by Carol Peszka

It was a picture perfect Labor Day morning in September of 1981 when we started out to take our first born child, Laurie, to the college dormitory she would call home on and off for the next four years. It was a short drive, only 15 minutes, and I was secretly grateful we didn’t have the added distance of three or four hours driving time to some of the schools to which she applied. We pulled into the parking lot, and cars with various license plates loaded down with stereos, trunks, cartons and miniature refrigerators began filling the area.

As I watched the car being unloaded and saw a good deal of my house belongings among them (syndicated columnist Erma Bombeck had warned me), I couldn’t help but wonder where 18 years had gone. This beautiful woman-child, who only yesterday was being brought home from the hospital asleep and snug in a pink blanket, then taking a few hesitant first steps and going on to nursery school and kindergarten.

I remembered the poster contest she won from the Philadelphia Fire Department and the coloring contest from an insurance company (a portent of things to come). Always a dedicated and serious student, it surprised no one when she was awarded a full tuition scholarship to Gwynedd Mercy Academy High School.

I can remember Freshman Day when with that eager smiling face, she came home covered with green bows and ribbons. Freshman year melted into sophomore year and a first boyfriend. Junior year brought the prom and another boyfriend. Senior year became a whirlwind of social and scholastic activities and another boyfriend. Again, to no one’s surprise, she was awarded scholarships to college, along with several awards and honors upon graduation, choosing to attend LaSalle College.

And so in four, oh-so-swift years later, we trudge up the steps like so many others before us have gone, with our stereos and refrigerators, to a small room meant for two but because of tight housing, now accommodating three good friends, all fellow graduates from high school. The room is rearranged to everyone’s satisfaction, and after some small talk it seems obvious that the time has come to say our goodbyes.

The ride home is strangely silent, each absorbed in his/her own thoughts. I wonder if Laurie will eat properly, and her father comments on her safety in these new environs. I tell her boyfriend that he is always welcome, this handsome young man who is a perfect example of all that is right with the young generation.

At home, Laurie’s room looks so empty and forlorn. Dried flower bouquets from proms adorn the top of a mirror, and stuffed animals give mute testimony to a little girl grown up. Meanwhile, her brothers and sister are fighting for possession of the now empty bedroom.

And then I find them. Five letters she addressed to each of us, her family. In each she bids us farewell, thanks us for life and love and looks to the future with all the enthusiasm and inspiration of the young. There is a personal message for each one. This beautiful child of ours who has given us more than life, bids adieu to a part of childhood that is gone and looks with hope to a future that is challenging and unknown. Somehow, when I contemplate these events, I can’t help but think I haven’t lost a daughter but gained a friend.

Now, 34 years later, we are reliving the experience of saying goodbye as our oldest grandchild, Laurie’s niece Sarah, leaves for Montclair State College. My eyes grow misty, and I get a lump in my throat when I think of all the good times, the birthdays, graduations, weddings and, yes, the sad times with the passing of grandparents and great-grandparents.

As so many have gone before us, we will be both wistful and happy and wish all incoming college students a wonderful life.

Carol Peszka lives in Erdenheim with husband Frank, married 53 years with four children, five grandchildren, and four granddogs.