Writing on the Rim
When I go home to Nebraska, there is a place I like to visit at the top of a windy hill. Looking east from this vantage point, a major road dotted with stately homes on either side cuts through the grass-covered rolling hills and heads into my bustling hometown. In the opposite direction there are no roads or homes, only the vast open view the pioneers must have seen as they ventured west on the frontier toward new opportunities. Standing on this rim of the prairie yields two distinct landscapes.
I find myself in a similar spot now as a mother with an empty nest looking out at two distinct vistas: the one behind me filled with raising kids and the one ahead of me yet to be filled. A glance toward the past reprises the wonderful sounds of joy and laughter in a boisterous household with six children and a busy physician husband. The long days filled with making meals, preparing snacks and school lunches, doing laundry, changing diapers, supervising homework, driving to activities, and getting up in the middle of the night to nurse the baby rewind in my mind like an old movie. Looking into the rearview mirror, I see the many roads we traveled as we made our way to dance rehearsals and recitals, baseball practices and games, gymnastic meets and ice-skating lessons.
As busy as I was during those hectic days, I tried to find that elusive 25th hour, that sliver of time where I was awake enough to tap into my creativity. Sometimes it was early in the morning or late at night; sometimes there were fleeting moments during nap time or a few stolen minutes while dinner cooked and the children played in the backyard within sight. But those free extra minutes always existed on the edges. Back then I moved hesitantly and infrequently toward the rim, those shadowy moments, when I could see the writing life on the horizon. But I always stood resolutely, raising my children with one foot solidly planted in the present and one foot tentatively placed on the edge of the future waiting to raise my pen and write.
Now, as a mother with an empty nest, both feet are poised on the rim of the frontier. A glance in front of me is a vast open vista. It is a view that Abbie Mackenzie Deal, the heroine of A Lantern in Her Hand by Bess Streeter Aldrich, must have seen when she came to Nebraska as a young pioneer woman with her dreams before her. Abbie has a beautiful but undeveloped voice and she dreams of training with the best teachers. Dr. Ed Matthews, who is headed from Iowa to New York City to practice medicine, proposes but she turns him down. She loves Will Deal, marries him, and heads west to Nebraska still hoping to pursue her dream of voice lessons.
Even though Abbie is a fictional character, her dual dream of family and career is the same hope of many women today, although modern times offer more opportunities. Coming of age in the 1970’s, my contemporaries and I read Aldrich’s old-fashioned writing in English class, and many of us grew up in traditional happy homes. But we also read and discussed the writings of Betty Friedan and watched Gloria Steinem and others lead the women’s movement. We experienced two distinct vistas as we sought to make our own choices.
Throughout her life, Abbie must put her dreams aside as she deals with the challenges of raising a large family and settling an untamed frontier. She sees the prairie grasses that seem to forever “blow, wave, ripple, dip” in the strong breezes and she is cognizant of the winds of time rushing by her and her dreams. Like the Nebraska breezes, the winds of time blew swiftly through my life: waving hello to new babies and then good-by to college graduates; rippling through my days first as a young mother holding my children’s hands and then to an aging mother letting go; carrying my children to adulthood in a rapid gale, and me, much to my amazement, to senior citizen status.
Like most women, Abbie Deal attempts to find the intersection of her dual dreams, much like the faraway spot on the horizon where the prairie and the sky meet. Abbie never completely finds that intersection, but like all pioneering women, she paves the way for those of us who follow and discovers joy in the path she chooses.
In the bittersweet moment of the present, my children are grown and gone and I write from an empty nest with a full heart. A ripple of excitement runs through me for now it is my turn to dip deeply into my writing ambitions and see what I can bring up from the well of life lived joyfully in love with my husband and my children, thankful for the path I chose long ago. It is my turn to move beyond the rim. It is a vast open prairie waiting for me, a pioneering mother-writer, to look west and follow new opportunities on the horizon.
Columnist Lori Drake is the mother of six children and the founder and former Headmistress of Roseleaf Academy, which was the only girls’ school in eastern North Carolina. Her writing has appeared in Mothers Always Write, San Diego Woman, Daily Nebraskan, Gaithersburg Gazette in Maryland, and the Daily Reflector and the Farmville Enterprise in North Carolina. The recipient of three Honorable Mentions in the Writer’s Digest National Competition, Lori is currently writing a book about her innovative school.