The poignant memory of Mama standing in her yard after hugging us one last time before we drove away to spend our first night in the new house always grips me when life inevitably demands another “letting go.” We were just moving up Tut-Mammy Hill, around two bends, and across two low-water bridges to the house Daddy and Eck Hawkins had built on 160 acres Daddy purchased 10 years after World War II by working and saving every penny possible; however, the forlorn sadness on Mama’s face haunts me now, just as when I was 8 years old.
Mother and Daddy had lived with Mama every day since their wedding in her yard 15 years earlier. During the 10 years since Patsy’s birth, Mama’s daily life revolved around assisting our family to become established and to thrive. For the first time in her entire 62 years, she would live alone. She would let us go to establish a new household, knowing that her role in our lives must change in order for us to reach our potential as a separate family unit.
September ushers in the starting of school and a period of letting go — letting go of the lazy, hazy days of summer, of the freedom to choose activities, of long sunny days leisurely blending into nights twinkling with stars and fireflies. Letting go of this idyllic sense of endless time and returning to predictable routine bring introspection that thrusts me forward to discover the future.
Looking back over my life, I recognize this pattern of letting go and rediscovering. The summer before my freshman year at Arkansas Tech, I luxuriated in the peace and contentment of farm life, ambling along Cow Creek to its faint babble; skipping rocks across the upper pond; fishing for perch, catching turtles; sleeping with the windows wide open, listening to frogs, crickets and mother cows bawling for calves Daddy sent to market; and finally just before leaving with Mother in the loaded car, tearfully walking to the barn to hug her long black neck one more time and to tell her how much I love her, I rubbed the star on her forehead and crooned, “Lady, thank you for being the best horse in the whole wide world.”
Every time I see my photo from late August 1969 standing next to the packed red Dodge Dart — clothes hanging across the rod behind the front seat — in front of our family church at Parks, I think, “My, Louise, you look like you just lost your last friend in the whole world.”
I had attended church that Sunday morning and would now drive to Collinsville, Okla., to begin my first teaching assignment. I was letting go of the security of parental financial support, as well as the acceptable dependence of child and student to become a self-supporting adult. I was also moving to a new state to begin the most exhilarating experience of my life to this point.
Each September, parents — usually a mother — bemoan a child’s leaving home for college. I must admit that I began letting go of my first child long before college. He was probably 18 months old when he walked behind the small building in our fenced backyard on South 23rd Street. I knew he could not go anywhere or do anything harmful, but this was the first time I had stayed in the kitchen while he played in the fenced backyard. It was the first time he had been out of my sight in the backyard. Letting go is frightening. I stood and watched from the back door until he came back into sight from behind the building. I am certain that you can imagine the magnificent discoveries Clayton has made during his life because I let go.
I remember the first time he walked by himself the two blocks to kindergarten. Little sister Lee Anna was sick, and I did not want to get her out in the cold. I assured Clayton that he would be fine.
“Just walk straight down P Street to Ballman like we have done most days since you were 2 weeks old,” I confidently directed him.
But I stood in the front door and watched him down the first block. Then I called a friend who lived on the second block and asked her to please watch to be sure he arrived safely on the school grounds.
Letting go is risky business. It must be done with care. (Clayton started kindergarten in 1980. Although I would not allow a child to walk alone now, then it was perfectly safe. I would not have been reported to SCAN.)
I also remember the first time Clayton drove the car without me sitting on the passenger side of the front seat. It was the evening of his 16th birthday. We had gone to the Arkansas Highway Patrol office after school to have the restriction lifted from his driver’s license. We had had his birthday party, which had lasted longer than planned. Now it was dusky dark and threatening rain as he backed out of the driveway with his 13-year old sister beside him on the front seat to drive the 55 miles down U.S. 71 South to his grandparents' in Scott County. He and they had anticipated this trip — a trip to the country without Mom or Dad on his 16th birthday.
He had proven to be a safe, steady driver (in fact, he drove like a little old man) and had driven U.S. 71 numerous times. He was ready. Letting go requires trust. I did not run after the car to tell him I had not planned on the darkness or rain. I waved bravely and went inside with Dad. I let go, and oh, the miles Clayton and his buddies put on that 1978 Bonneville, exploring country roads in north Arkansas and sleeping in the car after blues shows in Muscle Shoals, Ala., and Clarksdale, Miss.
Although I knew Mama was very sad standing there alone in her front yard as we left to live in our new home, as an 8-year-old with limited experiences of letting go, I could not fully appreciate the depth of her pain or her love as she let us go. She knew the joy, pride and personal satisfaction our own home would bring, and she knew that as she let us go, she would make new discoveries to create her own new future. She knew that only when we say goodbye can we say hello.
It’s September. I’m letting go. Want to join me? Let go of pleasant times now past? Maybe old routines that are familiar but restrain from new discoveries — from things you’ve always planned to do? As Deepak Chopra once said, “In the process of letting go, you will lose many things from the past, but you will find yourself.”
Louise Owens Finney is a retired secondary teacher and part-time minister in Fort Smith. She can be reached at LouiseOFinney@gmail.com.