Hello from the little cabin,
The past two days have been filled with laughter, memories, and enjoyment, but also a certain degree of wistfulness. How is it we continue on with our lives and things that had such importance get lost in our busy, scattered living of our lives? How is it that we can allow things that provided such happiness slip off the radar without even a notice? Those are the questions swirling in my head at the moment. From the infectious energy of the twins or the quiet contemplative (even serious) viewpoint of the now eldest; from the incredible insight, determination, and intelligence of the second youngest to profound gentleness of the youngest, the Pilgrim sisters cover the entire gamut of what you could expect from people (and most certainly in one family). I have smiled as I ponder how the husbands of these special women try to manage their collective power. The sisters’ intelligence, their profound love of family, or the appreciation for the earth will leave you in awe. They run lives that seem beyond anything manageable in a 24 hour day; yet, being their presence is wholeheartedly life giving.
During this time, they have gathered to inventory and share the voluminous writing of their mother. As they have read the droves of letters, there have been tears, laughter, surprise, and suspense, particularly as they read the primary sources of her mother’s journey to eventually fall in love with their father. We have laughed, and the looks of surprise on their faces as they have read are priceless. We have been pulled back into a time that was very different from our world today. Most of the letters read were written to their maternal grandparents, and it has been fascinating, at least to me, how thoughtful and caring she was (not that such abilities really surprise me). She certainly imparted that gift to her daughters. Perhaps the most interesting thing to me was how a timeframe of their parents life was created. I did not realize he had taught at Luther College before his PhD and received an NSF Grant to do his doctorate. And he finished it in two years. It was in the early 60s, when we would have been around him that he was in the throes of that degree. What I remember about Don and Virginia Pilgrim is quite varied, but there are two traits that stick with me most prominently. He was gentle, humble, and kind, but so incredibly brilliant. I always talk about the calculus problem story with him. She, on the other hand, was gracious and hospitable in the sort of way they could have been a television program in those days. She welcomed everyone with a smile, hug, and kiss on the cheek.
As they have read and I listened, things I remember about my own family come to the fore. I saw some pictures of my adopted mother as a child I have never seen. I saw picture of my adoptive parents in their earlier life before I was part of their family. However, back to the cousins and their parents. Growing up I was enamored with my beautiful cousins, but could not imagine six beautiful girls in my house. Two of them existed and then the twins came, all in the midst of their father was completing his doctoral degree. I realized this because the twins noted they were born in Madison. As I listened to them, the craziness of such a time made sense. I am even more in awe of this man (and the incredible work their mother did). Dang!! I could barely manage it all as. a single person, or as a newly married person. While there were certainly other issues, the PhD was certainly an element in the failure of my marriage. That takes an incredible commitment from all of them, but knowing them as I grew and seeing the amazing women they are now, all loving mothers, there is really no surprise for me. Certainly their roads to have been hit with detours, bumps, and bruises, but to watch the love and kindness among them has been so inspiring to witness. Their kindness in welcoming me back into their midst is an extraordinary gift. Each time I walk over to the house, my face breaks out into a smile because of the infectious love that covers ever molecule of Kim’s and Mike’s beautiful home.
Yesterday, I spend most of the day shopping or playing in the kitchen for them. With the help of Andres, the talented chef from La Malbec, I made cauliflower steaks with Harissa seasoning. I did a couple of different things, but I needed to put more moisture in the pan before I baked the cauliflower. All in all it turned out quite nicely, but it could have been better. But it was a labor of love for me to give back to them. We had a rather lovely dinner on their patio last night. This morning I got up and sat on the porch of the cabin with a small breakfast and merely relaxed. It might be the most content I have felt in months or years. That is a wonderful thing to be able to write. I have a book to begin reading and might even try to do that over the next couple of days. To be transparent, I have struggled with the national perception of my home state over the past few years because of some of their elected people in Congress to some things I have read about the current Governor, but when I sit on the porch of my little cabin, there is a simpleness to the fields and natural landscape around me. As I have walked with Kim through the yard, her thoughtful planting of trees, her garden, and the natural native garden planted for Suzanne, the eldest of the group, cannot help but connect you to their world (my extended world) of family.
Each time I sit with them, hear something else that gives me pause, but lifts my spirits and reminds me of how blessed I am to be part of this sagacious heritage. There was no inkling a year ago on the Fourth of July I would spend the next one in Decorah, but It has been a wonderful celebration. There were no fire works, but rather just spending time with family. It was laid back and relaxing. No schedule and no requirements. Seldom do I have such a day. It is a time to mark on the calendar, perhaps a new plan for the holidays of the future.
It is now the morning of the 5th. A leisurely breakfast after some grading and then to the local juicing/smoothie shop. It is in a co-op with a variety of small entrepreneurs. This bar is the work of Paula’s and Bobby’s son, Josey, who had returned home off season. Off season from what, might you ask? From his other position as a linebacker for the Denver Broncos. He seemed personable and down-to-earth, working diligently as you would expect from anyone in this incomparably wonderful family. Hannah, Kim’s and Mike’s daughter, and her husband have stopped by a couple times, and she proves the generations of Pilgrim women are alive and well. It makes me have hope. Mary’s youngest son, Murray, is a wonderful and brilliant young man. Everything I have witnessed demonstrates how incredible the sisters and their husbands are. I fills my soul with joy.
It would be easy to only regret the things I have missed and focus on what might have been, but that serves no good purpose. It is important to realize the consequences of one’s absence, but the past is the past. It is there to inform us; it is there as lessons to take forward. It is there to prompt a change as we’d move forward. Sometimes I feel like emotions are more problematic than helpful. I realize both the profundity and the difficulty with that statement. There are other areas in my life where I have been accused of being too academic, too metacognitive. I am wondering if my desire to keep all things logical has gone too far? I know I have feelings and I know sometimes I feel passionately. I know there is a part of me, for instance, that is a hopeless romantic, the person who tears up at points in a movie or television show (and often at times when others won’t). I know that when I watch an underdog person triumph I can be brought to tears much more easily than most would believe.
Many of my former students, too many to count, who are like surrogate children have made me tear up with their comments or their cards. I have learned to hold on to relationships and people for a long time, and it is generally difficult to let people go, though I have also learned at times it is best to do so. I am well aware of the two-edged reality of caring. And yet, I cannot bring myself to be an uncaring person, or a person who cares only when it is in their benefit. During this coming two weeks I will see people who are some of those people in my life. One is a student from my first year teaching at Stout. She was in a difficult situation during that time of her life, but she was smart and capable. She needed help and, even though I was a first year professor, I reached out to help her. It is still one of the best decisions I have ever made. She now has three amazing children, is married, and seems quite successful. The opportunity to see her in the next week after almost 20 years is a gift. Next week, I will see other family and friends, a couple that I am blessed to call friends now. Too many times, we miss opportunities to make a difference because we get too caught up in whatever occupies our attention at the time. At this point, I am trying to change that.
I realize life is fleeting; it is uncertain, and I have been pushed throughout my struggle with Crohn’s to come to terms with that uncertainty more than even I might realize at times. And yet, somehow in God’s providence, He deems me worthy of managing another day. And this should not be interpreted as I see God as capricious who decides the exact moment in which we should leave our human form. It is my way of saying somehow I am still here. I am reminded of my Dominican brother who reminds me that I am somehow Superman. Not that I feel like some action hero. I am simply a person trying to do the best he can (and I realize the third person singular in this). What I know as I am coming to the end of my time in Decorah is my spirit has been lifted. The time spent at Acorn Cabin and back where my sister attended college for a year, has made a profound change in my attitude, and perhaps even my outlook on life. Family is an amazing thing if we allow it to be so.
I am feeling beyond blessed.
Thanks for reading.