Running Away to Home—and What We Leave Behind

April 23, 2023

Dedicated to my sister Jo Ann and brother-in-law Peter, who will come “home” next month.
And to my mother who left home five years and two days ago.

My older sister and my brother-in-law are returning from east coast to west next month! I will meet their belongings at their new home this week, as our youngest sister and my daughter met mine eleven years ago. The distance between us will be carved from more than 2800 miles to twenty-five.

Somehow all three of my parents’ children ended up on the east coast as new adults. I often wonder how much they ached, after they themselves moved from their own childhood homes in Michigan and Tennessee following WWII and raised their family in Washington state. Their grandchildren grew up far away. I still hurt for them. Then one-by-one we returned, all of us too late for our father, two of us having long years with our mother.

Rebecca, the youngest, was first. Twenty-one years ago after twenty-three years away. I flew from Maryland with her and her two cats then and helped her paint the suite on the lower level of our childhood home.

I was next, eleven years ago, thirty-six years after my departure, driving from North Carolina alone with my cat.

And now Jo Ann and Peter are driving from Virginia with their two cats. (Get the picture? We are cat people.) She has been away for fifty-four years.

Last week, she posted a photo of the moving van pulling away from the home they raised their two children in (who live in Seattle now, along with one of my children), and it sent me looking for the photo of the van in front of my Raleigh home.

Picture me in the dormer of my bedroom under the eaves, crying.

That sent me down the rabbit hole of my old blog, “My View from the Garden,” reading my final posts from that home. Eleven years later, I can still work up a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye. I loved that house, purchased on my own. I loved that garden created from the good bones of an old garden fallen into neglect, first by the ninety-two year old widow, Mary Minges, who had bought the house new with her state patrolman husband more than a half century earlier and built the garden, but could no longer keep it up; and then mangled by the renovator before I bought it. I was—and still am—enormously proud of what I created there.

In that last post, in May 2012, I included this poem that had been haunting me for the previous eighteen months, since I started living into the idea that I really was going to leave. You can read the rest of the post on the old blog (link at the bottom), but for now the poem.

“Last Summer in the Garden”
by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

I am remembering how I used to wake in the mornings
   and step out
Into my backyard, coffee cup in hand.
I am remembering how
I would wander around in a sleepy stupor,
the cool of the morning grass
On my bare feet, the awe of the new day
   making me forget about
The word exile. I keep dreaming the desert willow,
   the sweet acacia,
The honey mesquite, the purple sage,
   the cow’s tongue cactus that had
Become as tall as a tree.

God, I loved that garden, but
It’s no longer mine. It’s not true to say it’s gone.
It’s just that
I can’t set foot on it any longer. It’s cruel,
   this business of exile…

I can never go back to that house
Where I lived for so many years… I was
The god of the garden. I was the planter,
   the giver and taker of life.
This year, in early June, the front yard was
   a blanket of orange blossoms
And the paloverdes were exploding
   in yellow blooms that were
As fragile and tender as my boyhood.
I was not there to see the garden
In its fullness, though I saw the entire scene
   as a photograph
I stole from my memory . . .

I have spent my last summer in the garden…
But when we leave the garden,
   always we carry something with us,
A fragment of our innocent selves.
There is a freedom in living
Somewhere east of Eden. We all want to taste
   the fruit from the tree
Of knowledge. I’m thinking that, in the end, Adam and Eve
Made their peace with exile.

And I can make my peace with mine.

And now I am here, trying half-heartedly to keep up with my mother’s garden. She is Mary, building a garden from scratch, keeping it up into her 90s after her husband died. It needs someone who will love it like I loved Mary’s garden. It’s not me, I’m afraid. Maybe it will be beautiful again some day, made so by someone else’s hands.

For now, I create other things, and try to keep the land my parents loved into being “good enough.” We have to create our own lives. I hope they would be proud of the creative seeds I am sowing, and happy that I love our home. And in that deep soul love, at least, I am preserving their legacy.

Read the rest of the blog post from the garden here (including before and after photos and lessons learned from a garden). Below it are three more “last” posts from my final month there. I’m kind of proud of them. Reading them makes my heart hurt a little. So much water under that bridge, both calm and rough.

The last of my “Walk in the Woods, a Photo a Day.” The trillium is heading into pink completion, the leaves are beginning to burst. Spring has been slow this year, but it’s coming.

11 thoughts on “Running Away to Home—and What We Leave Behind

  1. Wonderful! Your words never fail to find resonance somewhere within my own history. A bit like coming home, as it were. Also very grateful to read the poem you included.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You make me nostalgic for “home,” but unfortunately I never had a single ONE. The closest I had was my grandparents’ house that my mother grew up in. From being born during wartime to a soldier and his bride who married and left almost immediately to to his way-station to Europe, to always getting ready to leave where we lived because Papa worked for an oil company in the days when they moved their engineers and staff every 3-6 years. I married an Air Force Officer, and we kept moving. I’ve lived in this house in Tacoma for over 10 years, and it’s the longest we’ve ever lived anywhere – and it’s a world away from my grandparents’ house where I was brought as a baby – the only home that stayed in the same place as I grew up. When I was little, I used to say “I stay with my parents wherever they are, but I really live with my grandmother.”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That would be so hard, Abbie. I never lived in a single house long, until now at 11 years, but the spot in the world changed only enough to provide adventure. I love your child-insight in that last sentence. Wow.


  3. Just like in the garden, things are always changing. This morning it was warm enough for me to go outside into our nascent garden to do a little stretching, and I was instantly renewed. What a miracle it is! I love your life lessons from the garden. I would add that many things can be amended with compost.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yay for warmth! I am about to head out and get some things checked off my list. My progress was waylaid yesterday by a downed vine maple across the trail. Compost . . . true; for real gardeners! (The garden in your blog photo is gorgeous!)

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Love the “before times” Garden blog posts. There was still a certain innocence about what lie ahead. As complicated as families are it’s always nice to have them nearby. A whole new chapter is about to begin. I spent the day exploring forest and shore and I thought of your Mom. A lovely Earth Day spent looking for that elusive trillium … hope she saved one in your woods for me to discover. 

    Liked by 2 people

    1. So much innocence when I created in that garden. The light was dawning at the end, though. The last 30 years have been a series of new chapters for sure, when I thought it would be a simple chap book! There will be trillium!

      Liked by 2 people

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