Home. What is home? Is it a physical structure and safe haven with walls, a roof, cozy beds, warmth in the winter, and refreshing AC in the summer? For others, it may be an emotion or feeling where one receives unconditional love and acceptance or even experiences discomfort and distress. Perhaps for you it has more of a social meaning with gatherings of family and friends filled with laughter, memories, and conversation. Here is a bit of our journey to home that we recently experienced.
For us, winter break extended from Thanksgiving until January 3, 2011, when classes resumed. However, we began our journey home during a two week period in December. Driving away from Denver on Wednesday, 12/8 felt good in many ways, as we knew that we were headed home. Leaving the congestion of our neighborhood with its busy street, mostly small houses on small lots, and skinny alleys, was like a weight being lifted from our shoulders. A 10-hour drive brought us home to Steve’s Uncle Jeff and Aunt Evonne’s townhouse in Norfolk, Nebraska, even without them there. They were out of town and invited us to stay at their comfortable home while we were traveling through Nebraska. A note welcoming us and a garage door opener left for our use was left on the counter. Aunt Evonne had homemade muffins in the freezer, which we reheated the next morning. A comfy bed, warm shower, and gas-lit fireplace were very welcomed. The next day, we were home at Steve’s Aunt Lorraine’s in Wakefield, where she provided her lovely hospitality with a delicious lunch of comfort food including a baked macaroni and cheese casserole. Visiting with her and Aunt LaVonne around the dining room table in a warm and cozy house was home. We were also home over a meal and conversation with Steve’s cousins Doug, Beata, Chelsea, and Myles that evening in Norfolk.
We left Friday, 12/10 from Nebraska for Pella, Iowa to visit my childhood friend, Kathi, who now lives in an apartment. Home at Kathi’s was looking over scanned photos of our two families, reminiscing, and laughing about our childhood antics. Several hours later Steve and I climbed into our trusty Toyota to back-track to Des Moines, where we spent the night with his cousins Rick and Nancy. They welcomed us to their home with hugs and smiles. Cousins Tim and Denise brought in Godfather’s Pizza and combined with the yummy appetizers from Rick and Nancy, we gathered around the table to reflect on life and the ties that bind. No sooner did we finish our meal, Aunt Phyllis and Uncle Jack, stopped in for a brief visit. While sharing in our journey to Sweden with them, we all quickly slipped into tales of times past when we gathered as families for reunions and holidays.
Saturday, 12/11, brought with it colliding weather fronts with relentless rainfall, changing to sleet, and eventually snow. We crept along I-80 towards my hometown territory in East-Central Iowa. The status of the roads was a reminder of arriving in my home state with the challenges that are faced this time of year with wintry weather. Today we were on a memorable pilgrimage that began last June. (In June I discovered a small flat stone on my parents’ tombstone, which I took with me and skipped on the waters of Slumbay in Lochcarron, Scotland. At the grave of my Great-Grandparents McLennan, I gathered an oak leaf, which I set free in Stromemeanach, Scotland.) While in Scotland last summer, I collected small stones at the ruins of Stromemeanach and shells from the shores of Slumbay to bring back to Iowa. Our first stop on today’s pilgrimage was at Kent Cemetery, where my Great-Great Grandmother Catherine MacKay McLennan is buried along with some of her children. In the biting wind and falling snow, I left a small stone and shell at their grave sites. The next stop was at Rector Cemetery, roughly 4 miles away, where my parents Charles and Betty are buried. Country cemeteries have a quaintness and calm not found elsewhere. Because my mother had selected Rector for her burial place, I feel a sense of home and peace there. At my parents’ grave, I left my gifts of a stone and shell along with a few tears that flowed out of love and respect. It was from their map that I discovered last winter, that we created our itinerary to Scotland. Onward to Belle Plaine, my home town, we trekked. (Steve did an awesome job of negotiating the snow-covered and slippery roads as well as the lanes through the cemeteries.) Along this stretch of the drive, we passed Kathi’s childhood farm and I couldn’t help but think of the times that my siblings and I joined my Dad to milk their cows while Kathi and her family was on vacation. I also thought back to some great 4-H hayrides through the old pioneer cemetery on the hillside adjacent to their property.
The final cemetery stop was at Oak Hill Cemetery, where we paused at my Grandparents McLennan’s graves to leave the precious tokens from Scotland. It was at Great-Grandparents Lachlan and Lodosca’s where I felt the deepest connections. If it wasn’t for Lachlan’s journal, I doubt we would have made the trip to Scotland. Knowing that he loved to skip stones on Slumbay and that he labored heavily in Stromeaneach alongside his parents and siblings, we were greatly indebted to him for his memoirs and his knack for story-telling, which gave us a greater appreciation of their home back in the Scottish Highlands. I felt incredible relief, knowing that from our ancestors’ homeland of Scotland, minuscule treasures came home to them.
Frozen to the core, Steve and I stepped into my brother and sister-in-law’s, Chuck and Annette’s, warm and toasty home. Candles were burning with a soft glow and gentle scent. Hugs were exchanged. Excited conversations began as niece Hannah shared her list of 4-H projects. She also played the saxophone and piano for us. It was amazing to realize that in this same home 60 years ago, the gift of music abounded: Grandmother Geneva at the piano, my father Chuck on his clarinet, and my Aunt Virgina playing her violin! Sister Char and brother-in-law Dale soon joined us and laughter ensued thanks to the sense of humor that runs in the family. My slide show of our Scotland trip filled the evening. It meant a great deal to share our journey with family, as they have also been touched by Great-Grandfather’s story. Memories of tobogganing and skating parties with gatherings of family and friends near the pond below Chuck and Annette’s lulled me to sleep that night. I awakened to thoughts of gathering eggs with my grandmother as a 5 year old, mushroom hunting with my mother and siblings through the thick timber, and helping my Dad count the cattle with me at the wheel of the International pick up as a 10 year old.
Sunday, 12/12 arrived with single digit temperatures and fierce winds that began howling overnight. We waited for the sun to warm the black-top roads hoping that some of the snow would melt. Then we left for Illinois to spend a week with our grown children. The closer we came to Jeremy and Michelle’s in Batavia, the more at home we felt. Familiar streets, the Jewel supermarket, our church, the public library, the Fox River, and Wilson Street bridge donned with lights for Christmas. Peace On Earth adorned the footbridge over the Fox. Twenty years in Batavia and this definitely felt like home.
The week flew past. Our stay back home in Illinois was split with 4 nights at Jeremy and Michelle’s in Batavia and 5 nights at Stephanie and Shane’s in Geneva. Their hospitality was superb with comfortable beds, warm surrounds, and hugs. Hugs with our kids were home enough for us! It was good to embrace them, tell them that we love them plus even have a family-huggle (group hug)! Two “Family Days” were savored. Meals, movies, games, an engagement breakfast for Steph and Shane with his family, and an early Christmas were cherished together. Visiting over coffee, lunch, dinner, our annual Ravioli gathering, or desserts with friends plus attending church on Sunday felt like home in many ways. Driving back to our former neighborhood and seeing our former house of 19 years, felt like a stroll down memory lane and quite natural as if returning home. Sadly, the largest disappointment and frustration about our trip, was that we were not able to see everyone. The weather also wrecked havoc in our plans, thus we didn’t see several members of our family in Wisconsin and Iowa.
Monday, 12/20 arrived and the time had come to head for home. Since another winter storm blasted through Northern Illinois, we actually benefited from another lovely meal with Jeremy and Michelle and an extra night’s stay with Stephanie and Shane. Now though, we pointed westward and began our journey to Colorado. A lunch break in Iowa City provided time to catch up with sister Sue, niece Shaundria, and nephew Jovonte. We felt at home visiting with them as we heard about their busy sports’ schedules, good grades, and favorite subjects. Their hugs stayed with us along with all of the others that we gathered over the two weeks.
An overnight stay in Lincoln, Nebraska broke up the 17 hour drive between Illinois and Colorado. Crossing into our new home state with the “Welcome to Colorful Colorado” sign encouraged us over the last few hours. Finally, we arrived back at home where our familiar household of nearly 35 years (albeit downsized) greeted us. We quickly shifted gears and prepared for Christmas. Sister Laurie and brother-in-law Tom flew to Denver from Helena, MT on Christmas Day. The four of us along with Steve’s sister Meriwether, niece Hailey, and friends filled the seats around two tables for Christmas dinner at Mom’s home. We exchanged gifts and played Charades with great laughter and enjoyment.
We are Home! In retrospect, it seems that we almost needed to return to the Midwest, visiting family and friends, stepping back into life there to experience it as a visitor. We see how fabulously our kids are doing which soothes our “parent hearts”. They are four phenomenal people, each with a unique personality, each with lovely qualities, and both couples pursuing beautiful lives together. Our Midwest visit confirmed that we have successfully made the transition to a more settled life here in Denver. Returning home we have resumed taking our familiar routes to walk to campus or to drive on errands. We continue appreciating the proximity we have to Steve’s Mom so we can drop by for a visit, invite Mom for dinner, or have a movie night together. We have a family physician and a dentist. We have a lovely young family as neighbors. We have many friends here with whom we enjoy outings. We are beginning the steps to membership at University Park United Methodist. Winter term has begun. My resume is finalized, and I eagerly anticipate my job search. We have season ski passes for the first time ever, something that we would not do unless we lived here.
We thank our kids, our extended family, and our friends for helping us on this leg of life’s journey. Between the countless conversations, prayers, and advice-sessions, we could not have accomplished this multi-layered transition without you.
From our home to your home, may you have a peace-filled 2011 with God’s blessings.
Diane (and Steve)