find excitement in exploring the unknown, whether it was hunting for shark-tooth fossils on the banks of Chesapeake Bay or touring the FBI building in downtown D.C. We continued celebrating the small events of daily life, which have turned out to be the only essential ingredients to a satisfying life.
Our four daughters had their beginnings on a Kentucky farm. They now have memories of struggle and success, of loss and gain, but mostly of the enduring sense of pilgrimage. A pilgrimage through days of family life, punctuated by dinners where we shared daily details. It ultimately didn't matter whether we passed our days in a rented suburban house, in an apartment overlooking a city park, or in a place where sheep grazed in a nearby meadow.
And while I complained about ugly wallpaper or worried about bills, in the long run those things made no difference. We found that the long-sought full-time professor's job for Daddy was not the essential ingredient for happiness. We had it all along.
And now my husband is a professor. We have moved yet again. We have begun new explorations and new friendships in New England. We have bought an old, well broken-in, thoroughly homey house, our very own.
Christina not only has her own room, but an entire attic. Madeleine has her dachshund. Emily and Maria have started college but have already set up their own bedrooms here. They will come back and find us waiting in a place that may actually turn out to be for keeps. But what really matters is having endured this journey together, creating the only lasting edifice, our shared memories of family.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society