Revisiting the past seems to cycle in our lives. If not physically, mentally. But it seems there are times when the physical odyssey is unavoidable. It may even be unconscious at first. We embark on a journey just to realize midway we are circling back in time. Perceptions have shifted, aged, but we are retracing routes gone by. “Treading trodden trails,” as the saying goes. Neural roadmaps. Highways of memories. Echoes of day dreams.
The roads might be slightly different. And the faces we see this time around may be new to us, drawn together, in passing, by a transitional event. In this case, it was my mother’s final breaths.
I saw the parallels as I was driving by the home where myself and my brothers grew up. A small town now a burgeoning suburb of a major city. When the family moved there, the population was around 250, plus a lot of corn fields. When I left, there were little more than 2500 people. It’s no longer a rural community and the population has passed 30,000. The corn fields replaced with structures. More boxes for storage, of categorized life.
My old home is now a dental office with the yard paved over. A parking lot for tooth repair. The vacant lot across the street, a playland of the imagination where mythic battles raged in the jungles of weeds, now a motor bank. The majestic apricot tree on the corner by the park, gone. Not even a seed to carry its memory of the sweet fruit it offered free for the taking. The lake we fished in, fenced off, imprisoned.
The historic downtown, an outward reflection, a mimic of time, but the core has transformed. The library is office space. The hardware store, an art gallery. The feed mill, a microbrewery. The old school is torn down. Time and places evaporated.
But all of my memories are intact. The pleasure and the pain of growth.
Every summer this home was a launch point for the family reunions. First with my dad’s family in Indiana, and then my mom’s in Michigan. Those were times of active voices. Of laughter and play. The excitement of seeing cousins, of family card games, and mysterious old homes to explore. Spiral staircases to dusty attics, and coal furnaces in the basements. We mined for treasures. And we found them in shiny objects unearthed, planted by the generation before.
And there were haylofts in old barns, where we leaped into the sky, hay piles lying beneath to break our fall. Flying for instants that lasted forever. A shirt was a cape, or a parachute.
An old hand pump still brought water from the earth. A hidden aquifer of life.
An electric fence for horses, and a dare to feel its pulses. Grab hold the wire and zap a brother with the other hand, before mom or dad would shoo us away.
Pulses, pulses, I feel my heart beating as I drive, wandering back in time, shuffling though images not matching the roadway. Highway hypnosis.
I’m retracing that reunion route again, but this time, the nuclei of both families are gone, having passed on to the Blue Road of the Spirit.
My father passed in ’09, and after revisiting the ground where I was raised, I stop to pay my respects to him and my paternal ancestors. He was buried in the family plot in the town where he grew up. A few miles down the road is “Stearleyville,” or its shadow, founded by my great, great grandfather. The reverse of my hometown. The small village is gone, fully reverted to farmland.
The cemetery is filled with generations, back to the original immigrant couple. Two stones eerily bear my own name. One my grandfather, and one his second son that died as an infant – born on my same birthday, passed 30 years before my birth.
I remember my dad’s funeral. Full military honors. Steeped in tradition.
He taught me the meanings of honor, integrity, loyalty, strength of character, and hard work.
We talk in silence. For a while.
Then it’s on to Michigan. A small town on the border of Ohio. My mother also to be buried in a family plot. Similar small town and farm family roots. The memories of both homes blurred.
She’s outlived the rest of her family so we have a small ceremony. A few cousins, whom I’m meeting for the first time. It’s a nice service for a well-lived life of a good heart.
She taught me compassion, empathy, and self-sacrifice.
My parents’ bodies lay some 300 miles apart. Their spirits united? Their soul contracts complete? And the particles of consciousness they helped bring into the world are scattered about the Midwest. Such is the stardust of which we’re composed.
Family plots. Family traditions. Traditions I will not follow. My ashes are to be released into the wind. No name carved in stone.
I wonder, when I leave, what neural roadmaps my daughter’s memories will travel. I hope that she too has flown wearing a magic cape.
Photo: I didn’t actually take this image, but it is an image of my brain from an MRI . . .