Leaving Home

Page One

I know, I know. Compared to the rest of the world, my life is easy; some might even say privileged. My family has called eastern Pennsylvania home for generations and the family business dates to the end of World War II. A soldier mechanic returned from the Pacific, Big Poppa Gould decided against the G.I. Bill and college in favor of the car business. In the beginning, he dealt only in the used variety. Each one rebuilt by him, hands under the hood, grease beneath his nails.

Seven decades later, daddy has three dealerships, a GMC truck shop, a Chevrolet shop, and the crowned jewel of the Gould Dynasty, a Cadillac dealership. Retirement is hurdling toward daddy and in his mind, only Saul—with an Associate’s degree in business something or other, from Keystone College—is qualified to shepherd the family legacy into the electric or hydrogen/fuel cell generation of American automobiles. My parent-defined job is to find a doctor or lawyer that will be family acceptable, get married, and start spitting out grandbabies they could spoil in their post-dealership days.

So why am I complaining? It is time my family left the nineteen fifties and fell headlong into the twenty-first century. If I didn’t lead the way it might never happen, and any child I produced deserves more than a family still alive and well in 1955, even if its father might be a brain surgeon.

I haven’t told them. It’s my secret. Applying to college, I mean, and in Texas of all places. That, and I don’t want one of daddy’s dealership cronies pulling any strings. I have never doubted his love and while in his world baby-making is my primary function, after a conniption, he’d do just about anything he thought might help. I’ve had friends tell me Austin is the bomb, and spending four years there sounds like heaven. What’s not to love when the average January temperature is 20 degrees warmer than here?

I applied at two schools because it’s been a while since high school, and if one forgets half of what she learns over the summer break, a four years break might mean I’ve forgotten easy things like, state capitols. The University of Texas is my ultimate goal but I’m a realist, so I also applied at ACC. It’s the local 2-year school. Grandpa once told me that “giving folks options is what sells cars.” Applying his wisdom to the college application process just seemed to make sense.

My performance on standardized tests has never been stellar but getting into a 2-year place couldn’t be too hard. Could it? Too, going to college was a far cry from Conrad Weiser High, Bernville, Pa. Sure, I want to go for the gold but if UT said no, I’d spend two years at ACC and transfer all those hours to UT. I’m willing to bet that happened lots.

Page Two

I’d no idea it’s so complicated, the application process, I mean. I had to get transcripts, recommendations, write an essay and blow my own whistle about extracurricular activities. I’m not good at that blow-your-own-whistle thing, but realized that’s what the whole college thing is about—blowing my whistle so daddy can see that I have one, and too, that I could blow it—so concluded I’d better figure it out and quick like. I’m not a slacker, I did some volunteer stuff at a local women’s shelter. I even worked with underprivileged kids. Oh, and nursed abused pets, and helped organize and manage a local fundraiser that bought a new car for a deserving local family. We Gould’s have long understood good fortune demands giving back. I’m proud of that part of my history. Me on paper was almost unrecognizable. With newfound pride, I packaged and sent the application—times two—and the job now is to wait.

Jeez, all that waiting has just about pushed me over the bimbo line all the way to wacko. It’s not like I could tell anyone. So there I was, rushing to the mailbox every day for almost three weeks after the applications said I should expect an answer. It was like missing my first period after spending the night with Billy Webber. Christ, the tension was just awful. Except then, I went to the pharmacy in Reading and bought an EPT kit. What a relief. Imagine me with a baby! And Billy Webber is hardly doctor or lawyer material. The best possible outcome from that debacle would’ve been Billy as a Chevy salesman. Yes, Chevy. No way would daddy let him sell Caddies.

That Thursday afternoon has stayed as fresh in my memory as mom’s birds and bees talk; for different reasons true, but still as vivid as yesterday’s sunset. Truthfully, I was so busy I’d forgotten the daily dash to frustration. I just happened to see the mailman stuff the mailbox as I was pulling into the drive. I’d been in Philly all day shopping. A girl has gotta have school clothes.

So anyway, I parked and strolled to the roadside like I was walking down some runway in Paris, a model at a fashion show–yeah, I could be silly back then. Anyways, mixed in with the junk mail and Williams and Sonoma catalog were two envelopes addressed to me. Responses from both schools on the same day. Making my way back to the car, I looked like a kid sneaking away to smoke a cigarette and felt like some stowaway walking the plank off a pirate ship. I can’t remember a time when I felt as helpless, my entire future in the hands of some distant bureaucrat. My step off that plank could plunge me into the abyss of small-town Pennsylvania, or a world of infinite possibilities.

Page Three

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, but as a kid, your future in someone else’s hands is how the world works, and a thing you never think about. Okay, you can call me late-to-the-party, still sitting there looking at two envelopes addressed to Miss. Karyn Gould was both exhilarating and terrifying, I was about to do eenie meenie miney mo when I realized I’m twenty-two and about to open a letter that will change my life. When I look back on those terrifying moments, I now know I matured as much there in my front seat, as in the entire preceding twenty-two years.

Like I said, I’m a realist so I set the UT letter aside.

The envelope tore like I was trying to open some top-secret CIA directive. I was either weakened by my state or ACC wanted to make sure you were serious. If you could open the envelope, you must really want to be there. To this day I can feel the paper on my fingertips. See the letter fall open from the crease.

“We are pleased to inform you . . .” I didn’t read another word. I didn’t need to. Oh my God, completely unexpectedly my heart began pounding. My head was spinning like after the first deep inhale of a really good bowl of weed. I was instantly in Austin, never mind that I’d only ever seen pictures on the internet. I was strutting down Sixth Street, darting in and out of clubs, checking out the gorgeous guys. I was about to be a college student.

Suddenly, I realized I was about to be a college student!  I froze with fear. OMG, if I did this and failed, I’d be the laughing stock of the Gould clan for generations to come. I folded the acceptance letter and for more than a few moments thought about trashing it, telling no one. I could suddenly see the wisdom in that doctor and baby thing. Three sharp inhales followed by a long slow exhale—twice repeated—slowed my heart rate. A cool breeze gushed through the car window and the spinning that had clutched my brain piggybacked with trepidation to be carried away on the breeze out the passenger side window.

“Daddy, Momma. I got some news. I’ve been accepted to attend Austin Community College in Austin, Texas. That’s a two-year school. I’m going there in the fall to start a business program that I will finish at the University of Texas.

“Then I’ll come home and help run the company so you two can retire and travel.”

Page Four

Their response was total silence. As frenetic as were the first few moments in the front seat of my Beemer, their response caused me to think this was all a dream turned nightmare. I even thought that something got in the water, or air, or my mouthwash, and caused—at a minimum—mass deafness or—at worst—a catatonic state in middle-aged Jewish parents. I smiled hoping some evidence of my joy might break through the trance. It had no impact. I’ve no idea how long they sat motionless, speechless, and reactionless, it seemed like for a hour.

Finally, my mother spoke. “The table’s not going to set itself. The pot roast will be ready in a few minutes.” She left the room without acknowledging my existence much less my announcement.

“Daddy, please!” I implored. “Pleased be happy for me.”

“Texas? Where people carry rifles in the back window of their pickup trucks? What’s wrong with Keystone College?”

The road trip to Austin was fantastic. I’d never driven myself past the New York, Pennsylvania state line. True, I have a great car and never for a minute thought about not getting here, but uneventful it was not. I got lost in West Virginia looking for the Hatfield burial grounds, ate some great barbeque in Nashville, was in two states in one city—Texarkana is in both Texas and Arkansas—spent a couple of days shopping at Neiman Marcus in Dallas, and ate my first of many Tex-Mex meals my first night in Austin. It was a perfect beginning to four years in heaven.

I’m still blond and still enjoy nice things, but what I learned in Texas was so much more than functional areas of management, theory, principles, and concepts. I learned that I’m part Karyn and part Big Poppa Gould, part independent woman, part Saul’s little sister.

Oh, there's something else. I won’t be running the family business. I had no idea it was so hard to get into McCombs at UT. Even with pretty good grades at ACC, and whatever pull daddy’s buddy thought he had.

Too, I am delighted to report none of that matters. I met a guy. His family owns an oil company. He just finished a degree in petroleum engineering and will start working in the family business as soon as the baby is born. Isn’t it crazy how life works? Momma is beside herself. I guess she thought she’d never be a grandma. What, with all my talk about being in the car business. They're gonna take their first retirement trip here, to Austin. They arrive Friday and will stay for a couple weeks after the baby comes.

Page Five

I know, I know what you’re thinking. It’s just that life sometimes has other plans for us. Still, I love Austin. I love my husband. I love my parents. And if Saul runs the company right into bankruptcy, he can come to Texas and get a job as a roughneck.

Wouldn’t that be a hoot?


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