Unexpected Blessings ~ Part I

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.

picture of a woman, young boy and girl in front of a white house, no porch.
Mom, my brother in me in front of the house, about 1953?

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.

Plans Changed

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.

close up picture of a old fashioned typewriter, with words on the page,' to blog...or not to blog
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

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.

picture of a mother and infant
Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels (not my real family)

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.

Panoramic view of Onset Beach, people in chairs, people walking on beach, boats in the water.
Courtesy of Onset Bay Association

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,

Michele

Copyright 2020 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

Published by msomerville2014

About: Michele Somerville is a wife, mother, stepmother, grandmother, sister, aunt, cousin and friend. She lives with her husband and their dog Sheba. Sheba is their fourth rescue dog in 30 years. She is a retired ordained United Methodist Elder and serves two churches part-time in North Central Pennsylvania. She obtained her Bachelors’ Degree in 1999 from Mansfield University and her Master of Divinity in 2004 and Doctor of Ministry in 2016, both from Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School in Rochester, New York. My Doctor of Ministry Thesis was:” Prophetic Words of Grace: Biblical Storytelling in the Local Church.” Michele began writing and performing character monologues for worship in 2008. She began by asking the question about nameless characters in the Bible, “What would they say if they could speak for themselves?” and then using her theological education and experience of the human condition to attempt an answer that is both academic and creative. Much of what you will read here are memories from growing up in a tourist town, in a bar, in the 1960’s, shaggy dog stories about our rescue dogs, life in a small town, and stories of faith and hope. Throughout her life she has lived in many states, including small towns, large towns and cities. She lived in Rota, Spain, for nine challenging months. Despite all the places she have lived since moving away from home in 1970,Michele is at the heart of all things Jack and Maggie’s daughter, and a beach girl from Onset, Massachusetts.

8 thoughts on “Unexpected Blessings ~ Part I

  1. We are the beneficiaries of you not holding back the tide. Your stories about your childhood are so vivid and compelling. I find myself getting nostalgic when I visit my hometown too. I have not written too much about my childhood other than writing about my mom. I think there were more characters around when we were growing up. quirkiness was more accepted. Thanks for sharing your memories with us.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your kind words. I love writing them, and in truth, even in the writing, it makes my parents seem closer. I enjoy the things I have read about your mom. Blessings for the week. It is starting out to be a good day here in the north, sunny and warm. Michele

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  2. What a loving and complicated story I read..because as we now share from our past – with no reference because everyone has died, it is complicated. Who can verify things we remember. I have my 96 yo Dad still and try to get anything I want to know more about as part of conversations with him when I visit. I remember stuff he does not and vice versa.

    Thank you for sharing.

    Denyse #mlstl

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Denyse, thank you for taking the time to read and comment on this post. Still a new blogger, but appreciating the community I find and the feedback. I love sharing these stories. Part 2 next week! Blessings for the journey, #MLSTL Michele

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  3. Hi Michele – it’s interesting how differently we respond to places and people depending on our history with them. I’m so glad you got to return for a visit and that there is so much you’ve been inspired by from it all. Looking forward to Part 2 and the rest of the blessings. #MLSTL

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  4. Thank you very much Leanne, Part II is ready and I will share it in #MLSTL next week. I have reservations for this fall, which in light of COVID-19, may have been foolish. Hoping for the best. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment it is very much appreciated.
    Michele

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  5. Thank you for sharing this with us Michele. Our minds are marvelous things, aren’t they? The way they store and release memories and the associated emotions. I’m looking forward to hearing more about your experience and your memories. They are beautifully written and pull me in, wanting more. #MLSTL

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Christie. I love writing these stories. Posting “Blessings, part II” in this week’s #MLSTL. And you are right, it is amazing, the connections with memories and emotions. Depending on what happens with states and COVID 19, hoping to get back this week. Something about being there inspires my writing and there is more research I want to do. But always the pull of just “being” in the midst of every day life. Blessings for the journey, Michele

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