The Purse

My mother is a tiny woman, fragile and small. She loves fashion and style. She loves fishing but never without lipstick, jewelry and attractive attire. My mother is an expression of opposites.

This small woman who weighs less than 100 pounds, still carries a purse that weighs 62. She has always carried this albatross like an anchor, holding her little body firmly fixed in time.

Grown men, large strong men, longshoremen-kind of men have complained about the weight of her purse, but she will not be without it; she won’t trim it down.

Her purses are custom made of imported leathers and have several zipper compartments in which you might find nail clippers, a screw driver, address book, make-up, wallet, checkbooks, hair combs, hand lotion, dental floss, car keys, extra car keys, silver hair clips, fishing line, department store receipts, pens, pencils, cell phone, stamps, calculator, paperclips, needles with thread, toothbrush and perfumes. If she is headed out for the evening, you can add white gloves and jewelry. This is only the surface, the part I might recognize from a glance.

I have offered to carry her albatross over the years, especially during periods of frail health, but tire after a few short blocks.

Mom, you can’t continue doing this. You have to carry less. Surely, you don’t need all this stuff!

She smiles and takes the bag from my arms. It’s okay honey, I’ll carry it now, I’m used to it.  She shoulders her leather anchor, moving forward with ease.

At the end of her medical appointment, the doctor picks up her purse, loses his balance and stumbles from the weight. Verse, what have you got in this thing? For heaven sake!  She pays him no mind, slips it over her shoulder and walks out.

I suppose we will bury her with that purse. I can’t imagine her doing without it.

 written 10-16-08


There were no grown-ups in our world, except the out of breath cook, who climbed steep stairs with our food tray in hand. His was a hurry-up job. Here is your food, be good.  He carried prime rib, mashed potatoes, vegetables and homemade pies from the restaurant below. Sometimes we ate it, more often we had food fights. Dishes crashed as we climbed on the table, eager to perform on our make-shift stage. We made wide-armed gestures like the ones we’d seen on television; sang, danced, created costumes, swirled and laughed.

Look at me. Look at me. I am Cruella DeVille.

My oldest brother picked up his guitar, my youngest brother beat out rhythms on his drumset. We all shrieked with delight, often peeing our pants with laughter. We were five kids raising ourselves.

A raccoon ran up and down the hallway, a cat with new kittens nested on fallen coats, and a crow rode my sister’s shoulder like it was born there; even an occasional chicken witnessed our performance. The raccoon was a mainstay, until he bit my father’s balding head, we never saw old Coonie after that.

No one survived very long in that house, especially not housekeepers or babysitters. We constantly fought one another, but became a unified force with outsiders. Those with an idea toward reform or discipline stood no chance at all. There is one vivid memory of a babysitter cornered in the music room. She was literally backed against the wall, as five of us threatened like predators. My brother thought we should have done the – pail of cold water over her head from the second floor trick – but I wanted to give her a fighting chance. She left and never returned, one of many defeated by the Banfield savages.

A Russian woman came once a week, leaving stacks of clean clothes, folded and neatly balanced on our beds.  Put these away, she instructed. During the week the stacks were knocked to the floor and walked on, like everything else. There was no one to notice, no one to care.

The playroom was at the far end of the kitchen and housed a rarely changed cat box. I remember it being cleaned when a dance teacher arrived. We pointed our toes and slid them back and forth in the hope of learning first and second positions. Ballet did not stick, nor did tap dancing. The horses, ice skating, swimming and backyard baseball games did.

My father’s mother was trouble. She was serious about rules and best avoided. We had a small white cottage near the pond, where we escaped when she came. The cottage was safe, since she refused to venture across cornfields to further her point. Lucky for us, she didn’t visit often, or we could have been civilized.

written 9-4-08


The men in my family, the men I have loved, are in the cemetery now. I spent two days with them when I went home to New York. On the first day I rode my sister’s bike to the gravesite, being drawn by their spirits, like a bird migrating to its kind. An emotional damn broke as I held each gravestone and spoke with each spirit.

Excuse me, Could you spare a Kleenex?  I asked a woman only yards away.  I never meant to cry like this. I surprised myself.

She was typical of the pioneer farmwomen in our village.  Use your sleeve, that’s what I do.”   She raised her gnarled hand to demonstrate.  

As I fingered the gravestone of my father, an army of ants burst free, crawling up my arms in great red legions full of bites and stings. A warning from my father, I thought, even in death. Don’t get too close or you’ll get hurt.

I pulled out my sketchpad and rendered the way branches of white birch sheltered their tombstones. Now I had a visual reminder of the place the men in my life reside.

written 5-25-05


 So many young women with hopes held high. 4H teens showing horses they loved, brushed, trained and stabled; each child doing their best with the immense animals that held their dreams. I was pre-occupied by heat, a hard wooden bleacher and dust funneling around my feet like little tornadoes. I wanted water and shade, wished we had gone to the river instead of the fairgrounds. But I was doing this for her, my 13 year old granddaughter, Britan, visiting from Los Angeles.

One week ago, she stood tall and handsome in her English riding habit, sun-streaked hair tucked in a neat ball at the back of her neck, like an elegant ballerina. I had dropped her at the stables and drove home to have time alone. Then I got the call, her voice sounding small and frightened. Grandma, I got bucked off. I landed on my head. I want to come home.

We are here on a too hot summer day, watching the horse competition in the hope of keeping her near the sport she loves. Her neck and shoulder trauma healed with the speed of the young, her willingness to ride again present but needing time.

We toured the 4H stables before the show, examining the horses and photos of each young owner. The teenage women living on remote farms and ranches immediately sensed the difference between themselves and this green eyed girl from the heart of the city. They stopped and studied her, stealing glances over their shoulders as she feigned disinterest.

Together we watched the girls parade in the arena, displaying their best horsemanship and finest clothes. The lens of a camera gave my granddaughter the distance to be both present and removed. She stepped in through the lens, documenting the world she loved, picking favorites and tracking competition, while I excused myself to buy ice water. The walk to the shed that sold drinks felt like being swirled in a clothesdryer. A paper cup was lodged under a bush, discarded napkins pushed into the dirt. A baby in a carrier positioned next to a fan smiled at me as I paid and left.

 When the event ended she turned and said. Oh, Grandma, the paint should have won, don’t you think?

The paint, I thought, yes, I guess there was a paint out there, somewhere, one of them.

“That rider was dressed in extreme shades of pink. I could never wear an outfit like that.”

Very, I said, It was very pink. She continued talking about the paint and why it should have won. I reached in my pocket grateful to find the car keys and pull away from the heat of the day. How was that for you, I inquired? Did you enjoy it?

written 7-9-08

Yellow Bowl

 I am open, waiting and wanting like the large yellow bowl on the table.  I feel no power to create today. I have no statement to make or wise words to express. Instead I feel empty, my insides raw and my mind full of thoughts I struggle to bring together. Exile, dysfunction, discontent, home, conflict, away, understanding, strength and self-respect. Those words were stirred from my visit home. They swim through my veins looking for lodging but find nothing more than fragments, feelings and migration toward an unknown conclusion.

I am solid like the bowl. It’s color is bright like the sun, the color of the intellect. Perhaps I can think of my mental bowl as a crown, receiving and well-earned. I learned some family history when I went home. I learned that my fathers, fathers, father had been expelled from England for trespassing. He was hunting the kings deer. Criminals, hunters, survivors, travelers, adventurers, people pushed to live on foreign soil. More words to mull about in my yellow crowned bowl.

written 10-1-08

Death Visits

Death is around my mother now like an energetic cocoon waiting to merge with her physical body and dissolve its solidity into an expansive freedom.

It doesn’t stand by the door the way it does during childbirth. It is more a curious observer there, wondering if mother or child will pass beyond the edge of reality and need a companion to guide their spirit home. No, it is not that kind of death that awaits my mother. That kind of death comes for an otherwise healthy body. Its occasion is sudden, accidental or unexpected.

The death that waits for my mother is slow and subtle. Each day it sucks away minuscule amounts of desire, until her once-active body can no longer will itself to turn the pages of the latest mystery novel arriving in the mail.

The slender hands that once fashioned silky strands of childrens hair into intricate french braids, now struggles to hold a comb or press the spring that fastens her silver hair clip.

The morning reunions she enjoyed with friends at her favorite breakfast café, have been replaced with bottles of painkiller and a glimpse at the newspaper before returning to bed.

This was the woman who danced, sang heart-felt blues at the upright piano and raced around the globe in search of adventure and inspiration. She has no desire to die. Her grasp on life has always been full and present, holding as much of it in each hand as she could manage.

But now she swallows anti-depressants so she can stomach her reality, the reality  of having life’s brilliant dance move farther and farther from her feet. I am not living. I am only existing, she admitted with sadness and resignation. My mother does not believe in complaining, finding fault or dwelling on the negative. She has never referred to herself as old, and continued wearing prom dresses into her eighties.

Death has not claimed her yet, but has moved close enough to examine her breath, weaken her heart and shrivel her body. Her mouth is flung wide in sleep, her breathing open and labored. I know she is fighting. She is thumbing her nose at death and saying, You will not close my mouth or steal my connection to life. Witness the strength of my breathing. Witness the power of my will.

But death does not come at her like a warrior or an avalanche. Death is patient and quiet. Death has time and the confidence that comes from assured victory. It moves slowly, taking back a tablespoon of vitality here, a cup of life force there. It has already stolen the radiance from her smile and precious memories from her heart.

Can she hear death whispering? It is coming closer every day. It’s okay to sleep, death assures her. Let your bed comfort you now. The world is too fast and too noisy. Enjoy the softness of your sheets, the twilight haven of your room. Feel your chest move up and down. There is nothing else that’s important. Just watch your breath move in and out. Begin to surrender. Begin to think about letting go. I have you. As soon as you’re ready, I have you. There is nothing to fear.

One day soon my mother will free herself, like a ship coming untethered from the shore, and we will have her no more.

written 9.25.2008

The Hospital Room

White coats and surgical coverings, sharp shining silver tools designed to invade, ether masks filled with gagging head splitting recovery. Alone, alone, alone, in dimly lit rooms where I wake full of pain, and half conscious awareness. Wheeled to other sterile rooms with metal beds lined up in rows. Jokes from a waitress who visits to explain that my mother is too busy to come. Are those pork chops you’re having for dinner, she asks, looking at the tube of liquid dripping into my arm. I smile feeling some responsibility to both appreciate and amuse her.

Later my mother comes with new pajamas, little rose buds living in creamy soft flannel. She smells like fresh air. The outside world clings to her clothes, the scent of the day lingers in her midnight hair. I want to eat her up, whole. I want to take her inside me to satisfy an unspeakable appetite. She tells me about the restaurant while painting her lips in fire engine red. I want to grab those lips, ask her to swallow me. I want to live within her body. Take me home, I want to scream. Take me to another place, eat me alive, but don’t leave me here.

Visiting hours are short, her schedule is full. I am one of the lucky 5. I am sick, so I get to see her. I have her undivided attention for about half an hour. New pajamas and the memory of sunlight playing on her ear-rings stay with me long after she closes the door. Now it’s me and nothingness. Tomorrow the janitor will mop my room. I like him. He comes everyday. The floors are not dirty. I don’t know why he comes. He has bags tied balloon-like over his shoes, as he mops clean over clean.

written 3-11-08

My Grandmother’s Hair

She was alone in the upstairs bedroom of the farm house, my father and his wife tending her in a hands-off kind of way.

Grandma Lottie is pretty much gone, they told me. You can go in but she won’t notice you. She just lies there day after day waiting to die.

I opened the tall wooden door that led to her bedroom, noticing the familiar resistance of the latch and the slow turn of the crystal doorknob. I peeked into the dimly lit room through a small opening as I gathered courage. The doorway extracted me from my own world, beckoning me forward into the quiet nothingness of hers. She slept in a large double bed to my right, which seemed too big for her diminishing body. Soft light cast afternoon shadows near her vanity reflecting remembrances of a well-ordered life. I smiled as I studied stacks of neatly folded and ironed handkerchiefs piled near the lamp. They stood like small embroidered trophies to a feminine life from another era.

I don’t think she’ll take note of you, my father repeated, closing the door behind us. I opened lace curtains that moved inward on a quiet breeze, whispering her name as I sat carefully on the bed. There was no response. Okay, I thought, I know you’re still in there and I’m going to find you. I pressed the clasp on my long leather case, removed my silver flute and assembled it. I held it to my lips, playing low and slow, to ease my way into her hiding place, hoping to coax her spirit gently back and awake. Her body startled in surprise at the unexpected sound, her head turning to face the music. I had her.

I stopped for a moment to trace the lines of her lips with my fingers as she began to smile. Encouraged, I played and played until my fingers tired. When I moved to close, an expression crossed her face that begged me onward, but I had no more. I dismantled the flute, snapped it back inside its velvet nest and crawled into bed next to her. I dove into my memory and found songs we had shared from my youth. I placed my lips inches from her ear and began to sing.

Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do,

I’m half crazy all for the love of you…

When I got to the next line, she joined me with a voice that came from far away, a voice from inside her private world, a voice that sounded like it was traveling through endless time and space to celebrate life for one more familiar moment. 

It won’t be a stylish marriage, we sang together, I can’t afford a carriage, but you’d look sweet upon the seat of a bicycle built for two..

I sang until I was sung out, all the time stroking her hair and offering words of remembrance and love.  Having worn myself thin, I lifted from the bed and headed toward the door. Thank you, she whispered.

My father peered into the room in disbelief. She’s singing in there, he said. I’ll be damned! She’s just lying in bed alone, singing.

 I listened as her 100 year old voice cocooned around her body like a lost blanket:

From this valley they say you are going

I will miss your bright eyes and sweet smile

for they say you are taking the sunshine

that brightened my path for awhile.

written 2-27-08 

The talk

The peaches in my neighbors orchard were not good this year, another fall-out of an avoidant summer. I missed picking them and putting them up. I missed seeing their golden beauty radiate from my shelves. My mason jars stand empty and rimmed with dust. I didn’t plant a garden this year. Our beds don’t get enough sun, the soil is better suited for brick making, the deer eat my efforts and well, I just wasn’t into it.

I did pick apples and pears along the driveway with Isabella. She liked carrying my new basket and wearing the tall black boots I bought her for horseback riding. She made up stories as we walked, giving us names and histories other than our own.

We had a serious moment down by the raspberries when she talked about the hard parts of her nine year old life. I am glad she trusts me with that. She asked me if I was wealthy, so I carefully explained the difference between being rich and being generous. Never use money as the measure of wealth, I told her. She wants me to buy her a farm and a horse, one she can care for and love. I wish I could please her in that way.

I told her I was sad at leaving my homelands in New York. I even spoke out loud about buying a cottage on the lake and moving back.

“If you do that Ma, I guess I would not stop crying for a really long time. Maybe days, or months or maybe forever.” 

And so I put that idea in the far corner of my interior shelf. No need to entertain moving when it’s balanced against the heartbreak of a child.

So many strings when we get older, so many roots. Gib says that carrots and potatoes are like eating dirt. He means it as a compliment. I baked a blueberry crisp last night with the last of the fresh berries. The season is turning. Change is in the air. I can smell it and feel it, but for now my feet are firmly planted right where I stand.

The Hallway

I am the wall of the upstairs hallway. I run the length of the house, opening into bedrooms, kitchen, playroom and living room. The restaurant is below. I take a sharp angle in the north end of the house and head east toward the music room and sun room. Seven people live here. They run up and down my linoleum; so do cats, dogs, raccoons and the occasional housekeeper. I am the spine of the house. It is my job to hold this family together.

The children in this house are sad. They listen to arguing, the flare of tempers and knife-sharpened words. I try to take their loneliness and absorb their pain, but there is too much. I don’t know when the hate started but it has seeped deep in my structure, a kind of rot I can not get rid of.

The children need care. They have one another, but no one is teaching or guiding them. They are starved for attention and love. Where are the grown-ups?  Mom and dad work in the restaurant below. They trail down about 6 am and come back after midnight. The father is the first to return, his voice filling the stairwell. He is often angry, yelling and wanting revenge. Sometimes he crashes into me, looking for a way out of his life. He acts out his pain and drowns it in alcohol. He has too many children, too many responsibilities, a love gone sour.

The littlest one, the father’s favorite, the one he calls Smiley, is trying hard to please him. She carries her mothers dreams on her tiny back and works to make her father happy. She has noticed that grown-ups do not fight when they are laughing. She decides to make them laugh. She is doing well in school because she longs for structure and rules. Rules give her hope in an unsure family. One night, when left alone, like every other night, she leaned against me wanting to be cradled. Tears ran gently over her rounded cheeks and dropped in wet little circles on her pajamas. She held a blade from her dad’s Gillette razor and ran it slowly, methodically up and down her soft pink arms. Lines of blood trailed her flesh like little pained highways, beginning and ending in short bursts, going no place special, just like her life.

I have a sad job, which has lasted 30 years. I’ve done the best I could, but even I want to crumble and collapse from all I’ve seen and heard. The mother leans on me too. She comes late at night after the restaurant closes and the children are asleep. She gives me her tears; she gives me her pain; she holds on to me when there is nothing else. Sometimes she brings her make-up to cover the violence on her cheek and the swollen shades of midnight around her eye. She doesn’t ever want the kids to see this, she doesn’t want them to know.

The oldest child has swallowed her fathers rage, she has taken it in, whole and complete. She has become treacherous and secretive. She rides the land bareback on a golden horse, long black braids falling to her waist, a black crow clinging to her shoulder. She’s made herself tough, and as intimate as a rattlesnake. Because she’s the oldest, she has the job of keeping the other children away from their parents. The parents have to work. The children are an interruption. They must be held back, the needs of the children are like a damn holding too much water, threatening to burst open and ruin everything.

The middle child resists authority. She needs her mother like she needs air to breathe. She pushes her older sister back and forth between my walls, hurting, crying, and pulling. The oldest wins, her knee pushed deep into the soft folds of the middle child’s stomach as she pounds her face with determined fists. There is so much anger, so much to release. The fighting goes on and on until the middle child escapes into her room, pushing heavy furniture against the door. Sometimes the middle child wins, but there is no victory. She fights her way down the stairs and into the restaurant, finds her mother and clings to her dress, but she is scolded. They are both scolded. They must stay away.

There is no one to care in this house. No one to intervene, no consequences doled out with a stern voice or pointed finger to siblings or neighbors causing harm. Life simply goes on and on, day after day, until fighting, hiding and protecting become ordinary and routine.

And there was the flu. The children, alone as usual. The youngest boy vomited as he came around my corner. The next child ran into it, slipped and fell. They all had the flu. They all threw up that day in the hall, like little islands of misery, devastated and abandoned, so busy surviving, they couldn’t reach towards each other. They fell asleep leaning against my walls, vomit drying in their hair.

The oldest boy joined a gang. I don’t see much of him. He has run away several times, but the highway patrol always brings him back, back to his personal hell. They think he’s a bad kid, but he’s not. None of them are.

The youngest son arrived much later than the others. He is favored and fussed over, but his life won’t last. A car accident will finish him long before he reaches manhood. The other children think he’s lucky. He escaped.

And the neighbors? They think this family has it easy. They have a large restaurant and motel, money to spend, vacations to take, and nice clothes to wear. They think the kids are spoiled.

Nobody knows what I know. They don’t see what I see.

I could go on and on, page after page, story after story, but I won’t. These dark things are best laid to rest. They belong to the shadows of another time, just like me.

Best to cast light on the good things, only for me, it’s hard to remember what those were. I hope those little ones turned out okay. I loved them all and held them the best I could.  I witnessed those dark hours and I remember.

 written July 21, 2008

Lattice at night

 Hush, I told myself, as I accidentally clanged pots and pans together in my sister’s kitchen. It was three a.m. I couldn’t sleep and had a hankering for lattice-topped apple pie.

Hard to be quiet when I didn’t know where anything was. Four large cupboards lined the walls near the table and six more hung near the refrigerator. Below those were banks of drawers and closed doors full of mystery. In my frustration I pulled a divided casserole dish from storage but could not imagine my tasty creation being squeezed and divided in white corningware. After much not-so-quiet opening and closing, I hit the pie tin jackpot in the corner near the lazy susan.

We’d brought home a large bag of apples that afternoon from the Amish farm near-by. The day was crisp and bright, full of cider, squash and piled pumpkins. The apples called to me in shades of on-fire red to be peeled, doused with honey and butter, baked and enjoyed. I got up in the night to obey.

My sister’s life is full of order, her cupboards and refrigerator the same. Her large country kitchen holds the knotty pine table that served as a banquet table in my parents restaurant. Now her children gather around it with their children and a wayward Aunt Karen from Oregon. She wrote emails last summer telling me how she’d refinished and varnished the table. I would never have dared spread flour over the surface, or used a knife to fashion strips of dough if it had not been 3 am, if I had not been alone in the kitchen with the vision of a warm apple pie where sleep ought to be.

My sister does things just right. She has rules with definite rights and wrongs. I  guessed what I was doing would fit into the right category in the morning, but my time and method would give her one of those looks that said, It’s okay, I love you anyway, if she had found me out at night.

Long story short, I never found the spice drawer, so the finished product was bland, but well received, even appreciated and fussed over. She wrote me an email today, which was my first day home after an eight hour plane ride. It said, I felt a real sadness at your being gone.  So I went upstairs and wrapped myself in the comfort of your corduroy jacket, which I wore for the rest of the day and then put on again this morning. It is a little piece of you and it brings me more comfort than you know.

I miss her too. A sister is a precious thing, especially one that can tolerate a west coast eccentric who can not follow the rules.

written October 1, 2008

The Note

He lay in a hospital bed, unable to speak. A preacher came to see him everyday, holding his hand, offering words of encouragement and turning inward to ask God for help. Bless this soul, the preacher repeated, and return him to health.

My father’s eyes were open, but he was too weak to speak or move his body.

The preacher read scriptures aloud, always smiling, praying and talking with my father about salvation, heaven and hell.

At the end of two weeks my father gestured for pen and paper. The preacher slid them within his grasp, smiling and encouraged.

Father found the strength to write three words, then pushed the paper in his direction. The preacher stood up and read the note. It said, in shaky exhausted script, Hit the road.

written April 30, 2007


She had to do it. It’s part of her faith and belief. She would be remiss in her mission to love me if she did not step forward. And so we had ‘the talk’ last night.  The talk about accepting Christ. Oh my, that was such a sad moment for me, because what she was really saying was, I can’t accept you the way you are. There is something wrong with you. You need to be like me, think like me and believe as I believe. There is only one true God, who resides in the safe deposit box in the Baptist church. There is no other.

There is no acceptance here for diversity. The idea of there being many paths up the mountain is completely foreign.

I can move into my sisters world and enjoy the bonds of family we work so hard to maintain, but there is this slap that follows, full of self-righteous accusing. Even the “it doesn’t matter because I will always love you anyway,” part she puts at the end, feels condescending and full of attitude that makes me wrong.

As a child I learned to hide. I danced the dance and talked the talk to survive, but I have always been as different as a purple plum in an orange crate. It hurts my heart to have family I can not relate to, and to belong to a land I can not claim. I have moved often, searching for my place, but my place has always been my home place in upstate New York. I love the vineyards, finger lakes and untouched architecture; I love the look and feel of the land that held and embraced my growing up years. I love my family. But the love I have received here has been dark and laced with poison, of a sort that blinded my eyes and sent me into perpetual hiding.

The deeper truth is that I am working to accept myself. I am a gifted woman who lives in the shadows of her own life, because I fear the abuse that comes from revealing.

There is a lot I like about my sister’s faith. She is sincerely striving toward kindness, service, gentle speaking and love. What could be wrong with that? The downside is that you are either on the boat or you are off the boat, and if you are off the boat, I guess it’s God’s will that you drown. The demand to conform pushes me farther and farther away. My older sister has no religion at all, but is worse. This family wants to make people small. They want to put them under their shoe, to keep them down and compliant. They want to eat my individuality, chewing it until it becomes bland and unrecognizable.

 I don’t return often, but each time I do, it is with the hope of real connection and deliverance from exile. What I receive instead is a new clarity about my own path and the need to accept people as they are without expectation.

written September 25, 2008

The Cornfield

My aunt’s spirit came to visit me the night she died.

I remember it like a midnight fog.

I got up from my bed and let her in.

I don’t remember conversation, just the distinct sense of saying goodbye.

In the morning I woke, thinking it was just another dream, but as I made my way into the living room, past the piano, I noticed the front door ajar, and the reality of the experience came back.

The next week I received a letter from my uncle telling me she had passed, the same day and hour of her visit.

He enclosed a photo of her standing in the cornfield.

He said she was reaching skyward to show how tall the corn had grown, but I saw a farewell wave, a final and loving goodbye.

I’d written a letter ten years earlier, telling her of my love, and expressing all that she’d meant to me. My uncle told me she carried it in her apron pocket until the day she died.

written May 21, 2008


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