When I was 10, my family took a sabbatical to Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Before that we lived in Williamsville New York, a suburb of Buffalo. My father was a Chemistry professor at SUNY/Buffalo, and so every seven years, he could take a sabbatical and visit another university to do research.
At the time of that first sabbatical, I had decidedly mixed feelings. I wasn’t a particularly adventurous or outgoing child. My face didn’t light up at the thought of new places and new adventures. I thought more about missing my friends, especially my best friend who lived next door, who was also named Karen.
Looking back now, of course I’m glad we did it. Adults are like that; we have the benefit of hindsight. It was the only time I have ever lived in the southern United States, and we experienced the famous southern hospitality and friendliness. My school in upstate New York had been pretty uniformly white, and my time in North Carolina was the first time I got to have black friends and teachers.
Over spring break, which included Easter, my best friend Karen and her family came to visit us for a camping trip on the Outer Banks of Cape Hatteras. We hadn’t seen each other for months, and social media didn’t exist yet.
I don’t honestly remember all that well, but if subsequent experience is any indication, the reunion was probably awkward.
But we finally went off together, just the two Karens, and we started drawing circles in the sand. The waves came in and washed them away. We drew more, and tried halfheartedly to run away from the waves before they got our feet wet.
Then she drew a heart, and inside it she wrote, “Love is being a Buffalo Sabres fan.” As I read it, trying to figure out what it said, I stood there too long, and got drenched up to my knees by a wave. After that we ran back and forth, into and out of the waves, writing about Buffalo’s hockey team in the sand and watching it wash away. Improbably, back in Williamsville, we both had been Buffalo Sabres fans, collecting stamps from the grocery store to fill a collector’s book, going to the mall to get autographs, following their improbable run to the Stanley Cup Finals the previous year. But hockey was not much of a thing in North Carolina, and I’d let it slide. Now we reconnected over these sand drawings.
“What happened to you?” demanded our parents when we returned to the campsites, wet from head to toe. Just a walk along the beach, drawing circles in the sand.
Yesterday I had what realistically is probably my last viola lesson with my current teacher. Probably . . . realistically . . . clearly I don’t want this to have been my last lesson. Qualifying adverbs much? We left it open that as moving day approaches, if I want some time to do something hands-on that uses a different part of my brain than packing and decluttering (like, I dunno, PLAYING AN INSTRUMENT?), I should come over and have another lesson. She’ll be there.