It’s August, with fall just a few chilly nights away. Back-to-school ads are in full swing, reminding me of those hectic, expensive, ridiculously bittersweet days before my kids had the nerve to grow up and become independent adults.

And I’m thinking geography. Geography? Well, almost anything at the start of school makes me think of my long-standing difficulty with geography — aka my genetic disease — handed down through the maternal line. It’s got to be, in part, due to some disorder. Boomers like to speculate about disorders. God knows there are plenty by the time we get — well, never mind.

I believe science would support my genetics theory of how I suffer — medically — from the inability to know where Colorado is located. (It’s somewhere over that way, right? I’m sitting in Westbrook, pointing toward South Portland, kind of toward Target.)

Geography has never been my strong suit. Part of the blame must go to an incredibly cute, ruggedly built (by 8th grade standards) boy named Jim. Jim flirted with me so persistently in geography class that I lost track of … of … um … well, you get the picture. The teacher would turn to write on the board and Jim would lean toward me from his desk, and it was all over. Mongolia, shmongolia. I was wilted with love, which involved rapid pulse and loss of appetite. Take that, Jenny Craig.

Here at my yet-unlicensed Westbrook School of Genetic Research, Brook Street Campus, I am gathering data: 1) My mother had it. 2) I inherited it. 3) One of my daughters got it.

Case history: As a teen, my daughter Sally took William, our youngest, to the downtown Portland Library. Afterward, her car was missing. She called the police. While waiting, little brother (about 5 at the time) casually said, “Sal? It’s over dere, on dat udder stweet!”

As a physician, my husband Ted is amused by my geography void and says he’s never heard of my “supposed” disorder. Some boomers can be so snotty. Nevertheless, he tries. He even bought me a children’s atlas, and man, is that thing great when we’re traveling! I simply turn it in the direction of where we’re driving so I feel like I’m walking there. Ted finds this funny. See, geographical explanations don’t make sense to me. I don’t know where anything is unless I visit. Fact: In 31 years in this area, I’ve gotten the trip to our neighborhood Shaw’s down pretty well.

Conclusive data:

Last week, on TV, a picture of an exotic land bursts onto the screen.

“Wow!” I yell, “What is that place?!?”

“Tahiti,” he says.

Me: “Oooo. Where’s that?”

He’s holding back a grin: “The South Pacific.”

“Some Enchanted Evening” pops into my head.

Me: “And by South Pacific you mean — the Caribbean?”

His face registers disbelief.

He tries again, gently: “The South Pacific?”

Me: “Uh — and where is that exactly?”

I visualize water.

He: “C’mon. Use your brain pan a little.”

My brain pan? My brain pan? Did I miss another subject in school? Who sat near me in biology?!?

Me, now using my brain pan, which sounds like something disgusting to cook with: “As in the Pacific Ocean?”

(Hope he gives me credit for the proper use of “as in.”)

He looks at me in that patient, professorial way.

He: “That’s a good start.”

He’s considering the possibility that he might have to figure out a way to actually take me to Tahiti. I watch him as he mentally considers the importance of a learning experience for me. Ted is very serious when it comes to things like geography and history. Such a drag for the poor guy, right? I mean, it’s not like he buys himself nice jewelry like I do while I’m somewhere learning a lot about the world.

But we boomers like to learn new things and have fun, and he gets it that I learn by doing. In fact, this fall we’re driving down to New York City. That’s south of Maine. I’ve learned that much.

So maybe — well, it’s just a three-day weekend, but maybe — maybe we can make a quick stopover. That Tahiti place looks so nice.

 

Kathy Eliscu is a freelance writer who lives in Westbrook.