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August 7, 2013

I’m lucky if I make it home once a year these days.   By home, I mean Illinois, the state where I grew up and where most of my family still reside.  An entire year seems so long between visits, so inexcusable.  I have friends who make annual visits home–to other countries.   With four children, though, we’ve priced ourselves out of flying, not to mention the juggle of everybody’s schedules.  So going home is now a 1,600-mile road show best performed once a year during the kids’ summer vacations.

photoFor me, going home is an exercise in acceptance.  No matter how carefully I plan my days, on the morning of my departure, my head whirls with missed encounters, mainly with aunts, uncles, cousins and other extended family members who live in the area.  I try to visit the family graves every year–to introduce my dad to a new child or to put flowers in the vases on my grandmothers’ tombstones–but some years, I don’t manage to get that done, either.  And the kids add to my already packed to-do list.  Usually they want what I want: pizza from Monical’s (est. 1959), shakes from Krekel’s (est. 1949), a ride on the same Scovill Zoo train that I rode when I was a kid–and as much of my mom, brother, sister, and nephew that we can soak up without leaving them dry.  But they also want to play tennis and soccer and go to the playground and ride their bikes around my mom’s 50-plus community.  This year, my seven-year-old spent more time than we had standing in front of the dollhouse kit display at Hobby Lobby, trying to figure out which one he wanted to buy to make with his father when we returned home to Pennsylvania.   My dad purchased a kit to make for my sister and me one year–we were squeaking into the last late childhood years that seemed acceptable for playing with a dollhouse–but he never finished it and the box of now warped pieces sits on his work bench in the garage of my childhood home.  (My brother occupies the house now.)  On the way to Hobby Lobby, when I pointed out the house where I grew up, my son asked if we could go in.  I said, no, not now, and he asked why, and I said, because it makes me sad.  He asked if I was sad when I lived in that house and I said mostly I was very happy, but the house reminds me of how much life I’ve lived and lost.  He said something about how it had to be that way so I could grow up to have him and his brothers, and I absolutely agreed.

When we received an invitation to my little cousin Karla’s wedding, to be held the last weekend in July in southern Illinois, I knew we had to find a way to incorporate her wedding into our annual trek to the Midwest.  I relish the opportunity to be with my family at the beginning of things rather than at the end, so I tend to privilege weddings over funerals in my efforts to return home for family events.  I knew Karla best when she was a little girl, when both of us were still living in Illinois, but I’ve watched her grow into a smart, compassionate, beautiful young woman who, like many people in my family, is a grade school teacher.   My children love these big family celebrations at which they find themselves related to an entire banquet hall of people much as I loved them when I was a child, much as I still do.  All those people, all those shared stories–the good, the bad, the ugly–all that love.  Plus, they’ve got your back.

At some point during Karla’s reception, my cousin Mike and I were talking about family.  Because adoption is often on my mind these days as I work on my book project, I mentioned how, even though my sister and I were adopted, we never felt any different because of it, not in our immediate family and not in our extended family.  I gestured to the people around me, casting wide.  Mike looked at me like I had three heads, like he had never considered the possibility that we did not belong as much as anyone else.  He told me how he had been at summer camp when he heard the news about us.  “Ever since then,” he said, and then he shrugged his shoulders and gave mine a squeeze.  There really was nothing more to say.  How my sister and I came to be a part of this family made absolutely no difference to anybody.

Of all the gifts that home gives me, this one I treasure most in my awareness as an adult.  This is the one for which my heart aches when the visit ends and we pull onto U.S. 51, pointing ourselves away from all of those people, the living and the dead, who are my family.  As we part the flat fields of corn on each side of the highway, I glance from the front window into the rearview mirror and back again.  That’s how I am able to make my departure each year, with my eyes on both ends of the horizon, the one leading me away, and the one I’m leaving behind.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Jason DeVaux permalink
    September 23, 2013 5:24 am

    You have gained much more in life than your sorrows may ever tally Jenny. If there was but one note of somber regret in your voice concerning the loses of your past and youth, let it be overshadowed by the joy of the people who love you right here and now. As Christians, we are not burdened with the feeling of regret of the unsaved. We know that each step taken in life is to God’s will, and for a purpose that is not always known to us. My name is Jason DeVaux, and Jenny is my biological sister. I hate even mentioning that word, “biological”, as it connotes a meaning of something substandard to the real thing. It does not. I love and admire this woman more than most people in my life. I have made my fair share of mistakes in my life. The most central of these is my doubting of the intentions of my sister in her writings. Over the past five years, my sister and I have fell victim, at times, to the awesome dynamic that adoption plays on reconciliation and sustained reconnection to lost family. I have made my own fair share of mistakes, and for that I am sorry. All I can offer now is my unrequited love and respect for you Jenny, for the path you take all of us down in your desire for a deeper connection to your past. While I could certainly wax the poetic here to the disdain of your readers, know this: you have a life blessed by those who love you. If I may ask but for one boon, it would be this: a chance to be a part of the love and commitment that bears the complicated designation of “family of Jenny Spinner.” Peace and God Bless you my wonderful and soulful sister.

    Jason DeVaux

  2. Michael Redmon permalink
    August 10, 2013 8:06 am

    blah blah blah….. snore

    • twinprint permalink*
      August 12, 2013 12:37 am

      Ha! Trust me, bro, if you had Monical’s in Colorado, you’d be chewing, not snoring.

  3. August 8, 2013 3:31 am

    Again, your stories make my heart sing for all of you, Jenny. God bless.

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