There is one traffic light in Dundee, New York, population 2,000. Buildings shoulder the street with unchanged faces from the 1800’s. There are cars and even motorcycles that hurry toward one defining intersection, but what anchors the flow of movement are the horse drawn wagons of the Mennonites. Their buggies are square, black and tall, the interiors hidden from view. The father reins in his horse wearing a dark brimmed hat, and suspenders. The mother sits by his side in sunbonnet and simple dress, while the kids stand next to them, fingers wrapped around the edge of the buggy. Theirs is a devout life that pulls a centuries old thread into the present.
My younger sister has lived in this area most of her life. Her roots are deep, and her comfort strong. She is not Amish or Mennonite, but might as well be. She is Baptist. My sisters God is the only God, his rules are black and white with no room for grey, while my God is unnamed, vast and personal. To me the essence of the sacred is more complete in a handful of dirt than in a church. We are respectful, she and I, dancing around our similarities and differences in the hope of continued connection.
I used to pull her in the wagon as a child, eager to explore our surroundings. She insisted on staying within boundaries defined by our parents and following their rules to the letter. Our differences were already apparent. Nothing in my sister longs to be elsewhere or to have anything other. What a wonderful thing that must be. Her children were born there and prospered under her loving care, while I spent my life wandering and searching, believing I would stagnate and die in such an environment.
How torn I felt today, like a woman split in half as I studied the real estate posters in the window on main street. They said, You could afford to live here, if you wanted. This architectural treasure could be yours. Wanna fix it up? You could be near your sister, play on the lakes, and come back to the land you love so much. It wouldn’t really be like starting over, more like coming home.
Oh, but I must not be seduced by this crisp autumn day and the open arms of a willing sister. It is not my place. There is nothing to push against here, nothing to define myself by. The area is depressed, the people good hearted but with a consciousness I cannot share. The snow is significant. Winter comes without disguise, boldly asserting its season without apology.
Still there is something pulling on me, something deep, old and almost tangible that calls to my spirit, it moves through my veins softly and tenderly like the old hymn, Come home, come home, all who are weary come home.
written September 19, 2008