I recently finished Kelly Corrigan's book, Glitter and Glue--a memoir which recounts her year of traveling/working in Australia as a 20-something year-old back in the early 90's. The accounts of her travels, her thoughts and feelings, and even her way of writing resonated deeply with me . . . which is not surprising, considering we're nearly the same age, and I spent a fair amount of time in my 20's roaming hither and yon. In the book, Kelly mentioned that her motto is, "Things happen when you leave the house." And as I read that statement, it struck me that this could not be more true.
Now I happen to be a homebody. Given the choice on a Friday night, I am firmly planted in my family room in my pajamas with a bowl of popcorn by 8pm. That makes sense because not only am I 51 years old, I'm a Cancer and "like hermit crabs, they cannot survive without a home to call their own. It keeps them grounded and makes them feel safe" (if you believe in that sort of thing . . . which I kindof, sortof do). However, I have done my fair share of getting
off the sofa, and once my teenage children take it upon themselves to operate kitchen appliances of their own accord, I am hoping to once again make my way hither and yon.
Some of my fondest memories and amazing adventures (not to mention personal growth) occurred when I "left the house." As a child, our family's budget did not allow for
five-star vacations at all-inclusive resorts where children order, willy nilly, from room service menus and don't have to pretend to be 12 and under when actually a junior in high school. We were "economical" travelers. Every summer, and sometimes on school breaks and weekends, we hit the road. My dad, a traveling salesman, was a Monday through Friday king of the road, servicing a multi-state territory in the days of CB radios and daily calls from payphones instead of instant messaging and frequent flyer miles. If we had an especially long journey ahead of us (a 16 hour drive "back east" to visit relatives), he would wake us three kids up at 4am, having set up the back of the station wagon with sleeping bags and pillows, in order to strategically work around rush hour traffic out of Chicago and Detroit. Mom, not a morning person, would plod out to the car before dawn, carrying a bread loaf bag of homemade pbj or bologna sandwiches for the road and a read-aloud book of some sort (Little House on the Prairie series or The Great Brain series) tucked under her arm. Road trips were simply a part of our life: "Last call for the rest area up ahead" and "Really, Dad, ANOTHER presidential museum?" As the youngest child, I was privileged to sit up front between my parents (back in the days of bench seating) and keep my dad awake by playing "Name That Tune" on his knee. And the read-aloud books were passed from person to person, meant to secretly improve our reading but mostly to distract us from our "my cinnamon stick is sharper than yours" game and "how much longer" moaning.
Things happened when I left the house. LIFE happened when I left the house. As I young child, I saw things I wouldn't have otherwise seen playing TV Tag on Oakwood Drive: the inside of a saloon in Dodge City, Tom Sawyer's whitewashed fence, men wearing tricorn hats, Disney's House of the Future (with its revolutionary microwave oven), mossy stuff hanging from trees, homeless people on the streets of Chicago, six year-old boys in straw hats driving teams of horses, center-lines painted green, white, and red, cabins that lacked indoor plumbing, claustrophobic elevators up the Gateway to the West, and some colored rooms in a fancy house on Pennsylvania Avenue.
I left my house over and over again as a young adult, my journeys taking me to the farmlands of Illinois and across the Atlantic to the countries of my heritage. They took me a mile away down Route 14 and across the US all on my own, bravado and innocence sitting boldly by my side. And once again, I saw things I'd never seen before: I saw how naive I was to drive blind through a Nebraska rainstorm, I saw how ingenious I was to get into my locked car through the sunroof, I saw how plucky I was to arrange interviews in a city of 2 million people, I saw how adventurous I was to explore remote ghost towns and pitch my tent in National Forests on my own, I saw how goddamn lucky I was when my brakes went out after Monarch Pass, I saw how chickenshit I was when I turned down the chance to live in the coolest mountain town ever, I saw how true to myself I was when I couldn't wait to get out of Las Vegas, I saw how by the book I was when an adult friend offered me a beer while driving, I saw how kind I was to offer two South Africans a ride to LA, I saw how vulnerably young, female, white I was when I got lost in gang territory, I saw how carefree I was to form deep, lasting relationships with strangers, and I saw how persistent I was to find a job in one of the most sought-after places on earth.
And when I left the house, I met people--(Oh did I meet people!) real honest-to-goodness different people--not the middle-class suburban ones who commute to high paying jobs in the city, but people who touched my heart and left their mark on who I forever am: the spoiled daughter of a millionaire farmer, a Tunisian man looking to buy an american bride (uh, no thank you), a captain who asked me to set sail for 5 years, (I was this close), a Hungarian scientist who
carefully explained her life under communist rule, a nerdy family who took me hiking in the Black Canyon, a spiritual woman who purified me with herbs and took me to lunch, a 50 year old woman and her 80 year old husband who shared their home with me, a first-class architect who took a chance on me, an Italian carabinieri who followed me like a puppy dog, a French landlady who couldn't understand why I would want a refrigerator, South African men who had never seen a mixed-race couple, East German border patrolmen
who were flabbergasted by my thermometer zipper-pull, and a man whom my heart had known long before I laid eyes on him at a hostel in Santa Monica.
So yes, although the current solar system of my life covers a well-trodden 50 mile diameter, and I am dutifully tethered to the schedule of three growing teenagers, I will be the first to agree with Kelly Corrigan that things DEFINITELY do happen when you leave the house . . . .