24” x 18” Mixed media/panel
My son Anselm turns 26 tomorrow. I’m so happy and fortunate to have been able to share all these years of life with him. By fate, or perhaps due to his personality, our time together has been devoid of conflict, in fact the majority of our time together has been pure joy. Ever inquisitive, with a calm energy, a willingness to take initiative, and a truly helpful attitude, he is now a successful young engineer. As importantly, he has a kind, sensitive, empathetic and loving heart.
Without a doubt, sometimes as parents we simply “get lucky” — both in the upbringing of our children and then as our kids become adults. It’s a wonderful time when they reach that mature place where we no longer engage as parent to child but rather as elders/mentors to a slightly younger adult. Even the mentor thing swaps a bit, as older age doesn’t necessarily make us the smarter nor wiser ones.
Birthdays are a peculiar moment, in that we honor our first breath, yet it’s all a circle really, and (candles and legal birth certificates aside) it seems to me “conception” deserves some marker too. Maybe our technology will soon be pinning down that instant as well. A few friends have mentioned that in certain traditions it’s thought children “choose” who their parents will be; some aspect of their essence selects where and when they will manifest into this physical body, begin their home base this time around, so to speak.
Anselm was conceived in a farmhouse, tucked in a holler in Christiansburg, VA. That quaint “bumped out” log cabin-become-farmhouse is where his mother and I spent our graduate school years. It was a mile “off the hardtop” where another 1/4 mile driveway led into our holler, with three other homesteads, each on about 25 acres. It was idyllic. We heated the place with a wood burning stove, and our water was spring fed. Our rented hand-hewn log cabin was likely the first structure in that secluded little valley, sited on the southern hillside. A stream flowed along the drive below, and a plateau near the house allowed for a robust garden plot, established by his mother and I, and nurtured with horse manure and love. We ate well from our organic garden harvests, and both relished pursuing our masters degrees in our respective passions of landscape architecture and art.
I got schooled about rural living. Became tolerably skilled at splitting wood, vividly recall watching my steamy sweat intermix with the mist hovering in the valley in the cool mountain air, hearing the crisp CRACK of oak splitting echo on the opposite hillside. Each dawn, sun beams streamed between the pines on the far eastern hill, a memorable and always uplifting sight. In the evenings, the view from among those same pines revealed our little cabin, perhaps with the kitchen light aglow, nestled in the bosom of the forest behind it. Views of the rolling meadows in the distance far beyond framed the sunsets.
For a few years “pre-Anselm” we dug into our disciplines, happily sharing our space with two dogs, one cat, and two goldfish (all but one dog had traveled with us from IN). The other neighbors mostly kept to themselves, Walter above us, and Maggie across the holler. The Peregoy family at the end of the drive had no running water, they were still collecting daily supplies from the pipe in the side of the mountain along the drive even when we moved out in 1993. After cautiously waving at us “foreigners” for a year, eventually they befriended us. They were a bit of a throw-back: they canned from their garden, spoke with a true southwestern VA twang that made “right” sound like “rot”, told us of our homesteads getting “electrified” in the 60’s, and quietly referred to Martin Luther King as “a trouble-maker.”
The public internet did not yet exist and TV reception was spotty. For enjoyment we often took long walks savoring the rolling lush southwestern VA farmlands, where (it was said) a nearby farm house and vast acreage had been given to the Charleton family as payment for their ancestor serving in the Revoultionary War. Since we were several miles from city lights, on any given cloudless night one could see a million stars.
We may all have some defined destiny. But I also like to believe this setting somehow contributed to Anselm becoming the steady, healthy, easy-going, amazing, and beautiful young man he is. That inquiring problem-solver worked his way to achieving a mechanical engineering degree at VT a few years ago. Now he’s working harder as the lead structural engineer for a company building a lunar landing module. He’s also become a certified mountain climber, up on a Mt. Whitney climb just a few months ago. One day he hopes to actually climb out into space, get a wee bit nearer those stars we used to gaze upon. Perhaps his essence is looking to head homeward...
I don’t know for certain if the unborn, then yet unnamed, being-to-become Anselm chose us to be his parents, but I DO know for certain that I’m grateful beyond words that for a brief time we shared this homestead, and far more so, that he’s my son.