Friday, March 4, 2016

on remembering and returning

It's been a year since we moved into this house on the edge of the woods.  When 2015 arrived, we left a much bigger city behind.  I kept calling the move our 'small town, slow down' but it was really a homecoming.

I remember those early weeks of settling in.  Some mornings, being back seemed liking waking into a dream.  I could hardly believe it was true.

One morning the fog sat heavy along the edge of the lake, like a still thick blanket.  We drove through the heaviness and yet my soul felt light enough to fly.  Finding your way back home can do that to you.  I maneuvered my minivan down the hill and away from the towering stone building that held my earliest memories of school.

Lucy asked from the backseat, How far is it from Oliver's school back home?


It settled over me like the fog on the lake - a blanket of safety and comfort.
I let it settle.
I let it wrap around me.
I let it remove any distractions until the truth of it pressed in so close it was all I could see.
Over 25 years ago we left this place.  I was in the backseat then - an awkward middle schooler alongside my little brother.  The place that held nearly every memory of my childhood faded behind me.  I cried.  It was the first time I remember realizing that leaving is hard.  I thought it was the end of the world.  Now I know better because the world is a lot bigger than me, a lot bigger than a little college town in South Carolina.  But the end of a chapter can feel like the entire book is slamming shut when you're thirteen years old.  Or twenty.  Or fifty.

Whether it is for a day or a week or years, there is a painful tearing that takes place when you leave a place or a person dear to you.  For some of you the school year that will soon come to an end will bring the leaving.  And it will be hard.

My family traded our home near the mountains for one closer to the sea and quickly discovered that the end of a chapter means the beginning of a new one.  As it turned out, I liked new beginnings, once the grief of the ending was complete.  I've experienced that deep sadness married with excitement in my pioneer heart over and over again in the years since.

I returned to the foothills many times after my family moved away.  We would go back to visit grandparents and attend football games.  Each time we returned driving down those tiger paw covered roads,
under ancient oaks,
over Lake Hartwell,
and up hills offering clear mountain views,
I always breathed a little easier at the sight of it all.

I settled back in the upstate for a stint as a college student but always returned to our home further south for breaks and summer vacation.  Being back during that season was the same, but different.

Since the day my family left one home for another I've lived in a dozen other places from Tennessee to Arizona, but none would ever draw me in so close or feel more familiar.  Clemson always felt like she was waiting for my return, standing like a proud parent looking for a favored child.  Her welcoming arms stretched wide welcoming me back where I belong.

Yes, the truth settled on me both heavy and light that foggy winter day.
     My Clemson home isn't just a temporary feeling but a permanent, unchanging reality.
Returning has turned out to be a dream I didn't quite know I had until it came true.

My wandering mind was brought back by her words,
Mommy, did you hear me?  How far?

And by that point we were turning onto Cherry Road and the canopy of trees covering our street on the other side of the golf course was in sight.

Not far, honey.  We are nearly there.  Remember, everything in Clemson is close.

There's something about living in a town small enough you could almost wrap your arms around it and yet big enough to
hold more memories than you can carry and
offer more opportunities than your arms could hold and
promise more of a future than you can imagine in the present.

Glimpsing a brilliant sunset over the lake.
Stumbling upon the vast view of Memorial Stadium with Tillman Hall in the distance.
Running in the wide open space of Bowman Field.
Hearing the echo of Tiger Band practicing on the other side of the trees.
Blending into seas of orange on game day.
Parade-watching along College Avenue.
Wandering through the botanical garden in search of ducks to feed.
Climbing on the red caboose.
Watching camellias bloom.
Tasting honeysuckle.

That my children's memories will now overlap with my own is a gift I would have never dared to ask for, and yet here I stand, holding it wrapped up in my hands.

All those years ago when my own little five year old feet walked the halls of that stone building on a hill, I never imagined my own child would find his way there.  In my childhood, as I stood painting at the easel on the porch or lie cozy in the grass picking buttercups I didn't know much about real life endings and beginnings, only the ones read to me in storybooks.  I never knew that the leaving would come like a knife slicing right through the fabric of my life, or that the returning would turn out to be a mending of smaller, more discreet fibers I didn't even know were torn.  As a child I was better at remaining in the present.  Funny how now, when my mind wanders to the past, it helps keep me present like I was back then.

I don't really have a destination in mind as I take this walk down memory lane.  Maybe that's why it's been so life-giving for me.  To walk without the pressure to arrive.  To look without the pressure to find.  To listen without the pressure to respond.

In this life chapters end and others begin, but always our stories move forward.  Sometimes the people and places we leave behind return to us.  Sometimes they don't.  Either way we carry the pieces of home with us wherever we go.  Sometimes the returning is just in the remembering.

Happy weekend of remembering and returning friends.

{THEN - circa 1981 - me and my baby brother with my mom and grandparents} 
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