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A.’s daughter starts at Binghamton University this year and they are busy planning the trip there. A. is a bit nervous about it, as she often is about driving to new places. It’s not so much the driving itself (although she never really learned to like driving, a city kid who didn't get her license until late) but the directions. She gets agitated, if not actually panicky, when lost or disoriented. Of course there is GPS, but it’s not the same as actual familiarity.

A. doesn’t know Binghamton at all, despite four undergraduate years nearby at Cornell. Ithaca was like a bubble for her then, or a pod, to which she came from the Bronx, then went back, as the academic calendar dictated. What lay between was just time and abstract distance rather than real places. 

It will be easier for her daughter than it was for her. Most things are. This is something she tries never to say, nor even think, although the former is sometimes difficult and the latter almost impossible. She considers herself successful if she doesn’t dwell upon it, which honestly she doesn’t. She is happy and satisfied beyond measure for the advantages she has provided her daughter.  

When A. came to Cornell there was no family car. She was entirely prepared, at least in her mind, to take a bus with a couple of suitcases. She didn’t have much to bring anyway. But the real issue was the emotional one of making the trip alone. Her parents wanted that less than she did. After some doing her father announced that a friend from work would lend them his car.  

In preparation her father studied maps. He had never driven upstate. He joked that there might be no people to get directions from, only cows and horses, plus he might get snow blind.

The maps were fine until reaching Ithaca. The highways were big clear lines with numbers, easy to align with a general sense of direction (go north, go west), but on paper the city streets were small and jumbled. The family ended up lost downtown (A. still doesn’t know how they missed the campus), but eventually saw signs for a Visitors Center and stopped there. A staffer directed them up the hill and wished them luck. “I guess Cornell is a hard place to get to,” he said, and A. remembers thinking “You said it,” but not whether she said it out loud.

When A. was applying to colleges her parents told her to choose anywhere she wanted and not worry about money, that they would get it. She knew this was a baseless hope but a sincere commitment and she appreciated and loved them for it. Along with Cornell and two other schools she applied to Binghamton, which was called SUNY Binghamton then as a state school. She knew it would be a cheaper option than a private school, but in the end it didn’t matter. Cornell gave her aid, loans and a job that made the cost the same.

A. had given the same directive to her daughter. The promise would be easier to keep for A. than for her parents. Ultimately her daughter chose Binghamton and told A. it was her first choice. A. asked if she was thinking about money and her daughter admitted she was, in part, but wasn’t that part of a true first choice? A. appreciated and loved her for that, and consented when she was sure this was her daughter’s real wish.

A.’s parents hadn’t wanted to return home the same day after bringing her to Ithaca, getting back to the Bronx in the dark, her father an inexperienced driver, her mother an inexpert navigator, neither of them with very good English. By the time they secured a car and could plan things it was too late to find a room in Ithaca, but they got one in Elmira. Her mother said it was just as well because they didn’t want to linger, they wanted A. to get started on her new life. Not until years later did her mother tell her it took them a while to drive away after saying goodbye, for crying.

A. is not planning to stay overnight after bringing her daughter to Binghamton. It’s an easier trip for her than her parents had. In considering the lives of the three generations, she does not mind dwelling upon that.

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