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A new view from our empty nest

As son Erik heads off to college, I wonder how often he'll come home.

I was frequenting Two Leaves and a Bud, Concord's excellent tea shop.

As it happens, I've known the owners, Lina Gibson and Molly Reese, since the terrible Dark Ages in Concord (before their tea shop opened). We met when my son, Erik, was 9.

Lina, who knew This Was The Year, asked me how I felt about Erik leaving for college.

“I'm not worried,” I said. “We've been empty-nesters already. We did this when he left home at 16 to go to Durham to school.”

“Oh, no,” Lina said in her wonderfully wise way. “He had to come home then, right?”

“Yes,” I stammered. “He came home once a month.”

“It's different now,” she said firmly. “He might come home at first. But wait a year. Then you'll never see him again.”

“Really?”

“That's what they do,” she said cheerfully.

I reassured myself on the way home. Erik likes his parents. We get along. He'll come home.

The morning we left, it seemed I had all the evidence of our familial closeness I needed. We joked cheerfully over breakfast.

“Man,” I said, as I tried to angle for glasses on the top shelf. “Someday, I'd love to have those pull-down shelves you can get these days.”

“Mom thinks she is short,” Erik said.

My husband, Ralf, snorted.

“Wouldn't it be nice?” I asked. “Then I wouldn't have to ask you guys for help!”

“If you pull down a shelf,” Ralf, said, “everything will tumble to the floor. That'll be your pull-it surprise.”

Erik groaned. A second or two later, I got it. I groaned.

About half an hour later, we piled in the car. Our old Country Squire station wagon – a car built the same year I met my husband (yes, that is about three decades ago) – was packed to the gills. The back seat was laid flat for the futon Erik had inherited from a friend, his keyboard, the accordion, a refrigerator, toiletries, T-shirts – well, you get the idea.

All three of us had to sit in front. I got to sit in the crazy middle space, because I am, admittedly, short, and there is a hump in the middle of the floor. Ralf's seat was three inches higher than the bench on Erik's side. I had to ask Erik to move closer to the door.

“A family that squishes together…” I said cheerfully, “eats knishes together!”

“When was the last time we ate knishes?” Erik asked as we jostled about, trying to find a comfort zone for us both.

I leaned on Erik's shoulder. For sure he would come home and visit us, I thought. For sure.

We drove to Erik's college town. I was reminded of the Emerald City of Oz. Only instead of wearing green, everyone wore the same sky blue color: T-shirts, hats, shorts, skirts, pants, socks, ties. Given the stock in the university bookstore, things I couldn't see (thankfully) were likely the same shade of sky blue.

The world was really, really blue.

When it came time to say goodbye, we did so without much fanfare. Erik's body language was quite clear: He had people to meet and places to go.

Ralf and I got into the car to drive home.

“Do you think he'll come home to visit?” I asked.

Freelance writer Barbara Thiede teaches in the UNCCharlotte Department of Religious Studies. Write to her in care of Cabarrus Neighbors, 4735 Corporate Drive N.W., Suite 500, Concord, NC 28027, or e-mail her at barbara.thiede@earthlink.net.

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