Book Idea: Chapter 5

Sewanee turned out to be all that Dad had promised, and more.

We moved there so that he could attend seminary, to become a master of divinity after three years of full-time study.  It was a thousand miles away from south Texas, where I’d spent my entire life, in a Hill Country town called Fredericksburg.  And it was a different world.

Taking coursework online was not an option.  “There are some seminaries that do it,” I overheard Dad tell Mom one night after I’d left the dinner table, “but the bishop doesn’t send anyone to those schools.  Not yet at least.”

Mom hadn’t liked the idea of relocating, I could tell.  But I also knew that Dad had wanted to go to seminary since his college days, since before Mom and Dad had even met.  I know because he reminded her of this often.  And apparently he’d had the foresight to bring this desire up before they ever got married.  So now Mom really couldn’t get out of it.

She’d always wanted stability above all.  But Dad was determined to go, to disrupt the equilibrium they’d established together over the past fifteen years, as she put it.  Divorce was an option, I suppose, and perhaps if she’d been able to foresee the future she would’ve chosen it.  But I guess she figured that keeping a family together was a better option than staying rooted to a place.  That, and she had no way to see what actually was coming.  Thankfully.

Whenever I thought about it, the unraveling of the braid of friendship with Haley and Veronica made me sad.  At first anyway.  Dad seemed more sensitive to this than Mom.  He assured me we’d make an effort to see them whenever we returned to Texas, at least once a year for the next three years.  In the in-between times, he said, he’d let me use e-mail to write them pen-pal messages and call them on the phone.

Dad was certainly in his element.  He really is an academic at heart.  No doubt he’d longed to get back to such a setting since his college days.  To sit in class a few hours a day, to study and research, to work at his own pace without the stress of supervising employees or teaching students, to stay up late at night discussing the intricacies of historical theology—these things pleased Dad profoundly.

On top of this, Sewanee’s School of Theology was a small part, a graduate program, of a larger university.  For him that meant resources.  He is a true lifelong learner, reveling in all that a liberal arts college has to offer—plays, concerts, chapel services, even a carillon which he soon learned to play.  Not to mention, Sewanee is a huge parcel of land, more than ten thousand acres if my memory serves.  The university buildings and campus-owned housing—the entire village, in other words—takes up maybe a thousand of those acres, meaning there’s a vast amount of naturalness left over.  One Saturday in September in fact, the one just at the beginning of Dad’s third year, he and I hiked the so-called Perimeter Trail, a twenty-something mile footpath that takes you around the parcel’s perimeter—and thus the name—in a single day.  The beauty is some of the best anywhere, with a thick forest canopy eighty feet high and breathtaking views all along the way; the whole place sits atop the Cumberland Plateau, some eight hundred feet in elevation above the plain below.  Thick fog is common; Sewanee sits in the clouds.  Anyway, we left at sunrise and finished up at just before five o’clock with an hour lunch stop along the way at Shenanigans, a local favorite restaurant.  Mom met us there with some friends.

Dad bought an awesome bicycle just before we moved there, a Cannondale with twenty-nine inch wheels and only one arm on the forks, called a “Leftie” by those who care.  “It’s transportation,” he argued.  “I’m thinking we can get by with just one car for our three-year sabbatical.”

In this he was right—that we could get by with one car, I mean; not about it being a sabbatical.  He proved a man of his word too: he rode his bike to class pretty much every day, rain, snow, or shine—until he bought the motorcycle anyway, which I’ll discuss in due time.  We lived a little more than a mile away, so it took him only five minutes or so.  He often rode home and back for lunch too, for exercise, he said.

My school, Sewanee Elementary School, or SES as we all soon always called it, was only a stone’s throw from the seminary.  So, “Guess what, Amelia,” Dad announced one day as he entered the front door a week or so after the first school year had begun; “you’re my riding buddy.”

Yeah, he’d bought me an awesome bike too, a Trek with twenty-four inch wheels, green and black with anodized rims and disc brakes, sized perfectly for me.  I ended up riding with him most mornings in the fall and spring—unless it was raining.  But once the morning low dipped below forty I depended on Mom for rides—until year three at least, about which you’ll hear more later.

When the weather warmed enough in the spring, by that time Mom and Dad were comfortable enough with the place—they felt it safe enough—that I could pretty much ride my bike anywhere I wanted.  Awesome freedom for an eight year-old!  By then, too, I’d made a new bestie, Elena.

She lived a few blocks away.  I rode over to her house a lot during our first full summer; from there we’d ride together to Lake Cheston where we knew the combination to the lock on the university canoe.  We lazed away many a summer afternoon on this small body of water, whether lying on our backs on the floor of the canoe staring up at the blue sky or swimming in the murky warmth, lost in the pleasantness of the moment, lost to the reality that another school year would soon be upon us, lost even—more and more anyway—to the memory of former besties.

So, I don’t know.  What with the paradise of the new environs, the bonding Dad and I experienced most days riding our bikes to school, his omnipresent joy with the place, and the truly fairytale-like life we were now living, again, I had to side with Dad on this one.  We were right to relocate.  Even if it would only last for three years.  Even if I would soon forever lose my mom.

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