“Perhaps the most revolutionary act for a woman will be a self-willed journey—and to be welcomed when she comes home.”
— Gloria Steinem, “My Life on the Road”
Across from me as I write is a photograph of our daughter Callison at age three. She is sitting on the steps of a bungalow in Monticello, looking introspective. Her long legs are a tangle and her unruly red curls are held back by a pink headband. She is wearing a two-piece skirt set that I made for her from a vintage tropical print fabric. A closer look reveals an expression of complex emotion not normally associated with someone that age. Her eyes are aware of the camera, perhaps even disdainful of it, but not directed at it. Her mouth is closed, lips pursed as if chewing on a thought. Her long fingers are clasped around one leg at the ankle. Pink jelly sandals compliment the headband. I never dressed my daughter after the age of 18 months. She had her own style, and her choices were always more interesting than mine. But this is not a fashion essay. It’s about revolution.
As a young high school graduate, I left New York and my family to go to Europe on a self-financed open-end ticket, alone. When I returned, after five months of mostly solitary travel, my arrival was largely ignored. The message was clear. Go alone and return alone.
The feminist author and icon of a generation, Gloria Steinem, writes about her nomadic life in her memoir, “My Life on the Road.” The idea of a woman living a self-willed life anywhere, let alone on the road, was anathema to her generation. But Gloria envisioned a time when that might be, if not the norm, at least the possible. My daughter may be proving her right.
Three years ago, after finishing grad school in Ireland, Callison returned to the U.S. and moved to Montana. She went there to reunite with a young man with whom she had a long-distance relationship. We were dubious that she would be happy in a place so foreign after growing up in one of the great metropolitan centers of the world, and living in Europe. We also knew how determined she could be to have her way.
Flashback to a Sullivan County tag sale that summer she was three. Callison spied a blue enamel saucepan and declared she wanted to buy it “for her apartment in China.” Convinced, we bought it for her. It hung on a pegboard in her bungalow bedroom for years, a reminder of her precocity. As if we needed a reminder.
Since then, she has amassed more pots and pans than I have in 35 years of married life. She has also put more miles on her internal odometer in many fewer years. But she has not done it, as Gloria did, alone. Somehow she tweaked the equation of gender roles and found a man who loves to explore as much as she does. She also managed to build a future for herself, having started a non-profit arts and culture organization, The Root & The Bloom, from a city-owned building in Butte.
In a few weeks she will start another journey. She is returning to her Eastern roots and bringing her successful non-profit with her, determined to expand its reach. The young man will be with her, on his own career quest, but her journey is self-willed and she will surely be “welcomed when she comes home.”