We bought a large paper map.
It covers the entire Eastern portion of the United States and the major roads, towns and cities between here and there. I pinned it to the dining room door so I could take in the whole picture— see the entire journey spread out before me and somehow plot the course for the weeks ahead. For a trip like this, a GPS or Google Map just won’t do.
Of course, even a brand-new paper map can’t show everything. It didn’t show the place in Virginia where we pitched our tent that first night with hundreds of pet-grade bunnies hopping around.
It didn’t show Pennsylvania roadsides strewn with wild raspberries, ripe and ready for the picking by the hand, mouth and bucket-full. The mountain ranges were etched on there, but not the rows and rows of windmills planted along their ridges like monstrous, aluminum and steel daisies.
In so many ways, this land we call America, is breath-taking and beautiful.
There was a purpose for the going.
Practical, promised and somewhat sacrificial, the youngest had qualified for a special Ranger School that had us delivering him to the Eastern Pennsylvania mountains adjacent to the Appalachians and very close to the hills I once roamed in Northern New Jersey.
Kinda crazy and massive in it’s scope and somewhat bigger than any trip we’ve taken overseas, this was about as organized as we get. Some parts were planned— the camping, the visit with dear friends, the whirlwind tour of DC. Others were tentative— open-ended and accidental, possible but not set in stone, leaving plenty of wiggle-room for change if something didn’t look or feel quite right.
My husband was insistent.
He’d never seen this part of the country—never imagined how beautiful it would be. I’d always told him about my childhood home— the open spaces, rolling hills, farms and fields and now he’d see for himself.
He insisted on taking me further.
Insisting I needed to go all the way back this time..and he was right. Going all the way back was the next step to going fully forward. It was time:
any sooner, I wasn’t ready. Any later, and I might have missed it altogether.
From a picnic at Franklin Pond where memories of day camp and swim lessons in the summer mingled with frostbitten remembrances of ice skating in the winter, to walking the grounds of Franklin Elementary school and remembering this place that sheltered me during some of my darkest years. I halfway expected it to be torn down, replaced by something more modern. Instead, the well-worn brick and mortar gave off a sense of warmth and familiarity I hadn’t expected to greet me.
Driving around to park in front, my breath caught as spotted “her”: The Tree. I’m not really a tree-hugger by definition but I came close to hugging this one. I was so glad to see her. I’m pretty sure it was 3rd grade with Mrs. Fitzgibbons: every morning after the Pledge, as a class we’d turn toward the window look out at the tree and sing,
“I think that I shall never see,
a poem lovely as a tree …”
I confess… the sight of this tree made me cry for all that was and was not… and well— never would be.
But now, it was OK. This time, I could say a proper goodbye and move on… thankful for what IS.
Nearly missing the turn, we found that trailer park and drove all… the way… to the top.
I think I spotted Elsie’s trailer.
I know I saw the other one.
It looks like she still lives there.
The place is a dump.
I didn’t knock.
It’s enough to know the slight satisfaction of having left as a weak and wounded child— and to now return as a whole woman of God— as an outside observer to the mess that was and still remains.
Choosing to be moved lightyears beyond…
I walked on leaving her…. all that…. behind.
The last place would take me further than I thought I wanted to go. But he was waiting for me and in 26 years had never met my husband. Again, it was time.
The first pictures tell all: my shields are up, not quite ready for that “Hallmark moment” to be thrust upon me— not ready to easily dismiss all the hurt and disappointment that had accumulated over the years. I didn’t mean for it to be so obvious but it’s just where I had to begin. I had to be sure. I had to wait and see.
Inside I watched him shuffle around the kitchen happily chatting and preparing for dinner. Watching as he helped feed and rock his great-granddaughter to sleep. Observing his frailty and age, his tenderness and patience to those around him. All the while, somewhat keeping my distance, looking in from the outside at this scene my heart had craved for so long.
Three times he told the story.
Warning them not to toss the baby around like that because once, he’d been playing with me that way. I was eight months old. He was tossing me back and forth to my mother — and missed. I landed at his feet. “Horrible.” he said , “You just don’t know how horrible you’ll feel if you miss.”
Three times….. I heard his voice quake at the memory.
I thought— “Really?!? Because 33 years ago, You dropped me again and walked away.”
Through the years I’ve struggled quite a bit with getting back up. There were times I missed the mark, wrongly trying to fill those gaps through other ways and people. God picked me up, it’s true, and my husband has been a strong arm to lean on as we’ve walked this God-guided road together. I had to learn these GREATER things along the way and I wasn’t expecting any of that to change this day.
Listening and watching I stood my ground til he moved around the kitchen island toward me and with few other words, simply said, “I’m sorry”. In that moment nothing would replace the relationship denied to both of us. Nothing would replace the damaged years or innocences lost. Nothing could or was supposed to.
In that moment, yesterday was not the point… tomorrow was. Forgiveness was requested and it was mine to give. The power and the gift, first given to me by God, was mine to transfer to him then and there. He opened his arms for a hug… and I let him. After 33 years, he came back to pick me up….to begin, somehow… again.
It was time.
We all ate dinner together. My husband took many more pictures. I played with my niece and helped with the dishes. Then we said our goodbyes, got into the car and with a paper map in my lap, we turned towards home.
Towards tomorrow and whatever tomorrow brings.