We Were Fourteen

With less than a month left of school, summer is just around the corner. Last summer, my fourteen-year-old daughter was invited to join a friend in Florida for a week.  I really had a hard time deciding if I should let her go.  I relented-mostly because she was relentless.  A fourteen year old and a terrier have much in common-neither one ever lets anything go. 

We arranged for her to fly down with two other friends.  We got up at 3:00 a.m. and I drove the three to the airport.  I bought them donuts and stood in line while they checked in.  The airline check-in person offered to let me accompany them to the gate- to my daughter's horror.  She vehemently assured me she could manage. She did not need me to walk her there. I proposed a compromise. I would stand in the TSA line with them and then disappear not-so-quietly into the sunrise.

Before I did, I trudged out my favorite airport related cautionary tales. I got their interest, at least briefly. It was almost enough.  I wasn't done yet though, so I talked even faster.  Stick together.  Pairs to the bathroom. No wandering off to shop. Don't leave your bags unattended.  One of the three said I sounded like his grandmother. Ungrateful kids.  Did I not just tell them some of my best 'traveling alone in Europe' stories? I bet his grandmother didn't spend the night at Heathrow because it was cheaper than getting a hotel room (I don't know maybe she did, in which case, I'd probably really like her). That was a quality story. Incidentally, it was not the best idea I ever had but that was also part of the story.

I forced a kiss on my daughter and slipped under the ropes and out of line to watch the three navigate the x-ray things from afar. I sipped my coffee and watched like Miss Clavel from the Madeline books. I saw the first one show his iPhone with his electronic boarding pass to the first TSA officer. He got by. Took three steps. Then he spun around and waited for my daughter. She did the same. Three steps, then she spun to watch for the third traveler to get through.  So, it wasn't second nature but they eventually remembered to wait until they were together before moving on to the next step.

And then without a backward glance, they were swallowed up in a sea of travelers.

I wandered back to the parking garage wondering if perhaps she was a bit spoiled,  too indulged. Should I let her do these things?  Seems extravagant. But maybe that's because when I was fourteen life was a little different.

I picked tobacco. Driving home along the highway, I passed the same tobacco sheds the kids were bused  to all those years ago.  At 6:00 a.m., with the morning sun shining on them just right, they looked beautiful-quintessential New England.

Traditional New England. However, I'm pretty confident the entrance to hell is through one of those sheds. But first, you'll have to put on long pants and a long-sleeved shirt because that tobacco is sticky stuff.  

The fact that it flowered was lost on me as a teen.

The gauze unfurls for a canopy- which just made it hotter.

That was a long summer. Get up at 5:00 a.m. Walk to the church parking lot to meet the chariot to hell.  Stop at a convenience store for a burrito breakfast- only a fourteen year old can eat a burrito for breakfast.  String up the tobacco. Fall asleep on the bus. Repeat. If you were competent, you were promoted to working inside the shed where the picked tobacco dried. Your job there was to string the tobacco along lathes, that when full, were hoisted to the rafters to dry.

A friend and I signed up to pick tobacco together. No idea exactly how many weeks we lasted. I have blocked much of it out.  I do remember it was the same summer Lady Diana married Prince Charles. Always seemed ironic somehow to me.  She was only a few years older than we were but it was more than an ocean that divided us.

This morning, there wasn't anyone in the fields.  Maybe it was too early. Maybe machines do what teens used to do. Maybe NPR and a report from the Human Rights Watch citing nicotine poisoning in kids slowed the buses of kids to pick tobacco and that's good thing.

I got back in my car and drove the rest of the way home. I was grateful. I don't mind that I did pick tobacco. Picking tobacco just became part of my story.   But I'm also glad she didn't pick tobacco.  She has her own story to write. And maybe somewhere in it, there's a story about the time I let her fly to Florida by herself.


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