Gran's Apple Butter Blog

December 19, 2011

Going Home, Excerpt: Stronger Shoulders (7XII)

Chapter 7 – Stronger Shoulders

Like everyone else, Gran had made some tough decisions along her journey, ones she’d just as soon have avoided. Eventually, each fork in the road we ignore reappears, no matter how many times we think we snuck past it undetected. Gran noticed that whenever she took the easy road, the one that seemed to lead downhill, before long she’d find herself right back at that same fork, or at least one that looked suspiciously like it.

She could keep going ‘round in circles – that was her favorite option for a while. After all, we get to pick our trail. We can drive uphill or down, on steep, rocky terrain or a smooth, dirt-packed road. But when we keep choosing the same leg at that fork, we grow tired of the slant of the hillside, and the ruts in the road grow deeper until just making it around that circle becomes an unbelievable struggle. When Gran reached the point she could no longer bear the idea of the same old road, she’d chosen the unknown.

Yes, that path led uphill. It also went through some long, dark tunnels that were almost more than she could bear. All the stale air in those tunnels must have messed up her odometer, Gran said, or at least her depth perception, ‘cause somehow she felt like each mile in that darkness took her much further than it measured in the light of day. That more than made up for the few times she’d thrown ‘er in reverse, ‘cause in her bones she could feel it – with each turn of those wheels, she was nearing home.

Now and then as Gran ascended this new road, she’d come around a corner to find the most beautiful view spread across the valley below. A chance to breathe and soak in the splendor: Just what she needed after that long, steep grade. She’d pull over and stretch her legs, maybe peel an orange or a chocolate or just relax for a bit.

Sometimes she’d sneak in a little hike, just for the fun of it. Over time she noticed her body was responding to all this exercise, legs and lungs growing strong, back and shoulders widening for the pack she always carried. She realized she could carry more, walk further, faster, climb steeper grades than ever before, without even getting winded. That’s how she knew she was growing.

She thought her mind had grown the most. She’d gotten a little wiser along the way. She’d learned to pack her bag well, leaving everything but necessities behind. The further she traveled, the less she needed. That toothbrush handle, why, that’s an extra three ounces… forget that!

She’d also learned how valuable the rules of the hiking road were: “If you can’t pack it out, don’t pack it in!” She’d learned to quit asking others to carry her pack for her, and to stop saying yes when others asked her to carry theirs. In the end this only exhausted her and weakened them, until she’d realized it was best to focus on her own journey, her own pack.

At first when others had asked Gran to carry their bags, eagerly eyeing her broad shoulders, she’d complied, feeling a little flattered. Even after she stopped that, she’d tried sharing what she’d learned on all those trails, but that never seemed to work well either, so she finally gave it up. She felt a little sad about that, but she knew it was highest good.

What she didn’t know, what I could see from a distance, was that several hikers were watching her, how she packed her bag, trimming weight here and there, heaviest stuff in the bottom for balance, light things on top, water bottle handy, and a rain cover over the outside. They were watching how she picked her trail, how she sighted her line of travel. And they began to do the same thing, at least when no one was looking. 

Gran just kept doing her thing, following her own path. When she had the chance for an overnighter, she’d build a fire, pitching her tent when rain threatened, gazing at the stars when it didn’t. In the morning she’d break camp quickly and methodically, minding her own business, unaware that eyes were following her movements, hands rolling and zipping to mirror her own.

Somewhere down the path she’d look up and smile, surprised to see a familiar face. She’d nod respectfully, then turn back to her trail as this new friend passed, moving quickly along his way, just like it was meant to be.

Every now and then Gran would strike out into virgin wilderness, to test new ideas, new equipment. It didn’t always go well, she was the first to admit. But again, as always: stronger shoulders, stronger back, stronger legs… and so it went.

Starting next week – Chapter 8: You Have Reached Your Destination!
© Mary Batson, Going Home, Front Porch Rambles, and Gran’s Apple Butter Blog, 2010-2011. All rights reserved.
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December 13, 2011

Going Home, Excerpt: Home Stretch (7XI)

Chapter 7 – Home Stretch

So, where were we? Oh yes, coming into the home stretch. At this point we tend to punch the gas a wee bit, eager to pull in and put ‘er in park.

But there’s one home stretch we tend to dawdle on. Our final trip to that Big Rocking Chair in the Sky sparks mixed emotions, ‘cause this going home means saying “see ya later” to all the homes we’ve had here – the ones we shared with friends and family, the ones that held our hopes and dreams. No matter how much we want to go, it can be hard to say goodbye.

This can be hard on everyone involved – not just the one who’s leaving, who at least has a new adventure to look forward to. For the ones left behind, it can feel hard ‘cause they’re still in the old adventure, and one of their favorite players just left the team. Sometimes that makes it hard to keep going, to finish the race.

It can be hard ‘cause this represents change. Gran said she’d never gotten very good at enjoying that. The thing with change – we don’t know what that means. And we’ve been socialized – oh boy, have we: Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t. But is that true? I gotta say, in my life, sometimes what I found around that corner was a whole lot better.

We fight this change so hard we hold on much longer than is good for us. Sometimes because we don’t want to go for ourselves, sometimes because we don’t want to go for the ones we’ll leave behind. We know they’ll be sad and probably have to deal with some darkness until they figure out how to move on with their lives. We want them to move on ‘cause we love them – we may even tell them that. But we also know that most likely they’re going to forget this for a while. Sometimes a long while. And Gran said that was ok. It’s only human.

So we’ll hang around, dragging things out when we know it’s better to rip that bandage off all at once. Sure, it hurts like crazy. But Gran said at least then somehow the pain can seem a bit more bearable. She didn’t say how though. She didn’t always answer my questions, just like she didn’t always answer anybody’s questions. And for the same reason – she knew I’d have to figure out this one on my own.

This can feel especially hard when the person saying goodbye is young. When this happened, Gran would remind me of the saying about good people dying young. She suspected that might not be too far off, ‘cause when we’ve done our work the best we can, we’ll want to go home and take a rest – all this learning wears us out. So when someone makes this trip earlier than we’d like, Gran figured that meant this was just a fast learner – ready to move on, lessons complete. That didn’t make the goodbye much easier, but somehow the idea felt soothing, like a sip of peppermint tea on a hot summer day.

Sometimes we fear this journey so much we get stuck along the way. Halfway home, we can go no further, ‘cause that extension cord we’re hanging on to isn’t long enough. Or maybe someone roped the trailer hitch as we flew past, and there we are, dangling between here and there, lost in the darkness. There’s only one thing to do then, Gran said, and that is to lovingly and gently let go of anything we’re holding on to here, and to do what we can to help those left behind unhitch their end of that rope as well. They may not even be aware they’re holding on, but we’ll know it.

This applies to deaths of other things too – like the end of a relationship or a job, anything that means a lot to us. We go through this process consciously when we give up one thing to make space for another. Sometimes we know we’re doing this. Other times, Gran said, all we know is that something is going away, something has been lost, and we’re just hanging on for dear life.  

That’s when we have to be patient with ourselves and keep plugging away, following our path, even when it leads away from roads that have been a big part of our lives for a long time. Gran said it was very important to ask for guidance in these moments, to pray that highest good be served, and then to listen and watch for the stars that will lead you home. That’s when you learn to see in the dark, when you close your eyes and hold out your hand, trusting that Someone is there to take it, and then, follow your heart.

© Mary Batson, Going Home, Front Porch Rambles, and Gran’s Apple Butter Blog, 2010-2011. All rights reserved.
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December 6, 2011

Going Home, Excerpt: Maintenance (7/X)

Filed under: Along the Road,Book Series,Books,Front Porch Rambles,Going Home,Gran,Life Journeys,Maintenance — Mary Batson - FrontPorchRambles @ 10:08 am

Chapter 7 – Maintenance

There are other things involved in traveling – like all the stops. There are expected stops for snacks and bathroom breaks, and sometimes there are a few unexpected stops, too.

In general, the more of the first we make, the fewer of the last pop up. If we stop every so often to stretch a bit and check the tire pressure, we’ll notice if one develops a slow leak. That’s hard to see if we sit strapped in place for twelve hours straight. Even then, we can choose to keep on driving without doing anything about it. We’ll wonder what’s going on later when the car starts pulling to the right, hopefully early enough to prevent a blow-out. Whether we stay alert enough to notice that first tug is up to us, Gran said. Either way, sooner or later, a bald tire will make itself known.

Preventative maintenance stops serve all kinds of purposes. Once pressing needs are taken care of and the gas tank is full, we can take a minute to check our fluid levels and wash our windshield. This is also a good time to make sure we’re still headed in the right direction. We might need to do a little recalculation. Or if our memory’s gotten fuzzy, maybe it’s time to pull out that picture of home for a quick refresher. And since getting there is half the fun, we may want to buy one of those little bobblehead dogs for the dashboard –they’re good company for the road.

If we don’t make enough of these stops, our car may start feeling neglected and demand some attention. And no matter how many stops we make, we still want to be prepared in case of an accident – in case something or someone gets hurt – maybe even ourselves. Depending on what happens, we may be fully prepared or we may be up a creek.

In this case there’s nothing left to do but set up those reflectors and start dialing for help. We can just stand there, holding our pride in our hands, but that won’t get us far if the transmission just fell out. Pride can be a heavy burden to bear, Gran said, and it can get awfully expensive sometimes.

We can treat our wounds while we wait for the tow truck. If they’re not too big, it’s best to leave scrapes and scratches open for sunshine and fresh air. Others we’ll need to cover with a bandage or two, to give ‘em time to heal in a protected space. Gran said this is like when we experience major life changes, when we need time to lick our wounds in private. It’s only natural, and not a process to be rushed. If we push too fast, we may get hurt again, even worse than before.

When it’s time to take those bandages off, we have several options on how to go about that. This being a five-year-old’s field of expertise, I wrote up a list of my favorites, to which Gran added a few thoughts.

  1. Grit your teeth and rip it off as fast as you can. (This hurts like the dickens, but it’s fast if you’re feeling brave. – G)
  2. Ask someone else to pull it off for you. (Like pulling someone’s tooth, this doesn’t always work, and sometimes it hurts even more.)
  3. Pull up the side and poke around ‘til you see blood, then stick it back down. (That’s good for causing infections.)
  4. Pick around the edges ‘til they start peeling up. Keep doing that ‘til the whole thing falls off. (Very creative. This may be the least painful option, but it takes a lot of time and energy.)

Gran had tried each of these herself and a few more I hadn’t thought of – she said pain can spark amazing ingenuity. Each is a valid choice, and each has pros and cons and consequences. We just have to pick which one feels right at that moment. If Technique #3 hasn’t worked well for us in the past, maybe we won’t use it next time.

The neat thing about all these rules is that there’s always an exception or two. For example, if you’re in a full body cast, Gran recommended getting some assistance with its removal – it can be a delicate job and probably requires professional help. Hammers don’t count, and neither does your well-intentioned neighbor with the hacksaw.

© Mary Batson, Going Home, Front Porch Rambles, and Gran’s Apple Butter Blog, 2010-2011. All rights reserved.
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November 23, 2011

Going Home, Excerpt: Leaders (7/IX)

Filed under: Along the Road,Book Series,Books,Companions,Directions,Front Porch Rambles,Going Home,Gran,Leaders — Mary Batson - FrontPorchRambles @ 11:24 am

Chapter 7 – Leaders

Sometimes we travel in a team on our way home, picking a leader to guide the group. Gran thought true leaders are made, not born, as they pass through the fires of their own challenges. Whom we choose for this role is very important, she said, because their directions may mean the difference between a safe trip and an ugly one.

When selecting a leader, our truest guide will always be a healthy heart. How does this person feel? Next, test their directions. If everything feels right, keep on going, but never be afraid to question if something feels off or the person in charge falters. Even good leaders run out of steam. Either way, we’re responsible for whom we choose to lead us. And if democracy isn’t an option, we may want to reconsider the whole thing.

One nice part about traveling in a group: If you’re feeling a little off, you can ask for help. That’s when a good team and a good leader really comes in handy. If she knows the ropes, your leader can help you get started again, while the others cheer you on, and further down the road, you may be the one encouraging someone else.

A good leader helps each person grow and develop, although this may not look like the help we’re used to seeking. Hand-holding is limited, as true teachers show us our own strength, rather than encourage us to lean on theirs.

A good leader will know when we’re ready, and will also know when we’re not up for a particular challenge. In that case, depending on the possible outcomes, she may caution us to slow down or she may step back and let us learn this for ourselves. After all, a true leader is less concerned with being liked than she is with uncovering our full potential. She’ll do whatever it takes to facilitate this, although we may not care for her techniques until we recognize what’s really happening.

Never stop questioning, Gran said. Good leaders will never be offended by this, and if someone is, that’s a good sign you want off that team pretty darn quick anyway. Blind faith only gets you to the promised land if you’re following Moses and he hasn’t stopped to build a golden calf again. And remember: Group travel may be safer, but it’s slower in movement, decision-making and change. Traveling alone may be faster, but it carries higher risks. Only you can know which best serves your purpose and your abilities.  

And if you find yourself in a lead position, be sure and share Gran’s cautions with your team, in case you ever give out wrong directions. Remind everyone of the rules of the road, and ask them to make their own decision whether to stay with the group or strike out on their own. Then cultivate each person’s leadership skills from day one, so if you ever realize you’re no longer fit for the job, you can step aside and let a stronger person stand up.

© Mary Batson, Going Home, Front Porch Rambles, and Gran’s Apple Butter Blog, 2010-2011. All rights reserved.
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November 10, 2011

Going Home, Excerpt: Asking for Directions (7/VIII)

Chapter 7 – Asking for Directions

Getting lost can happen to the best of us. When this happens, we don’t need to be afraid to ask for directions, but we’ll want to be discerning about whose we follow, especially if it arrives unsolicited. When that nice man in a strange city eagerly directs us into an empty parking space directly below a No Parking sign, we may want to keep going.

Some strangers know about going home. They’re worth listening to, although they usually don’t talk much. Sometimes those who speak the least are really those who know the most, Gran said. You can recognize them by the twinkle in their eye. If you’re afraid you’ve gotten off your path, sit down next to one of these twinkly-eyed journeyers. Sit and be for a bit. Soak up those sparkles, like the smell of laundry fresh from home, where Mom has that special fabric softener you can’t find at your store.

Other strangers think they know, and down deep they really do, but their sunglasses may be a little smudged on the surface. Maybe they aren’t really sure, ‘cause they don’t remember enough about their own road. If they can’t find their way, how can they remember yours?

When well-meaning strangers share their directions, you’ll want to consider if what they’ve told you feels right. Again, just like that shortcut, check it against your heart. Does that ping come back with a wide open feeling of love? Or does it feel more like someone just stomped on your foot? If that’s the case, Gran said, it’s probably a good idea to let that advice just fly on by.

What if that person is lost and doesn’t know it? Strangers get lost too, you know. In fact, if this person is lost, maybe you can help him get back on his own path with a few words spoken in love. It never hurts to try, so long as we keep our egos in check. At the same time, you’ll want to pass on Gran’s caution to check whatever directions you share against his own heart. The road you walk may not be his, and it’s best we never forget that.

Sometimes when you’re lost, you may feel drawn to a specific person. This may be someone you can connect with, when others can’t hear you or seem to have any idea what you’re talking about. If you’re feeling this way and a stranger catches your attention, seek her out. She may be a friend sent to help you see the lights of home burning as clearly as you once saw them.

Are her eyes twinkling? Take a good look. That may not be a street light – it may be those home fires shining right on through to you. You’ll know ‘em when you see ‘em, Gran said.

Just remember to keep checking your heart as the road twists and turns, always make your own decisions, and you’ll be just fine.

© Mary Batson, Going Home, Front Porch Rambles, and Gran’s Apple Butter Blog, 2010-2011. All rights reserved.
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November 1, 2011

Going Home, Excerpt: Longcuts (7/VII)

Filed under: Along the Road,Book Series,Books,Front Porch Rambles,Going Home,Gran,Letting go,Longcuts,Self-sabotage,Surrender — Mary Batson - FrontPorchRambles @ 1:10 pm

Chapter 7 – Longcuts

Sometimes we delay going home by heading off in the opposite direction. We may not realize this, attempting to convince ourselves and everyone listening that we’re on our way. Sooner or later, the truth will come out.

There are lots of longcuts we can take along this road, Gran said, from clinging to the past to obsessing about the future, neither of which helps us here and now. Fear is another big one that Gran was all too familiar with. Fear of going straight down the road in front of us, because we’ve all heard the stories: You can never go back. Maybe we kind of like back. Or maybe we’re not sure what lies ahead. Even as we step forward, we do it with a limp, one foot dragging behind, then we wonder what’s taking so long.

Never going back sounded scary, but Gran had learned it’s really not the way we think it is – at least it wasn’t the way she had thought. Each time we reach the end of a road, we’ve grown some and seen a few new things. We’re not the same people we were before. Everyone else has experienced new things, too, so they’re not the same either. We’ve all changed, and what we think of as our set-in-stone-home has changed as well, like a watermelon vine, never the same from the moment it sprouts. This can be more hopeful than scary.

There are other longcuts we can choose. Sometimes we take Path F because Path E looks boring. Depending on what lies ahead – and we won’t know that ‘til we get there – this can be good, or we may find ourselves sitting in some all-night truck stop down the road, panting for breath, thinking next time we’d be happy with a little boredom.

Maybe something inside us doesn’t want to stick to the tried-and-true. Gran said that was fine – sooner or later we’ll get there, as long as we remember that roads and routes can change. You can take the old familiar street across town, but it may take an hour to get through the holiday traffic around that new mall. Perhaps there are new roads – it never hurts to be on the lookout for these. We think they go the right way, but we’re a little nervous, ‘cause it’s been a while, and we don’t want to get lost or lose any more time when we’re this close to home.

One thing I learned from my dad: One should be cautious about taking shortcuts-that-become-longcuts. If we’re not sure, give that GPS a test: Ping those directions with your heart, and if the road feels right, take it. A balanced heart will never lead you wrong. Just make sure your heart is healthy and keep those batteries fresh at all times.   

It doesn’t pay to get stuck in our old selves, Gran said, but it will serve us to stay open, to try new ways. Just don’t forget the old roads. Maybe they aren’t as straight or as well-paved as that new interstate, but they used to get the job done just fine, and if you get lost, they can still give you a solid footing from which to map your new route.

One more thing: Once you’re sure you know the way home, if someone doubts you or encourages you to doubt yourself, don’t give up. No matter what. And don’t let any eye-rolling or book-thumping get to you, either.

This used to bother me, but Gran said to let it go. Each person has to find her own way, and all I have to know is what works for me. Besides, these paths and roads eventually all lead to the same place – you know, like Rome. In fact, Gran thought that’s probably what they meant to say, but they got the “R” and the “H” mixed up, which led to some very confused people for a very long time, and Gran’s insistence that I learn to print my letters very clearly.

© Mary Batson, Going Home, Front Porch Rambles, and Gran’s Apple Butter Blog, 2010-2011. All rights reserved.
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October 25, 2011

Going Home, Excerpt: Checkers (7/VI)

Chapter 7 – Checkers

Frequently our journeys involve an overnight stop or two. Maybe a tire blows out and has to be special ordered from Wesleyville. Maybe we run out of resources and have to rustle some up before we move on. Gran said this was all part of the trip, although she suggested we avoid hotel-motels with extra large ice chests and lonely male clerks. She never explained that one.

She did explain that our homes-along-the-road reflect who and where we are, just like our starting points and the home we’re headed for. This is easier to see when we’re out and about, ‘cause it’s hard to whitewash walls when you’re on the move, in which case we tend to either ignore the grime or focus on it a little too much. During times of transition, Gran said, people’s homes often reflect a similar split.

This happens because we don’t feel at home when we’re in between. The house or hotel or roadside park we land in reflects this with a general state of disrepair. The place itself is on edge, like the people living in it. Others may create a perfect bubble, with all the right elements in all the right places, clean and quiet, a living, breathing museum. And that may be all it is: An empty bubble, a shell of a home.

Our houses reflect more than we probably want them to. Gran said she’d seen this after bridges had been burned beyond repair and the end result was the big D word – Divorce. Divorce feels just like death, Gran knew, and it can leave us in emotional shambles.  

We may feel like life cheated us, robbed us of a dream. We may feel hurt, guilty, bewildered, furious, sad. We may feel like we didn’t get to say a real goodbye. Maybe we feel things might have turned out differently if we’d had a chance for one last do-over, or if our playing partner would have tried just a little harder, cared just a little more. We may feel angry that this person didn’t want a do-over. We may feel all these things at once, or we may just feel numb. We may even suspect that we may have had more to do with this than we’d like to admit – and we may not be ready to examine this possibility any more closely just yet. Working and learning through those emotions takes time, Gran said, and it takes courage. After all, it’s easier to hold on than it is to let go.

The thing is, whether we were living in a bubble or a grease-pit, it’s hard to wake up someone who’s pretending to be asleep, and it’s hard to notice signs that our egos are determined to ignore. The fairytale ends abruptly and everyone feels cheated, just like when someone gets frustrated while losing at checkers and “accidentally” knocks over the board.

Life can feel pretty crazy as we’re trying to pick up all the pieces while keeping one hand on the wheel and an eye on the road. There’s also the big job of figuring out where our new path leads, ‘cause changes this big tend to have quite an effect on our trajectory.

About that game board: Gran said it really doesn’t serve us to play holier-than-thou, to pretend it was an accident, or to play the victim. Nor does it serve us to pretend we didn’t see the frustration building in our checker-playing partner. These situations can help us realize how desperately we’ve been blocking out things we didn’t want to see, and can help us take a good look at our plays-well-with-others skill set.

If you can’t play nicely, Gran said, you shouldn’t play at all. But then, we already knew that, didn’t we?

© Mary Batson, Going Home, Front Porch Rambles, and Gran’s Apple Butter Blog, 2010-2011. All rights reserved.
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October 20, 2011

Going Home, Excerpt: Bridges (7/V)

Chapter 7 – Bridges

One thing about traveling: You cross a lot of bridges. But what about when you need a bridge and there isn’t one to be found? Maybe it’s been washed away, or maybe it never existed in the first place.

Then, Gran said, you become a master bridge builder. It’s not impossible, but it takes real effort, and drumming up the will to make that effort can be the hardest part.

Sometimes it’s better to look for a different place to cross. There may be another road, another bridge, another gatekeeper. Let’s face it, bridge construction is hard work and takes a lot of energy, so we want to be wise about when and where and how we undertake this. These projects cost an arm and a leg, and not just in terms of ego-stretching and letting-go. Sometimes there’s a price we’re not ready, or even able, to pay. Or maybe we’re not in the position to build that bridge, but Joe down the street is. If we can connect with him, the road will still go through.

We also cross bridges leaving places. The lesson here, Gran said, is learning to cross gently, without burning anything behind us. Granted, that’s not always an option. No matter how much we want to keep that bridge, there may be someone happy to burn it for us, goodbye and good riddance, don’t hurt yourself on the door on your way out. When that happens, Gran said it was usually best to keep on moving, making a note to stop by once the smoke has cleared.

Sometimes there’s a way to rebuild that bridge. Sometimes there isn’t. That’s just the way it works. Sometimes we return to find that bridge already half built from the other side, just waiting for us to finish it. Other times we work ourselves to death, building a two-mile extension bridge with the best materials we can buy, putting our hearts and time and energy into it, and just as we’re about to step across, someone sneaks up with that match again.

Then what? We can try to strike up a conversation, but they generally only work when they’re two-way. We can start building again, if that feels right, or we can take off on another adventure, planning to stop by later. If this happens enough times, and we’ve got the scorch marks to prove it, we can also say heck with that, I’m done bridge-building here, and we can head on down the road ‘til we find a place to sit and draw our circle, sharing our love from a distance. Sometimes that may be our best choice, Gran said.

It’s a tough decision, but when it’s clear that we’re the only ones who want a bridge that works both ways, trying to build that bridge over and over can be guilt’s way of side-tracking us from what we’re really supposed to be doing. Carrying a load of guilt doesn’t make one righteous, Gran said, but it will keep one resistant. Sometimes things happen just so we can learn from them, one of those contracts being fulfilled. Once we learn the moral, we can let the story go.

Of course, if the other side of that bridge was an important piece of our home at one time, this tends to leave holes in our hearts. Holes that can’t hold anything anyone tries to put in them, holes that don’t have anything in them to give anyone else, just a big bunch of empty air.

We can patch these holes, like we’ve already talked about. Gran recommended this, although in her experience, one’s heart was never the same afterward. For one thing, her heart was a whole lot stronger, due to repairing itself, like any muscle. But even with that added strength, there would still be a scar. That’s why it’s important to keep building bridges as long as it feels like there’s a bridge to be built.

Once we patch that hole, Gran said, it’ll take some time for the wound to heal. As an echo of our past, that scar may be tender for a long time, but Gran thought that’s what scars were for – to remind us of the lessons we’ve learned and how important bridge building is, and maybe even to remind us to take care of the ones we already have.

© Mary Batson, Going Home, Front Porch Rambles, and Gran’s Apple Butter Blog, 2010-2011. All rights reserved.
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October 11, 2011

Going Home, Excerpt: Along the Way (7/IV)

Chapter 7 – Along the Way 

Along these roads we encounter all the same situations and scenery we meet up with on any other journey, whether it’s to Yellowstone Park or Wichita Falls, Texas. We have the same traffic laws to follow as well, like wearing our seat belts, following the speed limit, and how to merge in rush hour, something Gran said had taken her a long time to perfect.

We’ll want to be careful of those long straight-aways out where the sky is big and the land is large. Sure, we can make great time there – sit back and crank up that cruise control. But sometimes we get a little careless about watching the road, especially if it feels like familiar territory. We think nothing has changed, this is old hat, so we just sit back and fly on by.

This is never safe when you’re driving, Gran said. Even if nothing has changed, when we relax that much we have a tendency to drop into a light snooze, something even those wide roads can’t forgive. We may wake up to find ourselves sideways in a ditch or up to our hubcaps in quicksand. Neither was something Gran particularly recommended. Keep your eyes on the road, she said, and you already know where to keep your hands.

There are fun parts to these trips as well. Like all the road games you can play and the junk food you don’t keep at home. Gran’s personal favorite was stopping for coffee and the day’s blue plate special. She’d made more friends over grimy little diner mugs than she could count on both hands and feet.

And what about all the new scenery? You could stop and have your picture taken at each border crossing: Welcome to Oklahoma. There’s also the world’s biggest ball of string and that two-headed calf you’ve been reading about for the last three-hundred miles, and don’t forget the over-the-road burger joint, highlight of every trip.

Even in this day and age, sometimes you’ll find yourself at a toll gate. The lines here can get pretty long, so you better be prepared to take a break. You’re entering a whole other place, after all, so it makes sense there’d be some kind of pomp and circumstance. Don’t try to race around the crowd – take your turn, count your nickels, and be patient. When the light turns green, you’ll know it’s time.

Less fun in these travels are the backseat drivers who occasionally show up. You’ll know you’ve got one when you realize your knuckles are turning white around the steering wheel. At that point Gran said we’ll want to count to two or three thousand, nice and slow, remembering everything we learned in our sandbox days, and then pull over at a safe spot for a conversation. We can talk about boundaries and how things are, following the don’t-make-me-pull-over guideline.

Other times we’ll come to a place where we have to make a decision – a T in the road or a construction zone with diverging lanes, where each traveler must choose a path. It can be hard to make these decisions, and even harder to accept those made by others. If all goes well, we’ll find some way to proceed in peace. Perhaps we’ll realize we’re in the perfect spot to work on our patience, communication skills, and backbone building. If a truce can’t be reached, however, we may need to pull into the next car lot so Mr. Backseat Driver can get his own steering wheel. Other drivers may look at us funny, Gran said, but only we know what’s going on inside that car.

Of course, if we discover that we’re the ones trying to commandeer someone else’s car, we’ll want to give that some consideration as well.

© Mary Batson, Going Home, Front Porch Rambles, and Gran’s Apple Butter Blog, 2010-2011. All rights reserved.
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October 4, 2011

Going Home, Excerpt: Fog Banks (7/III)

Chapter 7 – Fog Banks

It’s a good thing our hearts have such clear vision, ‘cause sometimes it can be hard for our eyes to see, particularly when the weather turns while we’re out and about. It does that, you know: Weather happens. Like fog. Fog settles on mountains highs and valleys low, and Gran said every road crosses a few of those.

Fog rolls in other places too, usually where the tide and our emotions are running high. In those moments we may feel like we’re lost in that grayness. Sometimes we’re standing way out on a pier, sometimes we’re sitting in a boat, and sometimes that boat has sunk beneath us and we’re floundering in the waves, treading water in soup so thick we can’t tell up from down.

I learned what this felt like, as Gran knew I would. I found myself in those waves not just once or twice, and I didn’t know how to save myself. Not until I ran into someone else who was also lost in that fog. From my vantage point, I could see that all my new friend needed to do was to stop fighting, to simply stand up and step out of the waves, like turning on a light in a dark room.

What my friend couldn’t see was that the water was only waist deep and the clouds were just a paper-thin veil in front of her eyes. She was already on the beach, she could feel the sand if she’d only put her feet down and stand up. Just one step forward would take her through that haze.

But until she could let go of the fear that kept her treading water, terrified that the next wave would be her last, until she could find the trust to put her feet down and know she would be taken care of, like Gran’s sparrows, well, all I could do was watch. All she had to do was straighten her legs and shift her weight to her own two feet. That’s all.

She even had helpers, although she couldn’t see them. Remember the ones who stayed on the other side? I could hear them calling from where they stood in the sunshine – “You’re here, you’re safe. Stand up!” But in her wild thrashing, she couldn’t hear them. They held out branches and threw ropes, but with her eyes closed she didn’t see those lifelines. She almost seemed determined not to see them. And that was all her helpers could do, because they knew these were her waters to conquer.

She had a choice. She could stand up by letting go, which would probably be the hardest, bravest thing she ever did in her life. Or she could stay at the edge of the waves, struggling until she was too exhausted to fight anymore, until the waves of her own emotions would take her under one last time. Even then she had a choice – to relax and float calmly to the surface, or to keep thrashing about until her lungs filled with water. She had a choice.

We always have this choice, Gran would remind me. But it’s up to us to make it. No one else can do this for us. It’s ironic how true that is. Even having seen the other side of my friend’s predicament, in my own fog banks I’d fight to the finish, choking down water and spitting out seaweed. Yet somehow, in the end, I always made it through. Just in time I’d catch hold of a branch or a rock and pull myself to safety, almost in spite of myself. Almost like I had my own helpers.

It’s like driving on a foggy night when your defroster isn’t working. You know what Gran did when that happened? She’d roll down her window, stick out her head and keep going, slowly creeping along. As long as she didn’t drive too fast, she could see each little yellow stripe at the end of her headlights. One stripe at a time, she always got home through the darkness, and bed never felt so good.

© Mary Batson, Going Home, Front Porch Rambles, and Gran’s Apple Butter Blog, 2010-2011. All rights reserved.
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