January 10, 2018My quest for independence and higher education coincided with my parents' divorce fifty years ago. The second of their five daughters, I kissed my mother goodbye and carried my clothes and toiletries to Dad's 1965 Chrysler.
My younger sister Libby and dog Sweetie came along to CMU. They followed me to the suite occupied with two roommates who hadn't yet returned from semester break.
Dad nodded to three large photos taped to the wall above a record player. "Looks like you have women of color for roommates," he said.
"I don't think so, Dad. That's a poster of Diana Ross and the Supremes," I explained.
Before Dad and Libby left me standing alone, I snapped their picture in Woldt Hall's parking lot. Dad's dressed in a suit and holds his car keys. Libby wears her camel coat. They're looking down to Sweetie who looks up to me with her sad Cocker Spaniel eyes.
I remember the sinking feeling on that sunny January day when Dad drove away. What was I thinking? What would I do without Sweetie, my confidant?
That separation imposed my first lesson in independence and higher education. Both come with a price.
A homebody without a home, I found a housecleaning job for a professor's wife. Dr. Kipfmueller arrived at 8 a.m. sharp Saturday mornings before my dorm. He drove to his two-story house in downtown Mt. Pleasant.
I worked for Mrs. Kipfmueller during and after her pregnancy with Maggie, one of their six children. My $10 paycheck covered Sunday meals and other necessities.
After I married Mel in 1970, we carpooled to work in his 1966 Mustang. Three years later, I inherited the Mustang when Mel's new job with Proctor & Gamble included a company car.
I've since lived the typical American upward mobility stay-at-home Mom lifestyle, working part-time around our children's school and work schedules. After the youngest graduated from high school, I drove to Oakland Community College and Oakland University and earned my bachelor's degree before my 50th birthday.
I've driven Ireland's roads solo. I know the beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains and the hairpin turns of Italy's Dolomites.
These experiences meant nothing last June 26 after a three-second syncope episode claimed my right to drive for six months. In other words, I lost consciousness while sitting in my writing chair and Mel became my chauffeur-his first unofficial, unpaid job, driving Ms. Iris.
Six months into his retirement from 47 years as an outside salesman, Mel fit the role like a pro. We adapted to my dependency upon him for transport to my plethora of doctor's appointments and tests, writing groups, and volunteer commitments.
In the process, we discovered A Taste of Europe Crepes on Auburn Road. And grocery shopping is much more fun with Mel. I've grown fond of his valet service.
Dear Reader, the doctors have no explanation for my fainting spell, so I'm on the road again. From this perspective, independence and higher education seem overrated.
I need the companionship bound within dependence, an enduring benefit sacrificed in my pursuit of individuality.
Sometimes it takes fifty years to see the price I've paid.
Email Iris at email@example.com.