|Ankeny Field, Whitman College|
I attended Whitman College for my undergraduate studies....a liberal arts fancy schmancy private college in Walla Walla, Washington. I chose it because it was a good school (and many times I wondered why I was ever admitted to it considering the academic capabilities of my fellow students compared to my own) but also (and perhaps more importantly) because of its close proximity to home.
It is located about 45 minutes from what was then my hometown of Richland, Washington. Just far enough to be considered 'away' from home but close enough that I could pop home when I needed to - and close enough that my mom could come visit when I needed her.
My freshman year was particularly tough for me. I was having a wonderful time, meeting new friends, exploring my new community, rushing for a sorority - but it was the first time I'd been away from my mom. She and I had always been together - through my parents divorce, through the troublesome teenage years, my mom was always my best friend.
I don't think I fully appreciated how much I'd miss her, or the void I'd feel when I wasn't with her every day in my excitement to go 'away' to college.
Mom must have felt the void as well, and although she didn't show it - she somehow managed to let me go while keeping the ties between us strong.
I remember her visiting one Sunday afternoon in the early fall of my first semester. There wasn't anything significant or particularly special about her visit - I think we probably went for a walk around campus, visited the bookstore, had coffee. What stands out in my memory is when it was time for her to go.
Of course I was sad, and choking back tears as she left my dorm room. She never shed a tear - just smiled, hugged me, said she'd call when she got home.
I sat in the window of my dorm room in Jewett Hall and waited to see her emerge from the building. It was one of those glorious fall days, the leaves were bright red and yellow, and the air was crisp and cool. At about the same time that she came out of the building and started walking away down the sidewalk of the adjoining dorm, a slight breeze picked up. And all of a sudden, the tiny bright yellow and gold leaves that filled the trees lining the sidewalks started to fall.
It looked like it was snowing - except it was beautiful leaves and that late afternoon golden light.
As I watched her walk away in those falling leaves, her black hair and her white sweater a stark contrast to the light, I knew I'd be okay. I think it was one of the first times that we said goodbye my freshman year that I knew I would truly be okay.
This memory came bubbling up the other day when I was driving the kids home from school. I don't know if it was the same type of tree as the ones that live in my memory - but seeing a row of trees with brilliantly colored yellow leaves showering down all at once gave me pause.
And I knew, like I knew then, that even though my mom and I aren't able to be as close as we once were, I'm going to be okay.