Susan Dix Lyons: Living My Mother's Dream

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Susan Dix Lyons traces the dreams of her mother to her own dream of a life in California.

I’m looking at a photo of my mom when she was a girl. In the photo,  which is black and white, she’s about 12. She’s sitting on patchy ground next to a white shingled house with her hands laced around her knees. There’s a bicycle beside her with a metal basket attached to the handlebars. She’s wearing white ankle socks, sneakers, a short-sleeved checked shirt. She is looking away from the camera, unsmiling.

It's estimated that 36% of Californians were not born in the state. I’m in that number. I was born in Ohio, like my mom, who grew up poor on the Ohio River with a single mother and dreams too ravenous to neglect. She was smart. And a beauty queen. Miss Gallia County. She got a scholarship and studied education, the only person in her family to go to college. She wanted me and my siblings to have big lives.

Of course, I ended up in the biggest state in the country, trying to fill the hunger at the root of all of our dreams.

I’m looking at the photo of my mom, who lives across the country and worlds away, as outside my darkened window I can see the lit dome of San Francisco City Hall. Tonight, it’s blue and white. I’ve read that it’s one of the largest in the world, with a height of 306 feet – more than a foot taller than the dome of the U.S. Capitol.

And I’m here thinking about bigness and hunger, and the solitary girl looking away from the camera whose gaze I followed far away from her.

Here, tonight, I can see how my migration tells the story of my mom’s desires and disappointments. This city of so much beauty and longing. This place where I have come carrying the dreams of those who no longer say their own out loud.

I am looking at a photo of a girl from Ohio and thinking of California, of San Francisco, of home. This dome outside my window. This light my mother lit inside my heart.

With a Perspective, I’m Susan Dix Lyons.

Susan Dix Lyons is a nonprofit founder and student who lives in San Francisco and Angwin.