More Than I Could Have Wished For
In the Spring of 2018, months before my retirement, I accepted an invitation to travel from my home in Pennsylvania to Maine, to perform a wedding for the relative of two of my parishioners. I would have done the wedding anyway, was honored to be invited, and had no problem traveling to Maine to do it; I would be retired after all, and had lots of time.
There was an extra added benefit to me personally. When I studied the geography, I realized that my home town was only a four hour drive south from the site of the wedding. I had not been home since my mother’s burial in 1994.
I would do the wedding; but I was going home too. It is not that I had not tried to go home before, just that life always seemed to interfere. I did not anticipate visiting anyone. I just wanted to go and take some pictures walk on the beach and look for seashells and say good-bye.
I reasoned that a good set of pictures that were current, along with my old 1950’s black and white photos would be all I could need. Then, I would close that door and live out my life.
About six weeks before my actual retirement date, I accepted a part time appointment (approximately 30 hours a week) serving two churches. So now, my open ended vacation had to change to just 2 days in town. Well, I thought, it would be enough.
To say that I was unprepared for the emotional impact of being at home, for only the 2nd time since 1973, is an understatement. It wasn’t a bad thing, but I was caught off guard. The sights, sounds and smells of the beach, even on a chilly fall day seemed to be attached to something that was almost ethereal.
As we drove around town, visiting and re-visiting the sites of my first home, the home of my childhood, and the Union Villa, the home of my youth, walked on the pier and the beach, I knew that two days, and partial days at that, were not enough. I had to come back.
I needed more time. More time to reminisce, more time to drink in the views, to smell the salt air, and to search, though for what, I was not quite sure.
At every site we visited, standing across the street from the Union Villa, which had been transformed, standing on the street looking at the cottages my parents had built, trying to take in and discern all the changes and wondering if I had the nerve to ignore the sign that said “Private Property.” (I did not). Still, every place we stopped, the word “Write” burned in my heart, and lodged in my throat like a huge lump.
I wanted to write, about home and growing up in Onset in the 1950’s and 60’s, but I was afraid. I had written some of the stories briefly in creative writing classes in college (my minor). I have told some of the stories in sermons and other venues, but to actually write and publish them in some form?
Have I told you that I suffer from Procrastination? Perhaps suffer isn’t the correct word, pretty sure that I have perfected it! And along with the procrastination came a finely honed case of the “What if’s?” Throw in fear of rejection, and a case of writer’s block, and you have the perfect combination of wishing, but not doing.
However, none of those roadblocks, were as strong as the persistent call to write, as I walked on the beach, drove around my old stomping grounds and simply breathed in the bittersweet air of memory.
I came out the other end of this journey, promising myself to return, if at all possible, and to start writing with both devotion and discipline.
I have a simple poster on my wall that I printed when I was working on my doctor of ministry thesis; it reads, ‘Write Something Every Day!” But even working on my thesis, that did not quite work, and after my thesis was complete, I could ignore it for weeks on end.
The first surprise or blessing
The pictures that I had gone to take, to either frame or to file, were the first surprise. I had expected the pictures to be what pictures generally are, one dimensional pieces of paper, or one dimensional digital formats.
Rather than being just a piece of memory cut off from the moorings of the past, each picture proved to be laden with memory and meaning. I felt as though I were a participant in a motion picture special effects experiment, transported from the present into the vivid past, while the present seemed to be enveloped in a distant fog.
If I were to show you a picture of my daughter and her family, you might look, nod politely and say something like, “Very nice” “Pretty young woman,” “Cute kids.” “Nice looking dad.” Such polite responses would be appropriate, you have no history or relationship with the people in the photograph. It might as well be a nineteenth century Tin Type picture.
When I look at the same picture, voices and memories converge. I remember how much my daughter loved shock value, even at six years old. I remember the three separate times in as many years that she brought home stray dogs, and how much she still loves animals today. You have a polite connection with my family picture, I have emotional attachment.
It was the same with the pictures I took. They spoke! They welcomed me to a different reality in which I might find that crucial thing that I had left behind when I moved away for the first time in 1970. And they beckoned me back.
Hoping to return
My hope, which I was able to achieve, was to have a full week in my hometown, plus travel time. It was not about visiting family, I had no attachments near town that I knew of, and no contact with any of my father’s family, since his funeral and my mother’s. If she received Christmas cards from them, she did not say. There were no lingering phone conversations or eagerly made plans between my mother and my dad’s family.
I had not had any contact with most of my classmates since 1969, with one exception. And while we were close friends in 11th and 12th grade, our contact through the years had been sporadic at best. We could always pick up where we left off, but that was it.
It was okay though, my planned visit was all about place and being. I wanted to walk on the beach at any opportunity, search for sea shells, take pictures, simply be, and oh yes, write. That was it! It seemed like a full week to me. Of course, I planned to visit the cemetery where my parents are buried, but that was not the focal point of my trip. I hoped to spend some quality time by the Cape Cod Canal, which I had to skip in 2018. My absolute goal was to be, just be, and to write and to soak it all up, to drink it all in, to fill up memory banks and sensory banks and maybe eat some good seafood.
Who knew, that I had set my sights too low, and that there were more unexpected blessings to come?
Not holding back the tide,
Copyright 2020 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com