It’s like many small towns in this area – a school, a post office, some business and more churches than it probably needs. Most of the places there that hold the largest amount of my memories are virtually unrecognizable to me now. My grandmother’s house was sold a few years ago and the new owner has painted it a garish blue. The school built a large addition shortly after I left and even my lovely little white church has been torn down and a new, modern worship structure is taking its place.
I drove across the roads that wound themselves between lakes and woods, snow skittering across the highways in the temperatures that hovered near zero toward the place that once was home. I saw the school bus dropping off kids near Ottertail, drove past the areas where many of my classmates used to live – the classmates who lived on the “other side” of town from me. The lake kids.
I went to see mom and dad. I hadn’t been there for many months. Although cemeteries are rarely full of fun, they are particularly desolate during the winter. When the weather is nice, I almost enjoy walking among the gravestones, observing the flowers blooming, the decorations and solar garden lights people have left behind for loved ones. During the winter, however, the cemetery is bitter and cold. I could only stand by their graves for a few minutes. I brushed some snow off their names engraved in the granite, a few tears freezing at the corners of my eyes, and then I shuffled back to the shelter of my car.
I drove around a bit more but it only takes all of five minutes to drive down every street of Henning. Then, I pulled up to the assisted living home where my mom’s best friend lives. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon, likely a good time to catch her. Norma was sitting in her room when I arrived. She makes a fuss over me when I come. I like that. Mom used to make a fuss over me and I miss that. We sat and talked about this and that. Shared some memories about my mom and dad. It’s a beautiful, bittersweet thing to talk to other people who miss the same people as you.
Finally, it was getting to be suppertime and the sun was going down. I hugged Norma goodbye and said I would be back soon when the weather gets warmer. She went into her big closet and brought out some chocolates for me to bring to the boys. She makes a fuss over them, too. I like that.
I left town as the sun set. I saw the water tower, the prairie, the sidewalks where my best friend and I would walk and laugh until our sides hurt, the café where mom and I used to like to go have pie and coffee.
I hardly cry about her anymore. She’s slipping from my daily memories and yet she’s always there. I hear her in my voice, I see her in my mirror, she rests in the background of every decision I make. “What would mom think? What would she say? I miss you, I miss you, I miss you.”
Past the snowy fields I made my way back toward the place life has brought me now. The moon was rising bright and cold. I drove up to my warm house – the lights welcoming me home. My husband and children were in the midst of the evening routine. I could hear Owen practicing his baritone as I got out of the car. Jesse was wrestling with his math homework. Chad was putting away the leftovers from supper.
This beautiful life. These days so near and yet so exceedingly far from my hometown.