She Shall Be Beautiful and Strong

August 1, 2007

She’ll come at dusky first of day, . . .
Upon her dewy rainbow way
She shall be beautiful and strong.
                   — “August”
                        Francis Ledwidge, 1887-1917
                        Irish poet, killed in action and buried in a Flanders field

Yesterday (which happened to be the ninetieth anniversary of the death of the poet quoted above, a fact which has no bearing on this essay but which seems to call for comment), I found myself deep in Pennsylvania Dutch country, headed south and east on the Lincoln Highway past signs for Fertility, Intercourse, Bird-in-Hand, and Paradise. I was on my way to meet my daughter, my sister, and her daughter at Gap, Pennsylvania, for lunch. This was the first time all four of us would be together in more than five years. We chose that particular town because A Place Between Us indicated that it was halfway between where my sister lives in Malvern and where Lynn is living in her college town, Millersville.

It was a little farther for me, but I rarely miss an opportunity to gallivant around Lancaster County. After all, I drive forty-five miles to have my hair cut there. This trip took me past the three or four outlet malls that have sprung up in what were once farmers’ fields, Dutch Wonderland, an amusement park that leaves me enervated just thinking about it (warning: the page you get if you click the link has an annoying song playing automatically), and the most glitzy and tawdry tourist traps which, like the amusement park, use windmills as design elements, even though the “Dutch” in Pennsylvania Dutch refers to people from Germany (Deutschland), not Holland. (And it’s LANK´-a-stir, not LAN´-caster — but then, you knew that.)

Rosie and her daughter, Ann, are spending a lot of time together these weeks before Ann leaves for the next big adventure in her life. Since her graduation from James Madison University in 2005, she has been serving with AmeriCorps in California, working as a literacy educator. She came back at the end of July, driving alone all the way across the country, camping along the way. (When I was just out of college I was still having to ask permission to drive forty miles to see my friends who were living at school, and having to make a display of hanging a skirt in the back seat of the car, so my mother would think I was going to church.) Next week, Ann leaves for Costa Rica, where she will live with a local family while she refines her Spanish and seeks certification as a Teacher of English as a Foreign Language.

Ann was six weeks old when Ron and I were married in August of 1983, a babe in arms who rested in an infant seat at her mother’s feet at our wedding dinner. She was two when Lynn was born. We live ninety miles apart, not really a very long distance these days, but with work and kids’ activities taking up a lot of time, it meant that Lynn did not have the kind of close relationship — indeed, it meant that I did not have the kind of close relationship — with Ann and her family that I would have liked.

But there were several summers that we spent time together at our uncle’s house at the Jersey shore. Lynn adored Ann, looking up to her and copying her ways. She also adored Ann’s three-years-older brother, Brian, who in his preteen years was not very interested in these little girls. In recent years, the three have made connections on MySpace and FaceBook, and it has given me joy to see the way my niece and my nephew have included Lynn in their cyber circles.

From those summers at the beach I remember the baby Lynn toddling after her older, taller cousins. Yesterday, when Lynn jumped out of her car and rushed to Ann to embrace her, I marveled at how the two are now about the same size, two attractive young women dressed in similar fashion. In fact, it came to me during lunch that the four of us were less two mothers and two daughters and more four women friends catching up with each other. There was no supervising menu selections for the girls, no urging them to finish their vegetables, no checking that they’d used the bathroom before we left. Instead we talked about Ann’s new situation and Lynn’s plans for her life beyond graduation next spring, all proceeding from decisions they’ve made about what they want to be when they grow up. Rosie and I have evidently done our jobs well, raising two little girls to become poised, mature, independent young women making their own ways in this world.

Margate City, 1989For reasons I cannot explain, I let the afternoon end without getting a picture of Ann and Lynn, even though I had two cameras in the car. At left is one taken on the boardwalk in Ocean City, New Jersey, in 1989. That was our first trip to the beach. Lynn, uncharacteristically hiding her face from the camera, is four, Annie is six, and Brian has just turned nine. What happened to these babies? I ask myself sometimes.

They’ve become beautiful and strong. Godspeed, Ann. And may these three be together again before too long, so I can show you just how beautiful and strong they are.

This entry was posted in Lynn.

2 thoughts on “She Shall Be Beautiful and Strong

  1. I’d like to add that those “Jamz” (commonly referred to any time other than 1989 as shorts) are custom made Rose Cappelli originals and that my socks can only be described as “killer”.

    Very nice piece.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.