Primal Landscape

I had never heard of this term before hearing it in my writing class last week. I’m not even sure it applies to me as I spent my childhood in several different places. First, though, let’s get the definition out-of-the-way. The term “primal landscape” was first coined by Don Gayton from British Columbia, Canada a few years ago. It means “the landscape a person most identifies with.” The translation of that is essentially where a person was born and raised. The article I read also talked about how this land becomes known, familiar, and comforting. I would also say it could be upsetting and painful if a person’s upbringing was not the best. As might be imagined, this term was first coined as a geographical term, but there are other uses for it as I learned in writing class.

The writing class I’m taking is a class on setting and description which should be  important to anyone interested in the craft of writing. To set a novel someplace is to tell the reader where the action is taking place. A very important thing, I would think, so a primal landscape can be an important place to tell a story. My teacher assigned us the beginning of a story written in our primal landscape or the place where we had spent the most time up to the age of twenty-one. I immediately realized I didn’t have one of those landscapes in my background. My husband does though. He spent all of his growing-up years in one place. He could easily write a story in his primal landscape if he wanted.

But, the assignment was mine. I thought about all of the places I had lived. Virginia, Washington D. C., Florida, South Carolina, Ohio, and California. Then, I went back to South Carolina for college and eventually met my husband. We married and had our children there. The story could have been set in any of those places, or it could have been set where my grandparents lived as that was a place I frequently visited as a child. I picked a place and wrote the story. It was a deeply personal story so I won’t be posting it here. Let’s just say I learned the true meaning of what a primal landscape could do for my writing.

The term wouldn’t let me go though, and it made me wonder where my primal landscape actually was. I remembered what had happened two months ago, and it came to me. South Carolina. I had lived there for six years as a child, and I had returned for college. I settled there when I married, and both of my children were born there. In fact, two months ago, which was where this memory had come from, I traveled back there for the funeral of someone who has been important to me since college. So, I had the chance to travel backward in time.

I drove from the state I lived in to South Carolina on a Friday. I thought about my friend whose husband had died. They had been my adopted parents in college, and the whole family meant and still means a lot to me. When I arrived at the city, I could see there were some things that hadn’t changed. The intersection of interstates which locals call “Malfunction Junction” was the same as it had been when I was a child. The landscape itself seemed to have aged very little since the last time I had been there seven years earlier. There was one new thing I noticed though as I made my way to my girlfriend’s house. I saw a roundabout. Hadn’t seen one of those things since I lived in Michigan. (I’ve moved around a lot in my adult life too.)

Anyway, I made my way to my girlfriend’s house, and we spent time catching up that evening. The next morning she asked me what I wanted to do before the funeral. I asked if we could drive around so I could take pictures. We got in the car and off we went. Our first stop was the church where I had gotten married. It wasn’t even the same church anymore. The building was shared by another church and a school. But, it was still the same place. I had visions of coming out as a new bride and heading out on my honeymoon. There were so many people there celebrating our marriage with us. Family, friends, and co-workers. I took pictures, and we got back in the car. She asked where I wanted to go next. I told her to go to a certain elementary school where I had gone for fourth and fifth grade. We arrived, and the building still looked the same. I had a vision of my younger self taking her bike from the bike rack and crossing the street with a crossing guard. It was the same route I told my girlfriend to take. I wanted to see the house where I had lived from fourth through ninth grades. A few minutes later, I was staring at it. I took pictures and remembered. Remembered running up and down the street. Remembered where I had first learned to love writing. Remembered some of the most formative years of my life. It was a good memory, and looking back, I now know where my primal landscape is. It’s on a little street in South Carolina.

We finished our tour and headed back to my girlfriend’s house so we could get ready for the funeral. I had come back for a sad occasion, but somehow, I had found another piece of who I was. As I face this next phase of my life with an empty nest, it was good for me to find my roots and know the place which had poured the most into me.

Have a great day, everyone!

Grief and Going Back to my Roots

The two things in today’s title wouldn’t seem to be related, but they have been linked in my mind since I received the news last Wednesday night no one wants to receive. My heart aches as I write these words, but I need to get them out. I need to tell this story.

When I was growing up, I didn’t have much in the way of roots. Yes, we would go and visit my grandparents every year. I guess, in a way, those could be called roots. But my family didn’t live in one house very long. We were nomads. There was always a better job that came along or a better opportunity in the computer world, and we moved to where it was. I’ve even coined a term for it. I was a “computer brat” during my childhood. Looking back on it now, I appreciate the opportunity to have seen different places, but I still wish I had roots. It’s confusing, I know.

The closest I came to having roots as a child was the time I spent in South Carolina. Because of that time, I decided to go back there for my college years which turned into staying there for my young single and young married days. I don’t remember exactly when I started thinking this, but there was a point when I told myself that my roots were in South Carolina. Relationships that I treasured. People who I considered to be family. In fact, I tell people today I am from South Carolina though I wasn’t born there. That’s how deep the roots go.

Today, grief connects with my roots in a poignant way. Last week, I received word that my college dad had passed away. In shock, I sat on my bed with tears pouring down my face. I know death is a part of life, and I know we, who are believers, are supposed to look forward to our eternal home with Jesus. But, part of me thought my college parents would be there forever. I guess it’s just the way we think about the people who are closest to us.

As my husband and I waited over the next day to hear when the funeral would be, he told me I needed to go. Knowing that I had been there in person to honor and remember this special person would help my grief in the days and weeks to come. I agreed with him, and that’s when the pieces started falling into place. I had the offer of a place to stay, and my husband rented a car for me since he would need mine to move our son back to college. God had a point and a purpose for me going which I would soon realize.

I headed out Friday morning on the 300+ mile drive. I was sad and still a little overwhelmed as I drove east, but then I started playing Christian music, and God and I started talking. There were no distractions and no people saying I should grieve a certain way. Just me and my Lord and Savior. I cried during that drive, and I laughed and sang at the top of my lungs as I remembered thirty-three years of friendship. I was going back to my roots as I was about to start the next phase of my life, and I knew I needed to think and pray during this alone time with God. I arrived safely that night and spent time catching up with my girlfriend who I hadn’t seen in seven years.

The next day was the service. Before my friend and I went to the church, we took a tour of places from my childhood and saw the church where I was married twenty-four years ago. It was good to see places that were part of my roots and get to take pictures of them. I felt like I had gone back in time.

Then, we went back to her place and got ready for the service. We went to the church early so I could see and talk with my college mom and other members of the family. It was so good to see everyone, share memories, and love on each other. It had been seven years since I had seen most of them. I also saw people who I hadn’t seen in twenty-seven years. It was cool to see them look at me, see the light of recognition dawn in their eyes, and remember who I was. I saw I was remembered, and that touched my heart so much.

It was a good service too. I laughed as much as I cried. His sons, nephews, and others sang; we sang; and they told stories. It represented him perfectly–his love for music, family and friends, and his Lord and Savior. So many memories–singing in Christmas and Easter productions when I was in college (He was the part-time music director of our church), Sunday lunches and dinners with the family, Sunday evening services at the lake in the summer, birthday parties, weddings. The life of a family, and I was part of it. His life was a life well-lived for our Lord and Savior.

I came back home yesterday because–life does go on. My heart was heavy with grief, but it was full of reassurance too. David shared my faith, and I know I will see him again. I know where he is now. He will be missed by all who knew and loved him, but he will also live on in all of us. We will grieve, but many people will not understand after the first couple of weeks. In those moments, I hope we will all remember Matthew 5:4. “Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.”

I want to finish with this quote by C.S. Lewis. “Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay for awhile and leave footprints on our hearts and we are never, ever the same.” This is how I feel about everyone in my second family. I am different for having known David and for knowing all of them.

Thank you for letting me share about a wonderful man as I took a journey back to my roots.

God bless you!

In Memory of David Anthony Mitchell, Sr.

My Neighborhood

I can tell you right now that I have failed with all the author of 100 Days to Brave put in her devotion today. I have not loved my neighbor as Jesus says to in Mark 12:31. “The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” This devotion talks about how we can take this verse to mean more people than just the people in our immediate neighborhood, and I do think I do a better job with that one, but, in my immediate neighborhood, no.

Why? I am not trying to make excuses, but let me explain the particulars of my living situation. Ever since we decided to homeschool and get by with just one income, we’ve lived in places that would be considered non-permanent–apartments, town homes and rental homes. And we’ve lived an itinerant lifestyle–going from place to place for the jobs. Being a naturally private person and not being sure how long I would be in a place has made me hesitant to make attachments in our neighborhoods.

Now, that doesn’t mean we haven’t been pleasant when we’ve crossed someone’s path. It doesn’t mean we haven’t taken care of the places where we’ve lived. (Yes, renters are judged because it is assumed they won’t stay long enough to care about their neighborhoods.) I’ve had conversations with my neighbors about the weather, about their pets, and about how nice it is we have a pool for the hot summers here. Topics that are more surface topics than anything else.

But, I haven’t let very many of them in. And I think I’ve finally figured out why. It’s because of my “moving from place to place” lifestyle. It’s what I experienced as a child, and it’s what I’ve had to deal with as an adult. Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate all the places I’ve seen. I appreciate the opportunities my husband has had to have good jobs in different places. The opportunity to see so many different places in this vast country of mine. Having roots has almost become a lost ideal for the generation coming up behind me. With relocation being relatively easy nowadays, it makes sense to follow the jobs, right? It makes sense to live in a town other than the one you grew up in (if you grew up in just one town), right?

But, why do I still long for roots? How do I get to know my neighbors and plant roots when it is  likely I won’t be in one place for a long time? Is buying a home the only way to put roots down in a neighborhood? Some people would say it is and would stare at you in judgment if you didn’t.

Society has changed though, and I think we, as Christians, me especially, have to do a better job of being present in our neighborhoods even if our neighborhood is an apartment complex. Like the author says, “You can be brave enough to see those people around you, rather than just passing by. You can be brave enough to serve them and love them, and God will use you, friend. You will be living out your mission as a light in this dark world.” (100 Days to Brave, Annie F. Downs)

I can and should be brave enough to get to know my neighbors even if they only live near me for six months or a year. I can be brave enough to be God’s light and share my reason and my hope with my neighbors even if I only know them for a short time. Who knows? By being God’s light here, I might end up spending eternity with them, and isn’t that what really matters?

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

My Travel Story

When I was younger, I wasn’t convinced of the benefits of travel at all. By the time I got used to being in a certain place, my family would have to move again, and I would be forced to give up the friendships I had formed. That didn’t count all of the times we went to see relatives during the holidays. While elements of the trips were fun, for the most part, I remember being stressed and unhappy and wanting to get back home as soon as possible.

By the time I was fifteen, we had lived in Virginia, Washington, D.C., Florida, and South Carolina. I remember being vividly unhappy about being told we were going to move to Ohio after my freshman year of high school. We had lived in South Carolina for five years, and I didn’t want to go. But, I was fifteen so I went. The following year brought another move from Ohio to California. I stayed there for my final two years of high school. I did see a lot of interesting things along the way which I would be grateful for much later, but I didn’t find any roots. Why should I? I knew I wouldn’t want to stay in California. I wanted to go back to South Carolina to go to college which I did.

The college years passed quickly, and I soon began my working career. I enjoyed going to other places to visit people, but I was just as happy being at home and sometimes even more happy. I met my now-husband a few years later, and our children were born a few years after that. We had almost been married nine years when it became clear we would have to leave the city where everything started. Out of necessity, my husband had found work in another city. It was so hard, but I had been prepared for a transient lifestyle through my experiences as a child.

We moved to another city in South Carolina which we left two years later for the big move of our marriage. My husband had been promoted and was being given the opportunity to move to Michigan. We talked a lot about that one. It would be his first time living outside of the southern United States. The winter weather was not something we looked forward to, but we wanted to let our sons have the opportunity to see a different part of the country. It worked out wonderfully. We got to see things we had never seen before, and we had travel opportunities we would never have had otherwise. We also began homeschooling while we lived there.

I was starting to see the benefits of a traveling lifestyle, but was also feeling a yearning in my heart for something more permanent. Four years later, we left Michigan because my mother-in-law had become ill. We went back to South Carolina to help her and ended up losing her two months later. It was one of the hardest times of our lives. Luckily, we had moved back to our home state where we still had friends. We were able to move back to our old city two months after my mother-in-law died. Our sons were old enough at this point that we were hoping we would be staying put in one place.

It wasn’t to be though. My husband’s health issues made their presence known again which affected his employment. We had been back in our home city for only two years, and I hated having to leave again. Though I had regained contact with some of my college friends through Facebook, it was not the same as having lifelong friends who you knew you could count on. In fact, I can count the number of those I have on one hand.

We ended up in Alabama, and this September will be seven years since we’ve moved here. I was able to give my children the gift I never had. They both spent their high school years in one place. They’ve made good friends and have the stability that I always longed for. My older son is in college now and doing well. We travel to see him frequently. The younger one will graduate from high school in May and move on to the next phase of his life. I hope the combination of traveling and stability will give them both a good start in the adult world and even though they don’t have roots in the traditional sense, I hope they will know we we love them very much and always had their best interests in mind as they grew up in our family.

Hope everyone has a great day!