A wanderling’s alphabet.

My nephew Niko has turned two years old, which means it’s time for him to learn to read. His sister Laxmi is eleven months and we might as well get her started too. My plan is to make an alphabet book and reveal each letter, one by one, like a literary burlesque. When I was ten, I started a series of illuminated letters that I never finished, which broke my Dad’s heart:

(Lily, Eclipse, Kaleidoscope.)

…and I thought that starting them over, from the beginning, would be a nice gift to everyone.

But recently Donny delivered some heavy news: he and his family may be leaving Melleray, the beautiful farm he and my Dad built from scratch, and moving abroad so he can take a teaching job. Whether it’ll be in Mexico, Lesotho, or the United Arab Emirates, we don’t know yet.

When talking to Donny on the phone, I mused that I knew people who grew up moving all over the world, children of diplomats or petroleum engineers. They learned to identify home as a set of people. But that wasn’t us. I always identified home as a geographical place: Annville, Pennsylvania. We were lucky enough to grow up here, a house we got in 1978 for an absurdly low price, pretty much only because the owners really liked my Mom. It was our family’s castle and my heart’s harbor. We left in April 2006. It’s still difficult to think about.

In the wake of Donny’s news, I’ve been grasping at conclusions. What is my family like? What is Donny like? What am I like? Byrnes are known for sudden reversals. For eschewing a thing, then committing to it. For becoming an artist after being a scientist. For moving to an oil kingdom after six years of organic farming. When I was growing up, my Dad liked to remind me that change is the only constant (which usually just made me grumpier about my present circumstance than I already was). But now I notice that huge seismic shifts are getting easier to deal with. I don’t know why. Maybe just the wisdom of age, and the embodied understanding that the present moment is never definitive.

If Donny and his family move, of course I’d miss him and Nicole. But I’d miss Niko and Laxmi horribly. My alphabet plan would have to be modified; I’ll send them new letters in the mail. They’ll mostly be English letters, but I’ll also send letters in Greek and Malayalam and Amharic, which is what makes it a wanderling’s alphabet. The first one will be:

M is for Melleray, your first home, but certainly not your last.


4 Comments on “A wanderling’s alphabet.”

  1. Leah Kaplan says:

    Wow. This is exactly what I’m going through right now–except I’m Donny and I’m breaking my family’s heart. S is for it Sucks.

  2. [...] Here’s the first in my Wanderling’s Illuminated Alphabet series. For background, see here. [...]


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