April Travels Part II: A Lot of Miles

The Saddle Mountains

The windows of the house face south toward a long row of low desert mountains called the Saddle Mountains, named after a dip in the ridge shaped like the seat of a saddle.  It’s a reference point you can see for miles away.  When I say miles, I mean A LOT of miles.  In the Eastern Washington desert, with no tall trees and no humidity, you can pick out the saddle in the mountain when it’s so far away, you can drive toward it for a full hour.

In 2011 and 2012 when I was working as a traveling case manager for the Maternity Support Services (o yes I did) of a small-town clinic, I could tell where I was in relation to familiar places by keeping one eye on the Saddle Mountains.  There were a lot of things I loved about that job, and one of them was driving.  For hours.  Just to go find some pregnant (usually undocumented immigrant) woman living in a crumbling mobile home the middle of nowhere and ask her to tell me her story.  I got paid good money for that.  Unbeliveable.

I loved driving home to my own (not crumbling) mobile home, seeing the lights on inside when I pulled up, and looking curiously through my own windows as if I were a stranger.  Pio would be inside cooking, with CNN en Espanol talking to him from the living room.  There were giant furry cats.

 

Teenagers

My niece and nephews have turned into teenagers.  It took so long to get here, then it happened so fast.  Like spring.  The noisy little kids who filled their living room floor with toys, never wanted to brush their hair before school, needed their shoes tied, couldn’t reach the orange juice in the back of the refrigerator and had to hear 3 bedtime stories and then prayers… are teenagers.  One of them drives them to school.  They do things like get their own breakfast and put the dishes in the dishwasher, find both socks all by themselves, lie on the couch reading, get in the mood to play the piano, build a bon fire and produce s’mores with no oversight whatsoever and no injuries.  Say things like, “Not right now.  I have to do my homework.”  It’s amazing.

 

Blooms

The sour cherry orchards bloomed this week.  The orchards that surround the house on all sides went from winter brown to a stunning brilliant bridal white, and now are turning slowly green.  Have I seen this before?  Not quite like this.  I never got to live literally in the middle of it.  I went for a walk in the orchard at the peak of the bloom.  It was like a fantasy land.  Full of bees.  Millions.  But they could not have cared less about a human with all those acres of delicious white flowers.  I thought what a shame that Pio and I never took a walk in the orchard while it bloomed like this.  We were always busy working.  He would have loved it.  Then I thought, well if dead people are still living souls and they don’t have to do things like go to work, then I guess this is as good a time as any for us to take a walk together.  We’re both on vacation.

How sometimes you can be right there with another person but you’re really a million miles apart.  Or how you can be all by yourself, but you’re really with someone.

 

In the Basement

In the basement is all of our stuff–or what’s left of it.  We pared it down a lot when came back to Costa Rica two years ago.  I went down and dug through the boxes.  You might think I would be crying or something, but I wasn’t.  It’s comforting to find tangible reminders that everything in my head is real.  I didn’t make any of it up.  Never underestimate the value of being able to prove that to yourself.

 

Home

Everywhere I go feels like home.  Pennsylvania.  Washington.  Costa Rica.  Tomorrow, I’m going back to the home with hammocks, bicycles, and cats.  I’m not anxious to leave, but not sad to go.  This trip was overwhelming to contemplate from the front side, comforting from the back.  It was a good thing to do—make a break at the half-way point in the first year of…  This.

How you can walk right out of your life for a month or forever and the world keeps spinning around as if nothing were out of place.

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April Travels Part II: Sisters

Ohio

My plans to write a travelogue got a bit derailed by things like socializing with the people I’m visiting and the announcement about my next book. If only all of my problems were so wonderful.

I spent the second week of this April trip in Ohio visiting my sister and her partner. The great thing is that my other sister was able to be there too, so The Three Weird Sisters had a rare and wonderful reunion. The last time we were able to do that, with the exception of a very busy wedding weekend, was 2014. A lot has happened since then. One of us got married; one of us became a widow; one of us has acquired 3 teenagers. Big stuff.

It snowed. I took pictures to prove it. It was also really nice one day (count your blessings) so we went to the world’s most awesome thrift store and an Eddie Bauer factory warehouse outlet. How to save more than you spend. We invented it.

And it was Pio’s birthday. I don’t have anything profound to say about that. It just was, and then the next day it was over. Like Christmas and our anniversary and all those other things that you can’t hide from. I can’t hide from. It was a good day. I made pizza for us and we had a little birthday party, sort of. My sister’s wife had her second round of chemo that day. Yeah. Breast cancer. She’s going to be fine, but still.

There is no way on this planet that you could have convinced me, when I was a kid, that my sisters would one day be my best friends. I don’t think we fought more than normal sisters, but I would always have picked “my friends” over “my little sisters.” Is that normal? I feel a little bad about it now. Now, I pick my sisters, hands down. One is an ethicist/theologian, the other is a dietician who studies spiritual direction, then there’s me. They are both smart as whips, beautiful, and prone to incapacitating fits of laughter. I think it’s genetic—I mean all 3 things. Our mom is the same and so was our grandma.

Washington

Now, I’m in Washington State. Othello, to be exact, approximately 40 minutes from The Middle of Nowhere. Google Map it. You’ll see what I mean. This is where Pio and I lived for 5 years. Made a life out of nothing. We were happy here, then we got restless. I think everything turned out right, considering how everything turned out wrong.

In the basement of my sister’s house where I’m staying, there is a stack of crates and boxes with our things in them. All of our treasures and things we couldn’t take with us back to Costa Rica, and couldn’t part with. Photo albums. Winter clothes. I found a hair on one of Pio’s sweaters. I saved the hair and took the sweater to Goodwill. I took my sweaters to Goodwill too because it made it easier to take his. Plus, I need wool sweaters right now about as much as he does.

Last night I dreamed I was packing up to leave, and Pio was here running all around. It occurred to me that I should  buy him a carry-on so he could help me with the luggage. Then I realized that, no, he can’t bring a carry-on–I have to do that myself. But I think I get it.

Marry a Mennonite Boy and Make Pie

GREAT NEWS!

My new book, MARRY A MENNONITE BOY AND MAKE PIE will be coming to you via Workplay Publishing this fall.

What is it about?

Once upon a time, in a mid-west college town, there were 4 girl-women that rented a ramshackle apartment for the summer. They did lots of silly, crazy, and a few potentially-dangerous things as they tried to figure out, like people feeling around a dark room with their hands, how to begin to be adults. They broke rules because they could. They asked questions they were supposed to already know the answers to. The girl-women were Mennonites, or the daughters of Mennonites, or a new generation of Mennonites in full sail toward the edge of what they were told was a flat planet.

This book is written snapshots from that summer, placed together to tell a story. The story is a memoir and it is fiction. Everything is true, some things are false, nothing is impossible.

If you ever had to map your own terrain, if you ever were 20 years old or went to college, if you ever realized that the rules you memorized from the rulebook don’t apply to the game you’re playing, if you ever wondered if you were going mad, you may find snapshots of yourself here.  Many of us make the journey. I took pictures.

Marry a Mennonite Boy and Make Pie continues the story begun in my first book, When the Roll is Called a Pyonder, but it is not a direct sequel.  It is set 11 years later when that spunky little 9-year-old is just as spunky but not as little.  Some of When the Roll is Called a Pyonder‘s audience will also enjoy MARRY  A MENNONITE BOY AND MAKE PIE.  Some of that audience will be offended.  I will do my best to promote this second book in places where it will find appreciation and not create offense.  I hope you will join me!  Get ready to learn more about it in the coming months as I do my best to give it the promotion it deserves.

April Travels Part 1: Things That Never Change

I got on the plane a week ago in hot, windy Liberia, and flew to Harrisburg, PA. USA. I’ve been here for a week in the farmhouse I grew up in, with my parents and one of my sisters and her family. Tomorrow, my sister and I will fly to Ohio to visit our other sister.

April is supposed to be spring in the northern hemisphere, but in Pennsylvania, this year, it is still winter.

I’ve seen a lot of people I love.  A definite highlight was a dinner with friends I haven’t seen in 20 and even 30 years, and another was getting to know a cousin I haven’t really known in my adult life.  It’s all good, but it’s not always easy. Falling asleep and waking up are easy. What comes in between is not. Except overeating. Overeating in Pennsylvania Dutch Country is easy. It’s normal. Then you put on your skinny jeans and feel penitent.

 

The Farmhouse

The farmhouse I grew up in never changes. Part of it is something like 200 years old, which, in the Americas, is old. My parents put a laminate wood floor in the kitchen/living area since Pio and I were here 2 years ago. They got new carpet in the living room. Other than that, everything is the same. When I come home, I sleep in the same bedroom I slept in as a child. The trees are bigger, but since spring is late this year and there are no leaves on the branches, I can look out my windows and over the fields and the pond. Its comforting. Kind of. It’s old. Older than my memory. Older than my loss. I looked out these same windows at the same moon when I was 16 and when I was 2.  I remember that.

Does it make me feel better? “Better” might not be the right word. It makes me feel something different—and that can hardly be bad.

Even though it’s April, it’s cold enough outside to keep burning wood in the wood burning stove in the family room. That’s a big plus. There’s a constant cozy spot in the house where my mom and I go to get warm. The floor creaks in all the same spots it did before, and the doors make the same sounds. This is the safest place in the world.

The Farm, March 2011

Cold Wind

It was windy in Guanacaste when I left, and it’s been windy here, but it’s a different wind. A very very cold wind that pushes me back inside every time I stick my head out the door.  It comes to my skin with a sensation of pain.  The high temperature for today, in degrees Fahrenheit, is predicted to be 43.  Low last night of 25.  The sun is nothing more than a big light bulb.

 

Unspoken

I was not—NOT—prepared for almost no one to talk about Pio. That is so weird to me that I can barely get over/around/beyond it. But I have to behave politely and keep it together, so I do.

But I don’t understand. Not mad. Completely confounded.  I mean, we all know there’s a very noisy, vivacious and unusual person who is NOT HERE, right? So? I did not expect no one to talk about him. I did not expect to be (almost) the only one to say his name. That is SO WEIRD to me. It leaves me speechless.

I know I am not the only person who notices that Pio isn’t here. Is not speaking of him supposed to be a courtesy to me? Because it only feels upsetting and confusing. Not speaking of him makes me feel worse, not better. As if I am the only one who feels this absence. Of course I am the only one who feels it in this way. But I would actually feel much better if somebody else would bust out with, “Well things sure are different when Pio isn’t here!” I would feel much less like I am about to go insane.

I know. People don’t know what to say.  Are afraid of saying the wrong thing, or something silly. Or that I might burst into tears? I might, but probably not. If I do, it won’t be because I became suddenly upset.  I burst into tears all the time when no one is looking, so for me it’s not a new or disturbing experience. And the only wrong thing to say is nothing, like he was never even here. THAT is VERY wrong.

I’m guilty of it too. Now I know. Not speaking of the beloved dead because of not knowing what to say or not wanting to upset a friend or a loved one. I’m sorry. I didn’t know. I have done it too.

Those of us who are left are not more upset when someone offers to remember with us. I never for one minute am not thinking of Pio, so there’s no chance you’re going to remind me of something I had momentarily forgotten.  To me, honestly, it feels as shockingly inappropriate to address his absence with silence as it would be to ignore him personally if he were sitting at the table.  But then again, the PA Dutch are not known for their skill in navigating emotions.

Just thought I’d tell you about it.  If I don’t tell you, how will you know?  All of us are learning how to do this.

 

Suitcases

Now, time to stuff everything back into the suitcases and roll on down the road.