|"Breaking Home Ties," by Norman Rockwell|
Norman Rockwell is kind of a hard one to place in terms of his role in our cultural history. Was he an artist? An illustrator? Did he paint America as it was? Or America as it never existed? I enjoy his work because it reminds me of my childhood. I didn't live in a Norman Rockwell world; no one I knew did. But my parents subscribed to The Saturday Evening Post and I saw a lot of his cover works as I was growing up.
"Breaking Home Ties" is one I have seen often over the years. It is deceptively simple: a father and son waiting for the train. The son is off to college, undoubtedly a freshman. His father is waiting with him, holding both his son's and his own hats, one shiny new, the other worn and stained. The son is looking expectantly to the future, the father to the past.
Tuesday was my Norman Rockwell moment.
My son Sam came back to Ohio in mid-June, looking to lay over briefly, earn some money at odd jobs, and then go on farther east to backpack and hike. He spent four weeks here, managed by hard labor to make a tidy sum of money, all the time finalizing his plans for the next stage of the summer. He found a ride to share to North Carolina, his next destination, with a college student from the Cincinnati area.
It was time to move on.
Tuesday morning I drove Sam to Covington, Kentucky to rendezvous with the driver. We reached the agreed upon meeting point first by, oh, ten minutes or so. Sam pulled out his carefully loaded backpack and propped it against the car. He pulled out his shoes and a bag of food I'd packed for him.
Then Sam plopped down on a parking curb and waited expectantly, looking for all the world like Rockwell's young man sitting on the running board waiting for the train. And me? I'd have been holding both our hats and turning them over and over in my hands if we'd had hats.
Sam was clearly ready for the next leg of his summer adventures. And me? I was saying goodbye yet again to one of my children.
When the driver arrived, Sam jumped up. We talked for a few seconds, then Sam easily hoisted his backpack on and gave me a hug. "Have fun," I said. "Travel safe," I told them both.
I headed back home. It was mid-morning and already hot; my car windows were down. I found an oldies station in Cincinnati and cranked it up high, singing along when I knew the words. And bit by bit, mile by mile, Sam's train rolled on into the future.