Daughters of the Dirt / Sarah Higdon

The Wanderer
by Cathleen Sutherland

My family gathered together for Mother's Day in my grandmother's latest house, this one down along the coast in Palacios, Texas. Latest yes, last, no. My grandmother has been on the move for as long as I can remember, but not all who wander are lost.

Briefly in our history together there was a time when she made hot milk-tea for me and my older brothers, down in her little house on the creek that ran very near our home. Briefly. And then she was gone. Me, waving goodbye to this lady, "Have fun in Hooish Bon Dooish!" It was British Honduras back then, and she was off on a lark. A lark that wouldn't end.  

I think about being a mother to my own daughter. It is the closest relationship you can have between two people -- the relationship between a parent and child. It surpasses all others. And as I love my own daughter with the greatest depth of my being, the greatest heights of my soul, I think of my grandmother, Lois, and her seven children -- her seven daughters -- each as unique and gifted as the next.  She certainly passed along a fire to each one and instilled a sense of proud individualism in them all. I spent much of my time at their elbows, quietly listening during the lengthy gatherings, all these women in a circle, lawn chairs in the yard, or clustered around the kitchen table. And I listened. And I absorbed. And they talked. They never stopped talking. And nothing was ever held in check. Direct and honest, sure, but also opinionated. And all opinions were freely shared. Ah, sisterhood. And I having but four brothers -- I, drawn here to the circle of my family. I learned much. 

Lois -- the one with the original fire in her belly and the wanderlust in her eye -- broke away from others' expectations more than once in her life. First from her parents, and then from a husband or two, and even from the expectations of her children. She sometimes shocked and surprised, but that was what I always expected from my grandmother. Don't bake cookies for me, run off to an island and marry a man twenty years younger, thank you.

I look at my grandmother's life and I know that anything is possible. It is possible to be ninety-one and carrying on like nobody's business. And it is nobody's business to Lois. Don't fence me in. I love that song, it's her song.

I look at the things my grandmother has taught me, what she has passed to my mother, my mother to me. I hope to be able to give to my own daughter the same solid sense of self and the fire to live her own life.
Cathleen Sutherland is a native Austinite, from several generations of thick Texas blood. Her sturdy demeanor was cultivated at an early age by too many brothers and a penchant for hiding away with a book. Raised in a house with no central air or heat, her family fled to a barn for the coldest winter imaginable. She quickly left home at fifteen to attend the High School for Performing and Visual Arts, then on to major in Theatre and finally Radio- Television-Film at the University of Texas. Caught up in its glamorous world, she has worked in freelance film production ever since. Her true passion is writing children's stories and singing John Denver tunes when no one is around. A checkered resume also includes dallying as a teacher's aide, camp counselor, actress, model, waitress, seamstress, gift wrapper, Santa Claus, still photo stylist, and High Ropes instructor. Her greatest joy in the world is her daughter Nicolette. They live happily together in a cozy cottage with their two dogs, Daisy and Jezebel.