I have been away from home for one week and I was awfully glad to get home last night. I worked in Memphis the latter part of last week and the first part of this one, with a trip to Arkansas to see old friends and family sandwiched between. Here are the highlights:
-- Spent Thursday and Friday nights with Wife’s parents in Little Rock. They are both 80 and doing well. He’s a little deaf and they’re both a bit set in their ways but I hope to be doing as well should I hit 80. They are both like parents to me and I love them dearly. They have both been great friends to me as well as wonderful grandparents to my children, and have never been the interfering type. He had had his two old fishing rods re-spooled and presented them to me, as well as his tackle box. I told him I hope I am worthy.
-- Had lunch on Friday with my good friend David. He is one of my life’s soul mates, one of about a half-dozen guys that I know I could call anytime, anywhere and whatever I needed, it would be done. And he knows he could expect the same of me. We met as young single guys just out of college. We both married the summer of 1984, he in June and I in August, and were each in the other’s wedding. My first child was born in January of 1986, his in May. His second came along August 1988, mine in November.
In early 1992, after several years of running together and doing 5Ks and 10Ks, we decided to start training for a marathon later that year. In the spring we learned that Wife was pregnant with our third. With a newborn coming late in the year, I told my friend the likelihood of my doing a marathon would be slim. And I fully expected him and his wife to join us in having another child. That didn’t happen. They stopped at two. We named Younger Son David in honor of my buddy. Marathons would come later, I said. He has done them; I have not.
-- Drove down to South Arkansas, to the town where I grew up, on Saturday morning. My trips there are infrequent now and I see it through such different eyes. I drove in on the “main drag” where I spent many a Friday night driving from one end to the other, making occasional stops at McDonald’s or the mall parking lot to talk. I wondered if high school students still did that.
The house where I grew up, which my parents built in 1966 and we sold after Dad died in 2006, looks just the same. I think the new owners take good care of it and that makes me feel good. I thought of stopping in to say hello and tell them how that used to be my home, but thought better of it. I need to remember it for what it was when I was there and my folks were there, and need to keep that visual unblemished. The first time I drove by after we sold it, I thought it would bother me. Strangely, it does not. It evokes all kinds of memories but it does not make me sad.
The old neighborhood has had almost complete turnover, but one of the couples still there are my next-door neighbors who were and are like family to me. I spent a lot of time with their four children as a child but also have a lifelong friendship with them. He was a family physician and she was a homemaker. They are both 80 now. She has Alzheimer’s and he is taking care of her.
He greeted me warmly when I arrived and we talked for two hours straight. He told me she has deteriorated quite a bit and he has “about 42 things going on” with himself, but he says it is important to “give thanks in all things.” That is what he does. He is an amazing man of faith.
After our long visit we walked back in their bedroom where she stays in a hospital bed most of the time. She smiled broadly when I walked in but could not call me by name. I grabbed her hand and talked about old times. I never could tell if she put it together who I was, but I saw occasional glimmers of familiarity, and it was heartening for me to sit there with both of them. They helped raise me and were devoted friends and neighbors to my parents for many years. They are part of my heritage.
-- From there it was on to the cemetery. I have never been a big grave-visitor, but since I am there so seldom, going there seems the right thing to do. My parents’ bodies lie next to each other under one marker that states the date of birth and death for each. I placed flowers and stood for a moment but I never feel that I am “visiting” them there, nor do I sense their presence there anymore than anywhere else. I always feel them with me, no matter where I am.
-- Saturday night a handful of us got together from my old high school class. One couple who, like me, no longer live there were in town and they still have her deceased parents’ house, so we gathered there with a few others. We do not see each other often, and even the ones who live there admit their visits are infrequent. But when we are together we talk and laugh with a warm familiarity that takes us back to our childhoods and it’s as if we had never been apart. We compared notes on our lives and, as always, found that we all still have much in common. At mid-life we are less concerned with “success,” whatever that is/was, than with getting our children educated and launched and staying healthy enough to see our grandchildren.
-- Sunday morning I attended the church where I grew up and where my parents worshipped and served for nearly fifty years. There were only a few familiar faces, but it is still a big part of “home” to me. I very much felt the “spirituality of place” – the mystical presence of old friends and family as well as the spiritual energy of my confirmation and other significant events that marked the development of my personal faith. I left with a sense of gratitude.
-- After church there was a quick visit and lunch with my brother, five and one-half years my senior, and his family. He is a grandfather several times over. He and his wife have been empty nesters from time to time but certain ones of them keep coming back, a fact which they seem to calmly accept. Our lives have been very different and I have often thought we have little in common, but now that we are the only ones remaining from our original family, we seem to have a bond.
-- It is not always easy to stay in touch and stay connected with people and places from our past. Jobs, families and various obligations command our attention and often leave us little time for much else. The physical distances between us can cause real distances to take root and flourish. That inevitably happens with some.
But the places and people I visited last weekend reminded me how important it is for me to keep these connections as strong as possible. The past so much defines my present and an occasional trip back does me a world of good.