My Mom has made her annual visit this week, and we decided to take a trip to the place she was born, her father was born, where relatives once lived in house after house, where I lived as a child and where my sister spent the months and years after my father passed away. I dream of that place, at night, my visual memory a powerful gift that reminds me in the often broken and disturbed sleep, of places I have seen long ago, but do not remember with my verbal brain. I could not tell you of these places, I only see them in my sleep.
The hill we once sledded down, flattened for a new house. The area where we once lived, nearly unrecognizable, but between my mom, my sister and then me, the memory of passages and ways returns. My Mom tells me to turn around, but I remember this other way. We argue over trout streams I fished with my grandfather, and confused about the turns in the road that were forgotten.
There it is, I tell her, nope, its not its up ahead, but I am right and we turn around and park on the sandy bank. We walk up a rocky, grassy driveway that is trickling with water. She finds a wild strawberry, I am jealous, remember the taste like it was from my breakfast.
And there is the home my grandfather was born in, just a half mile or so from the now renovated old school house he, and then my uncles attended. My mom born in a lumber camp back in the woods behind this house, whose owners clearly use it, love it.
The dogs romp in the damp grass and roll in the watery lawn. Indian Paintbrush simple, beautiful dots the tall grass with daisies, and foxglove which could be a hundred years old or more. We do not stay long but take many photos.
We drive on and after passing a house which was once my great Aunt Lucy’s house we drive up the hill to an old house above the small town and stop. My Mom goes to the door and an old man steps out I hear him from the car. I know you. You are Vel. He kisses her and hugs her pleased as punch to see her. I get out and as I walk up he points at me and says, You are a C. (my mother’s maiden name). I see in this man’s face, son of my Aunt Lucy, her eyes, my grandfather’s chin, all of our noses match and above his eyes, the double lines that have marked my forehead for most of my life, a perfect match, how I have cursed those lines as a scowl, but in his smiling face I see they are just a part of my family lineage, just lines on a forehead.
We had not planned it, had planned against, but later as we drive up the hill, I see the house of a woman my mom has known for most of her life, childhood to now. A falling out split them apart. My sister and I want to stop and she says okay. We chat for only a few minutes but then her husband comes home, he hobbles, old, up the hill to say hello. And a few minutes later, her grandson, and grand nephew drive up in a tractor. The minute the grandson starts to walk up the bank to us, my mom gets tears in her eyes, and I am astounded, he is the picture of his father, even in the way he walks, and for a moment I am 12 again, we played together, hours and hours, and lived like cousins, had Thanksgiving and Easter together, our dad’s hunted together, my brother and the boys hunted together, sleep overs and farting contests, and days picking berries in the hot summer sun, and swimming in the rocky reservoir that now hides the house my other cousin once lived in, as a boy, and riding bikes on the same roads we traveled today, hiding in old houses in the pouring rain, while this now old woman beside me, drove out looking for us.
As we get ready to leave, we are saying our goodbyes. I shake hands with the boys, and am pleased that this 14 year old’s shake is that of a man’s strong, firm, calloused hands, and his blue eyes straight into mine. And then the husband, my dad’s best friend of many many years hugs me. Sometime last year he told my sister that he missed my dad, and she started to cry, and there in his yard, he kisses my cheek and says quietly “love you” and I feel teary eyed and for a moment as though my own father has said this to me.
This day has been good for me, there is something about this place, it is home, still. There is something about family, you can see yourself in their faces, though you have not seen them in decades, there is something in the old friendships that makes you know you are loved even from a place where the ghosts walk. And suddenly in this day, I realize that I was always loved here, the place I wasn’t loved, was in my own heart, and in the place I settled in because of whom I was with. I tell my sister, I thought they did not care for me, but now I see that they did. They always wondered why you never visited, she says. And the sparkle in my cousin’s eye, as he looked at my mom, made me see she too was loved in this place this place where all feels right.