#turningofthetassels Reflections of the Bittersweet Moments

greyscale photography of person wearing academic dress
Photo by Malcolm Garret on Pexels.com

Anyone else just plumb wrung out with graduation season having just wound up? By the by, sometimes I can hear in my head people saying, the southern is strong in this one. They’d be right! And it’s at times when I’m the most wrung out that it’s strongest. It’s like the more tired I am, the stronger the southern pops.

Graduation season…the season of bittersweet endings and even bittersweeter beginnings.

Little known fact about me: I’m not just a writer or keeper of this blog. There is way more going on than wordsmithing in my world. I not only tend to a backyard homestead with the love of my life complete with chickens, gardens, berry brambles, and fruit trees, I also run a home-based quilting business. To say spring is a busy time of year around here is an understatement. Throw in graduation season and you get ‘the southern is strong in this one.’

This graduation season, not only was the quilting business in high gear with tee-shirt quilt orders, we had several friends and family graduating high school. Five to be exact. And they were of course scattered to the four corners as it were and is typical for military families. Graduations spanned from the Midwest to the Eastern Shore. While we couldn’t attend them all, we did our level best to be there for each person in our lives who is currently experiencing the bittersweets be it through personal visits, phone calls, or cards and gifts. When faced with making choices like these, let’s just say, sugars, it really sucks. There is not enough southern manners nor etiquette in the world to help sort out who gets top billing in these situations. I digress. As I said, I’m plumb wrung out.

Ultimately, one of our nieces, who we feared might not graduate at all due to uncontrollable issues, got our full and undivided attention by way of personal visit. Holy gravy, have graduation traditions changed since I walked across a small stage in the rural Ozarks, tossed my tassel to the ‘I Made It!’ side of my head, and was struck dumb with the fact I was now in every Biblical sense an adult. In every other sense, I was still just a kid with big ideas and no clue as to how to implement them or achieve all those goals rolling around in my cluttered mind. Although the traditions have changed, I seriously doubt the struck dumb feeling has for all those turning tassels this season. As I watched my beautiful niece make her way across that small stage in the rural Ozarks, one of a class of forty, I was taken back so many years. While the kids were celebrating their bittersweet ending and bittersweeter beginning, I was experiencing bittersweet memories.

Thirty-some-odd years ago, eighteen felt very grown up, old even. Thirty-some-odd years later, I realize that’s not the case. I was just a baby. We all were. So full of hope and aspirations, yet still so young. And along with those thoughts, daunting realizations came to the surface. While I was earning my grown-up wings at college, experiencing all that abbreviated transition has to offer, my husband MarshFox was cutting his teeth at the University of Parris Island in South Carolina then earning his wings in the deserts of the Middle East. He was old enough to take a bullet for his country, but not old enough to buy and drink a beer. That oddity still rings true today for every eighteen-year-old patriot who turn their tassel and mortarboard in for a camouflage uniform at the nearest recruiting center. Old enough to die, not old enough to drink.

The next bittersweet season was but a few weeks after leaving the annals of high school for MarshFox and a few years later for me. While I was toiling away on my senior thesis, MarshFox would toil away at beating back the wolf. Another season. Another bittersweet ending. Another bittersweeter beginning. And the cycle continues.

None of that would cross my mind again for some time until we had a son who was set to turn his tassel. An event that would be delayed by a year due to some unfortunate choices on his part, but we finally achieved it and while I watched with tears of pride, joy, fear, and trepidation, he stretched his wings and flew away. Like the rest of us, he’s fallen along the way, made good choices, some bad decisions, but he’s taken his knocks and continues to look forward to the next bittersweet ending, the next bittersweeter beginning.

This graduation season, I watched all that I’ve ever felt at these moments in time erupt in the parents to the five graduates in our lives this year. I embraced those feelings with them, felt them deep. I revisited my own endings and beginnings, embraced a few new endings and beginnings. It’s tough being just eighteen and having the world presented to you with the turning of a tassel. It’s frightening and exciting. It’s even more frightening and exciting for those of us eighteen many times over. You want to wrap them in cotton and keep them close, keep them safe from all the bad decisions and falls, the scrapes and dents life will inevitably inflict. And all that is just exhausting, honestly. The best we can do is hold their hands, until they let go, then keep it extended for the times they’ll need to come back to that hand, clinging for dear life during all their bittersweet moments, all the times they’ll turn a tassel. Graduations, their own and their children’s, births, job opportunities, moves, and sadly deaths they may experience.

To the graduates this season, turning tassels and looking forward to the next bittersweet moment, I bid you the best of luck. Savor the moments for they will catch up with you when you least expect it and punch you in the sternum with a moment of nostalgia. They’ll bring tears and laughter, smiles and anguish. Your traditions may have changed, but the struck dumb feeling never will.

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