by Frances Edstrom
I heard a sociologist lately give her opinion on why it is that it seems both parents must work outside the home in order to make ends meet.
Her answer? Because we think we need too many things these days. In the not-too-distant past, one car, one TV, a couple of phones at home and you were all set. Not so today.
I thought of my own childhood. In good weather, my dad walked several miles to his teaching job at the local college, toting his lunch in a brown paper bag. That way, my mother could have the car, which was not used to drive us to school. We walked, because we lived in town, and out-of-town kids all took the bus. We had one television, which was stored in the attic for a period of time because one of us came home with a bad report card. We had one phone, and my father had a built-in timer in his head that told him when it was time for you to hang up.
I remember how shocked we all were when he bought a second television, got an extension phone and put in air conditioning in the house. When mother began working as a teacher after my youngest sibling was in school, they got another car. When my sister started college in Boston, another car came along.
"Wow!" we all thought, "Dad's gone crazy!"
I am the oldest, so all of this happened after I was well out of the house.
I remember vividly my first year at the College of Saint Teresa in Winona, where I was sent because my father was convinced that the nuns would mold and shape me into the sort of woman my mother, a CST grad, was. That is to say, I would grow up to marry someone just like my father. (I thought, as many girls do, that I had married a man entirely the opposite of my father, but the differences were only on the outside. At heart, they are both real cheap, like to lecture, but are intellectual and love parties.)
I was to understand that my trip to college was at great sacrifice to the family, and I was to help in any way I could, which included scholarships and working. I was also to understand that I should not spend money frivolously, which I learned later meant making long-distance phone calls and unnecessary trips home, for Thanksgiving, Easter, things like that.
So it was with an enormous sense of excitement and longing that I packed my bags for the Christmas vacation, when I would be seeing my family for the first since that September. It's amazing how true it is that absence makes the heart grow fonder. At that time, I could fly out of the Winona airport, which would land me in Chicago's O'Hare and a connecting flight to Boston Logan.
But several days before I was to fly home, as I was in my room sitting on my suitcase to get it to close, I experienced for the first time the Teresan tradition of seniors caroling through the halls of the dorm.
I'm sure you've had a similar experience. I thought with all my heart that I couldn't wait to leave Winona. Sure, I'd met some nice kids, had some nice teachers, ate a lot of good food (a lot!). But it wasn't home. They weren't my real friends. The teachers weren't like my good old high school teachers. And the dorm was certainly not my room at home, nor was my roommate like my sister.
I heard the voices of the senior carolers, and opened my door to look, and to hear them better. Down the darkened hallway came the glow of the candles that each senior carried, and as the first carolers passed each doorway on our corridor, I could see that all of the other freshmen had opened their doors and were peering, just as I was, at the young women we might become in four years. They seemed so sophisticated, so smart, so I-know-where-I'm-going savvy about life "” so unlike the high schoolers I had left behind and the life I yearned to relive. Suddenly, I began to cry. From fatigue? Loneliness? Fear of the future? Or maybe the sheer beauty of the place and time. I don't know. I flew home to a joyous reunion, found that some of my high school friends were really boring, and couldn't tell you what I got for Christmas.
As another Christmas approaches, and I think of that night and that trip home, I hope my kids and their kids will remember not the many (too many?) material things we give them, but the beauty that can be found in family, friends and the traditions that bind us.