This is the second generation
of teenaged boys she’s heard
talk about driving to California
the minute the diploma
is in their hand.
It’s as if some DNA
from the gold miners of ’49
is in their blood. I’ll be driving out, he says. John’s going with me.
The next one asks How much would a taxi cost here to San Francisco?
She remembers the energy
she wasted, panicking
over the dangers,
and the child’s innocence.
Now when the third one says I’m outta here, just 6 more months and I’m off to California
she doesn’t falter while peeling the potato,
just nods her head and says That sounds great.
This is no time
for either logic or panic.
Where would we be without our dreams?
Maybe peeling potatoes.
My family gathers around the white-linened table
this day in late November, gathered
to give thanks for the good in our lives.
I sense that some feel grudging
rather than grateful to be here,
coming to see me and not each other,
having grown distant over the years,
what with perceived slights,
different struggles, and divided politics,
both familial and national.
For awhile, we sample and taste in near silence.
Then intermittent, civil,
almost formal conversations begin,
testing the waters,
until one daughter pulls a memory
from her long-ignored trove
and at the telling, her sister’s veneer crumbles
and soon the two cave in on themselves,
helpless with laughter at the memory,
tears of mirth running off their cheeks
and into their gravy,
leaving the rest of us mystified,
but also smiling and somehow relieved,
redeemed, as always, by laughter.
Mary Ellen Shaughan is a native Iowan who now calls Western Massachusetts home. Her poetry has appeared in numerous journals and magazines.