From my journal:
I am home.
For the last week, the woman I love and I have been down in Virginia, visiting my family and some of the places that were once home. We spent a day in the DC area with one of my sisters, a day in Richmond with another, and a day in Surry County with my aunt, my dad’s sister.
My bride, my love had met my sisters, but not until a day before the wedding. They came up to Vermont for the first time, rented a cabin on a small lake and we had dinner there the night before the wedding, along with many of Cindy’s friends. It was a wonderful send-off, but not a place where you really get to know people. Too many of us talking, the whole social bouncing from person to person, group to group to really get to know folks. The same could be said for the wedding day.
We had a small wedding. We started with the idea that it would be about 20 people, but you know how that goes. We ended up with fifty coming to my church and celebrating the day with us. A warm, wonderful gathering, but still, not conducive for long conversations.
A day in each home was hardly enough, but it was a start. Hours to talk, to connect, to share stories and thoughts and souls.
There was a time that I referred to all these places as Home. I grew up in Richmond. I worked in DC for many years and I am comfortable there. And Surry County, where my grandfather, my dad’s dad lived, was a place I went in the summers and a place I went all my life for refuge and to quiet my soul.
There is a farm there, several hundred acres, and forests, and far in the forest is an old mill pond, rich with cypress trees, bass and silence. The family has roots there. My grandfather was a sharecropper until the 1940’s when his landlady left him with the opportunity to buy the farm he had worked since the thirties.
The house he lived in was built in the 1850’s and the way he told it, the first time he tried to paint it, the wood was so dry, and sucked up so much paint, that you could hardly tell he had painted. It took three and four coats to make the house white again.
My dad and aunt were born in that house. I still have the crib they were coddled in. It is the same crib my grandfather was laid in at his birth. A lovely oak crib with spindles. The government would likely never allow it to be sold today. But generations of Atkins have been laid in that crib as infants. My grandfather. My dad and his sister. Me and my sisters, and my two children. Inside my family, it is known simply as “the Atkins Crib.”
I spent a lot of summers there. I went to church in the small Methodist church across the street. Next to the church is a small building called “Atkins Hall.” The name is a little grand for a building that was once a corn crib, and then later transformed into a rough meeting hall. When my grandfather died, we gave it to the church, who needed a fellowship hall. They moved it across the street and transformed it into a perfectly sized fellowship hall.
So my grandparent’s house, (now my aunt Jeanie’s) and the church fill two of the corners. On the third corner is Rogers Store Museum.
There has been a store on that corner since the 1800’s. The last one was Roger’s Store, which closed in the 1940’s. In his old age, my father became enamored of the history of the area, helped found a historical society, and founded the museum in the store. (The picture at the top of this post is from the store’s office.)
As word got out in the community, people donated all kinds of artifacts, things their family had bought, or gotten somehow, from the stores that had once stood there. Now there is a museum that shows the store outfitted with all the goods, snake oils and journals that illustrate life two generations ago.
Jeanie, Cindy and I spent time in the store, and then took a walk down to the mill pond.
The mill pond holds a special place in my heart, and it was important to me that the woman I live see it. A mile into the woods in rural Surry County, it is one of the rare places where complete silence reigns. Black water covers the 42 acres of pond. Virgin cypress trees rise to the skies. Ducks, fish, and beavers own the landscape. It was here I fled to as a teenager when things were too much. It was here I came when I needed peace from pain or loss. My soul is stilled in the silence and things come together. I am strengthened.
Back from the pond, we took off for Vermont.
Richmond, where I grew up, is no longer home. DC, where I worked for 25 years is not home. Even Roanoke, Virginia, where I lived for thirty plus years, is not home. I have deep friendships and family in these places, but they are not home. Vermont has been home for the past few years.
Home is where you feel connected and where you feel grounded.
For me, right now, that is an odd thing. My bride and I live in two states, Vermont and Massachusetts. She has not found a job in Vermont yet, so she keeps an apartment in Athol, and works four days a week, then comes to Vermont for a long weekend. I go down to her apartment for a few days each week and work out of her apartment. I jokingly call it our migratory marriage.
My house in Vermont is full of artifacts – furniture and items from my family, things I loved and bought over the years. Antiques. Quirky mechanical thingamabobs. Pictures of me and the kids. It’s warm and full. Cindy is slowly making her mark on the place. We created a conversation alcove in the master bedroom, turned another bedroom into a walk-in closet, and have begun transforming another room to an office space for her.
Cindy’s apartment is sparse. She decided when she moved in that it was to be temporary, and so she hadn’t bought things in to be homey. She resists buying furniture or decorations to make it more “hers”. I get that. It’s a stopping over place. I’ve had a few of those in my life too.
But here’s the thing. Both of the spaces are home to me. Because home is not the space. It is the connection. The apartment is home because she is there. The house is home because she is there. We may stay there forever, or we may move somewhere down the road, but as long as she is with me, it is home.
When I go back a day early, or stay a day longer after she heads back to Athol, the house ceases to be home. It is just “the house”.
This trip, I learned this. Richmond, where I grew up is not home. I have roots there. My sister, who I love is there, but my greatest sense of connection is not there. That ended when my parents died a few years ago.
DC is not home. I worked there for a long time. I built two companies there. I made an impact on the technology culture for many years. And again, I have another sister I love who lives there. But my connection to the place is tenuous.
Roanoke, where I married the first time, had my kids, grew into spiritual maturity, was destroyed emotionally and began the rebuilding, where I have dear, dear friends that will, I am sure, be lifelong friends, is no longer home. I have memories there. I have a few roots. But after moving to Vermont, and as my kids, one by one, left their mother and moved up to live with me, my connections to Roanoke faded away.
Vermont is home now. It is the place I have made connections, the place my kids return to, the place I wooed, married and live with the woman I love.
Athol, strangely enough, has become home. It is where my bride works, where her friends, who have become my friends too live. It is where her family is. And when she is there, it is home.
Strangely though, Carsley, that little crossroads in Surry County is also home. There is little connect me anymore. My grandfather and grandmother are long dead. My cousins are not there any longer. No one except my aunt and uncle would know me if I walked into Carsley Methodist church. Mostly my connection is Aunt Jeanie, who I adore.
Aunt Jeanie, and roots.
Roots run deep. At least in my family, they do. The things that ground me now, I learned best from my mother and my grandfather. I find myself still repeating things my grandfather told me as we walked the lane to the house, or while sitting in a boat on the mill pond. My concept of church community and love for small churches came from Carsley Methodist. Those connections, it seems has a life of its own, one that does not seem to die with distance or time.
It will always remain home, in some strange undefinable way.
Be well. Travel wisely.