Cutting the Umbilical Cord
Copyright 2019 by Sara Etgen-Baker
is a true account of my thwarted
attempt at cutting the umbilical cord with my family. My altered
plans forever changed my perspective of family and awakened my
understanding of the power of synchronicity.
awoke at dawn; packed my remaining personal items into a duffle bag;
and slung it over my shoulder. I approached the front door, wrapping
my hand around the bronze door knob, memorizing its patina, and
twisting it until the weary front door opened. The seasons had taken
their toll on it, baking it in summer and freezing it in winter. Now,
the door’s once brilliant blue paint was brittle and faded in
the sunlight. I closed my eyes, remembering how often I’d
passed through this door and entered another chapter of my life: first
day of kindergarten, Girl Scout investiture, first middle
school dance, first date, and my first summer job. So many memories
were here, and all of them balled up in my chest at once.
snapped the door shut and heard the ghost of my childhood whimper as
I turned to face the sharp autumn wind. Sure, I was grown up and
enthusiastic about leaving home for the first time. Yet, I couldn’t
shake the sinking feeling that I’d not just miss the people I
loved in this place, but I’d also miss the person I was in this
place. However, I couldn’t stop—not now. I was committed
to cutting the umbilical cord and distancing myself from family and
the place I called home.
turned the key in my car’s ignition, uneasiness stirring in the
pit of my stomach, and backed out of the driveway bound for Muncie,
Indiana, and my first post-college job. I cruised down the freeway
gazing straight ahead, glimpsing only occasionally in my rearview
mirror. One mile forward, one more, and then another. North Texas’
tree-covered hills slowly gave way to Oklahoma’s rocky mesas
and Missouri’s heavily-forested Ozark mountains covered with
trees clothed in crimson, gold, and brown. With each mile forward,
everything familiar slipped further and further away. By
mid-afternoon I arrived in Springfield, Missouri—the
halfway point of my journey and the city where Granddad lived.
pulled into his driveway and saw Granddad sitting in his front porch
swing—the place we’d shared summer evenings together
during my childhood visits. He waved, motioning me to join him. I
sat down next to him on the swing, my eyes taking in its familiar
peeled white coat and rough wooden seat.
brings you my way?” Granddad asked.
going to Muncie, Indiana,” I answered, my breath quickening. “I’ve
taken a job at Ball State University!”
great news! But,” a slight frown creased his forehead, “why
Muncie? Why so far from home?”
uh…,” my voice faltered, and my mouth went dry. “I
can’t really explain it to you. For some inexplicable reason I
was drawn to Muncie. Besides, the distance lets me cut the umbilical
cord with home and family and become independent.”
“Hmm.” A hint of irritation flashed across his face. “If you say so.
You had dinner yet?”
inside. We’ll eat,” he replied in a deliberate tone of
voice. I silently followed him into his kitchen where he warmed some
leftovers. “Didn’t your mother ever tell you?” he
asked as we sat down for dinner.
settling in Missouri, my father migrated from Pennsylvania to Muncie
where he worked in the gas fields for Ball Brothers Glass
Manufacturing. Muncie was my boyhood home,” he declared, his
blue eyes twinkling. “So in a way, you’re returning
“WHAT?” My hand flew to my chest.
“Yes! And my brother still lives in the house where I grew up. You must
see it!” He reached for his telephone.
wait! No!” But I couldn’t stop him.
Claude. Bert here. Oh, me? Fine. You remember my granddaughter? She’s
moving to Muncie. What’s that? Yes, I know. Such
a coincidence! And she’ll be working at Ball State. Imagine
that! What? Sure. She’d love to meet you and the family.” He smiled
rather smugly. “I’ll give her your address.”
hung up the telephone. “Here.” He handed me a piece of
paper with Claude’s address scribbled on it. “Claude and
the family are eager to meet you.”
Granddad,” I stared at the piece of paper, “didn’t
you hear me? I’m moving to Muncie to cut the umbilical cord
with family not connect with it!”
“Yes, I heard
you, darlin’,” he asserted. “But it seems to me
that the Universe has its own agenda. You’ll learn soon enough
that things don’t always go the way you intended. That’s
just the way of the Universe.
way of the Universe? What are you talking about, Granddad?”
Universe is constantly orchestrating people, places, and events in
seemingly random, unrelated directions. But nothing in the Universe
is truly random. In fact, a great synchronicity is taking place.
Relinquish your control,” he advised, “and accept that
people, places, and events are in your life for a reason. It’s
up to you to discover that reason.”
I know the reason why I left home, and it’s not to be with
family!” I stuffed the piece of paper deep inside my jeans
pocket and stormed off to bed, sleeping restlessly.
me you’ll visit Claude,” Granddad reiterated as he kissed
me goodbye the next morning.”
alright, Granddad! I promise,” the words all but choking me.
arriving in Muncie, I drove to Claude’s house wishing with all
my heart that I hadn’t promised Granddad I’d do so.
Welcome!” Claude exclaimed, opening his
front door. “Come in!” He ushered me to an easy chair across from
his fireplace. “I’m delighted to finally meet my great
niece! I’m not much for words, but I’ve much to tell you
about the family. I, uh…really don’t know where to
begin,” he said, his voice trailing off. He handed me a large,
cumbersome volume with the words Stainbrook Family History
embossed on the cover. “This book tells our story from the
beginning. I’ll leave you to it,” Claude said,
disappearing from the room.
book was old and heavy, bound in green leather. It was cracked and
dry with age and smelt faintly of Claude’s pipe tobacco and
dust. I eased back in the chair and propped my feet on a footstool,
soaking in the warmth from his cheery fireplace and carefully
fingering the gold lettering on the outside before opening the book.
The pages rustled as I thumbed through its yellowed and fragile
pages. Words and images appeared and disappeared as I devoured the
pages, immersed in the story of Jacob Steinbruchel, the initial
Stainbrook who came to the U.S. from Germany arriving in Philadelphia
in 1747. He obtained his citizenship; bought land in Buck County,
Pennsylvania; and married. Before Indians killed him in 1757, he
bore three children—Maria, George, and Abraham, forever sealing
their fate and the fortune of generations of Stainbrooks to follow as
continuing and laid down the book, glancing at the richly carved
mantel in front of me. It was filled with vintage family photos,
many clouded with dust and age. I was attracted to a small oval
portrait of a young woman. I stood up and stared at her photograph. Her
gaze, undimmed by time, met mine, and I immediately felt a deep,
enigmatic connection to her. The smile on her face comforted me, and
I sensed her love for me—a love as real as if she were in the
room with me.
have her strong cheek bones,” Claude interjected when he
re-entered the room. “The resemblance is uncanny.”
never knew her. She’s your great-grandmother, Martha Elizabeth
Stainbrook. She was your age when this photo was taken.”
Claude was wrong. I’d known her face forever. I’d seen
it long before I knew this photograph existed, for Martha’s
features were the same ones I’d seen on both my mother’s
and grandfather’s faces. At that moment, my perspective
shifted as I recognized the Universe had, as Granddad suggested,
orchestrated my move to Muncie but not for the reason I intended. I
hadn’t come to Muncie to cut the umbilical cord with home and
family. Rather, I’d been drawn to Muncie to strengthen my
connection to family and bond with them in a much broader sense.
Suddenly, I felt transformed, nourished, and imbued with a deeper
fragrance of meaning and a heightened appreciation for
synchronicity—the ever-present reality and invisible force that
links the past, present, and future together.
three years I lived and worked in Muncie, spending a great deal of
time getting to know Uncle Claude and a host of other Stainbrook
family members. I’m grateful for my time with them, for my life
was richer for it. Before returning to Texas, Uncle Claude gave me
the Stainbrook Family History book, inscribing
these words on
the title page: Sara, An indelible, timeless, connection
between us. May you find strength and comfort in knowing you’re
part of such a rich family history. Love, Uncle
the years I have taken great pleasure in his words and the invisible
bond with my family.
book now sits on my bookshelf, reminding me of the magic of
synchronicity and the inexplicable, mysterious connectedness I
ofttimes experience with people, places, events, and the like. Granddad
was right. There are no coincidences. Nothing happens by
chance. The Universe works in its own way, and I’ve learned to
surrender to It.
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
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