Our small family is scattered across three continents
Our daughter is living in Australia, her dad is in the United States, and I’m in Ireland
Ann Luttrell with her husband Mark and daughter Jane on a recent holiday together in Seattle.
Tall grass on Konza Prairie, Manhattan, Kansas.
Sunflowers on Konza Prairie in Manhattan, Kansas.
I wonder if there are other people like us. There are three in our family, our daughter, my husband and I, each living on a different continent. Our daughter is living in Australia, her dad is in the United States, and I’m in Ireland. While our daughter’s decision was by choice, her dad’s wasn’t.
In 2011 Jane had just completed one year of an arts degree. When she went to Greece the summer of that year and met some Australians, she was hooked. More than anything in the world, she said, wanted to go to Australia. She rationalised with us that the fare wouldn’t be any more expensive than funding a college year. And after all, both myself and her dad had taken a few years off before completing our degrees. So we gave in. She’s still in Australia, now on gap year number four.
In 2013, her dad made the reverse decision and enrolled for a full-time master’s in science. After 25 years of work he needed a career change, and felt it was then or never as he was in his late 50s. He got a first class MA in an area that was considered to have good employment opportunities, but a year after he had graduated he was only able to find part-time work. As we were eating into our savings, he applied for work abroad, and in June 2014 he got a job in Manhattan, Kansas. He’s enjoying his work and there are still no prospects for him in Ireland, so he’s still there.
As for me, I have a job I love, a home, friends, family, my book club and VHI, and I live in a town where’s there’s a great arts scene, in Cork. But I’m spending as much time as I can in Manhattan, Kansas.
It’s a college town, small and manageable. It’s very sleepy during the summer but now the students are all returning and there’s a great buzz and excitement in the air. There’s a military base nearby, and while the practice artillery jars with the sounds of the cicadas, the soldiers are friendly and courteous. The library facilities are second to none and open late every evening. The public can even access the books in the university library. While the temperatures are extreme and the summer has been very hot, the parks have excellent swimming pools, and shade.
The Konza Prairie stands out by a long shot as the great attraction here, with 8,600 acres of tall grass which takes visitors into the flint hills, where I’ve seen bison, quail and hundreds of species of flowers and birds. Think Grand Canyon in terms of the wow factor. It almost makes up for the fact that we are right smack in the middle of the US and therefore very far from the sea. The nearest big town is Kansas City, and that takes two hours to get to.
I haven’t yet met a single Irish person here (I’ve been told there’s one). Being a small town, it’s mostly only the “foreigners” who are open to meeting people. So far I’ve met a Canadian, a German woman, and an Iranian. They tell me the town grows on you, but it certainly ain’t home to me. The Canadian lady said she cried for the first two years with loneliness.
While I count my blessings, I don’t know what’s more lonely, being away or being at home. They use an expression out here, “a good Lonesome”, regarding the people who live in the prairie. It’s a sentiment I’m trying to embrace as I will shortly be saying goodbye to my husband and am not yet over the grief of saying goodbye to our daughter who has been visiting for the past two weeks.
Sometimes I think, wouldn’t it be lovely if we three could be back together again, in 2010, in Ireland. Perhaps I should try buying a pair of ruby slippers and clicking my heels.