I was learning the capitals of all 50 states when they shaved my brother’s head and assigned him to the base in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I had never heard of the UP, until the weekend we went to visit him. My only reward was a dusty blue sweatshirt with the words, “UP – 51st state.”
Wearing it, I tried to memorize the capitals of the other fifty on the excruciatingly long ride home. It may have been the first of a forever lesson on the existence of others. There were other states. Other cities. Even my brother had become an other. Soon, but for my mom and I, that’s what our family would be.
I suppose the awareness was just coming into light. But I could feel the discomfort. My mother could see that I was struggling. “Just make it familiar,” she told me. I reached my head over the back of her car seat, wondering what she meant. “You know, make the connection personal. Tie the capital and the state together with something you already know.” I stared blankly. “Name a state,” she said. “Michigan,” I said — it being in our rearview mirror. “What’s the capital?” “Lansing,” I read off of the map in my hand. “What’s familiar?” she asked. I said the words over and over… quickly. Lansing. Michigan. LansingMichigan. Lanigan. Cindy Lanigan – My best friend. I smiled. “See….” my mom said joyfully. I’ve never forgotten.
I aced the test on Monday, wearing my new sweatshirt. Some laughed. Thought it was ridiculous…a 51st state. But I knew, even then, there was more out there. More of the other, that I would connect to, make my own.
My mother gave me more than a home. From the back seat of a Chevy Impala, she gave me the world.