Latest from The Spokesman-Review
As we were driving across mountain passes and through a wide Montana valley to take her to college, my youngest daughter sat in the back seat, surrounded by the boxes she’d packed. The three of us fell into a familiar and comfortable pattern, with her teasing us, making us laugh, as the miles flew by.
For a moment I managed to forget that we were taking her to leave her, to start her new life as a college student. I forgot that with her went our last child, leaving us with an empty house. I forgot that I have no clear idea of what comes next. For a few hours It was just the family off on an adventure. There was an easy affection in the way we spoke to one another and all of the stresses and irritations of the last few months disappeared.
When we got to the campus we checked her into her dorm. We hauled the boxes out of the car and shopped for what else she would need. We went out to dinner and then shopped some more. We unpacked the books and bedding and keepsakes she’d taken with her, plugged in the small refrigerator, put her clothes in the closet and we were done. I realized she was being very patient with us but she was clearly ready to be on her own.
Moving to college is a journey into the unknown, but watching my daughter I realized she was uniquely prepared for this new life. She is no stranger to foreign places.
I reminded myself that this is the girl who ran ahead, turning around to tease me for being a slowpoke as we climbed the Great Wall in China. This is the girl who stood up to and challenged the arrogant and vaguely threatening transit officer who bullied us in Prague. This is the girl who didn’t let the man on the flight to Budapest get away with taking an aisle seat that wasn’t his; he was in her father’s seat and she made him move. This is the girl who lost her way for a few minutes in Rome and managed to find us on her own before we even realized she was gone. This is the girl who led us through Vienna and this is the girl who ordered our meals on our last trip to Paris—in passable French—and who, judging from the way she walked blocks ahead of me as we moved around the city, would clearly have preferred to been there on her own.
I didn’t think of it at the time, when I was planning vacations and saving for tickets to faraway places, but our travels did more than open her eyes to other people and other lands. She came back from each trip with confidence in herself. She may not know it’s there, but I know she’ll find it when she needs it.
She may be anxious and a little unsure now, college is a big leap, after all. But I have confidence in her. This is the girl who can find her way.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at email@example.com
Preparing to take a taxi to the Brussels airport, I’ve removed everything from my suitcase and spread it across the bed in my hotel room and I am, one by one, refolding and repacking each piece. Looking at the things I’ve gathered, even though I was trying to be prudent and to remember the charges the airlines level against heavy bags, I realize again how difficult it is for those of us who are susceptible to the romance of ordinary objects. Much more than the expensive souvenirs, we know the little things carry with them the most evocative memories of the places we explore.
Other cities and other countries haunt my house. I can pull a book of matches out of a drawer in my kitchen and be instantly transported back to a cafe in a faraway place; strong coffee, conversation and an unfamiliar view through the window. Matchbooks are not so common these days and most I find were brought home years ago, but I occasionally still run across one and a tiny flame from Prague or Pennsylvania, will light the barbecue on my very American patio.
I frequently, if I like the scent, slip hotels soaps into my luggage between sweaters or folded pajamas to keep them fresh. When I unpack at home the fragrant soaps go into the linen closet. Again, when I least expect it, I’ll come across a bit of Paris or Brussels or Zurich or San Francisco tucked between pillowcases or folded into sheets.
At each museum I visit I purchase a postcard of the painting or sculpture I loved the most and the cards become bookmarks in whatever book I was reading on the plane or are slipped into travel guides. Some escape the pins on the cork board behind my desk and turn up when furniture is rearranged.
A bottle of wine, wrapped and slipped into a boot in my suitcase, is opened later bringing with it a reminder of a special meal or a special moment in Tuscany. Or Napa.
Now, after a week traveling across Belgium, my bags are full of such odds and ends. The silk scarves I collect as I go, gifts and souvenirs for my family, maps, travel guides and destination pamphlets picked up along the way are added to a few favorite hotel lotions and soaps. Finally, when it is all done I pull out the practical gift given to me last Christmas by my youngest daughter and prepare for the worst. Slipping the portable travel scale over the handle of my luggage I lift it, biting my lip as the numbers flash and then finally stop. Good news. For all my worrying, I am a pound or two under the limit.
That means there is just enough room for the big box of Belgian chocolate.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Spokesman-Review Home Planet and Treasure Hunting columns and blogs and her CAMera: Travel and Photo blog, her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org