Perhaps You Got Something Else

It is in this quiet, on this gray morning with gentle rain, that I open the door which is straining on its hinges and release some words, if for nothing else, to relieve the pressure of them within my mind.

“What is the matter?”, he asked, concerned, because I had withdrawn from conversation and was studying the design in the carpet.

“I’m sorry…I’m writing in my head.”

He understands without understanding, the way good spouses do.

My parents have been here from Montana, and I have been a sponge soaking up their presence, their words, their nearness.  When my rarely-verbose father begins to tell a story, we all gather near; we know it will be good.  And my mother, what a hoot.  We had gone to a friend’s reclaimed wood business to pick out slabs for some tables my father is going to make and she and I rode on the tailgate of the truck down from the warehouse to the storefront, holding on to the boards atop the pickup topper as Dad managed to find every low-hanging branch for us to duck and/or get our face washed by.  We roared with laughter, getting smacked with greenery.  Seeing her joy, silliness, and love of adventure is always, and ever, a gift.  Her and Dad are good people; they’re a matched pair,it’s hard to imagine one without the other to reference them by, to echo their characters back to.

Life is different on the east coast; many times I am out of step with cultural norms or ways of reckoning.  Many times my lack of university education shows and I feel shame, almost as though I wear a scarlet letter “U”, for “uneducated”.  I am always around my betters, and I know it.  Being around my parents reminds me, however, of the goodness from which I spring; of the generosity of spirit, the adventurousness, the good humor, and hard work ethic.

Once, in a self-pitying frame of mind, I was comparing my background with that of an English novelist friend.  Where he had been brought up in London, taken from the age of four onward to the Tate and the National Gallery, sent traveling on the Continent in every school holiday, taught French and German and Italian, given access to bookstores, libraries, and British Museums, made familiar from infancy on with the conversations of the eloquent and the great, I had grown up in this dung-heeled sagebrush town on the disappearing edge of nowhere, utterly without painting, without sculpture, without architecture, almost without music or theater, without conversation or languages or bookstores, almost without books.  I was charged with getting in a single lifetime, from scratch, what some people inherit as naturally as they breathe air….

How, I asked this Englishman, could anyone so deprived a background ever catch up?  How was one expected to compete, as a cultivated man, with people like himself?  He looked at me and said dryly, “Perhaps you got something else in place of all that.”

Wolf Willow, Wallace Stegner


I watched as my three older children charged upstream through the swift current.  They had found a fishing lure and attached line and were hunting a good stick to tie it to.  They spent the next hour fishing in the clear stream with their hodgepodge pole.  Their Grandpa told us how to best remove a hook if they got snagged, and that launched him into a related story.  I watched the smoke go up from the campfire and let his rich voice paint a scene in my mind, and I was glad for what I got, “in place of all that.”



Roots, Wings, and Not Having It All


Grandpa Marvin Olson framed within the hay loft on the farm.

Two grandparents within a year’s span.  That’s entirely too much grieving for the soul to swallow without feeling swallowed.  Two times I boarded flights alone; one while carrying Henrik inside, one with Henrik in my arms.  He would never know the beautiful people being laid into the ground this side of Heaven.  How she loved babies, how tender her heart and hands were, for so strong and determined a woman.  How his cow call sounded, how much he loved napping on the floor after a big lunch, how his eyes were so twinkly.  Henrik wouldn’t understand what it meant to me as a child, to travel from my home state of Montana out to North Dakota, to the wide expanse of farmland, to the two farms that mattered most in this world.  We’d go for Christmases or Thanksgivings or summers that baked hot on the prairie.


Grandpa (left).


 On the farm.


The farmhouse.


 Great Grandma Sophie.


Grandpa Marvin and Grandma Violet.

It was easy to envy my cousins.  They were raised in North Dakota and saw my grandparents all the time it seemed.  They had more stories with them and I imagined how many more wild kittens they got to catch and how many more rope swing rides up in the hayloft they got and how many chicken eggs they got to collect in the tin bucket for Grandma O.

I didn’t want to live in North Dakota though; I loved Montana with its mountains and rivers and skiing and beautiful camping spots.  I just wanted to bundle up all that I loved in North Dakota and drag it into Montana, right next door would be nice.  I haven’t been able to shake that dream; I still want to do that, though my bundle would be ponderously large considering all the people and places I’ve fallen in love with.




Crossing the Dearborn River at our cabin.

God has given me wings.  Many times.  First it was to Pennsylvania, where my husband’s roots are (as he’d tell you proudly, all the way back to William Penn who gave his family their land deed).  Then to Saskatchewan, Canada so he could finish his degree in the more financially friendly north.  Then to Costa Rica to learn Spanish.  Then to Chile to serve as Christian missionaries.  Then to Pennsylvania once again, with flight plans ready to go to Honduras next.

Every home I’ve lived in I’ve bloomed right into.  I plant flowers, I tuck bulbs into the dark damp earth (some that I’d never see bloom).


In my garden beds in Chile.


My front beds in Pennsylvania.  This was all just grass when we moved in.

Maybe I understand why I explode into each home I’ve lived in.  Part of me wants it all to look like we’ve been here a while, like we’re going to make lots of memories here.  I want it to look and feel rooted.  Because flying is tiring and sometimes you just want to sink into the good dirt and stay awhile.

“Bloom where you’re planted”, they say, but I’d add, “And bloom wherever you’re blown too”.  If God leads you out of native bower, dare to bloom there.  If you miss family get-togethers and memories made with them, if you don’t get to have all that, grieve it and give it, give it into God’s hands.  He who willingly removed himself from God’s immediate presence and glory for 33 years can understand your longing for home.


Last visit with Grandma Gwendolyn before her death.

Life is both wonderful and painful and the staying or going doesn’t mitigate that.

If we can’t have it all this side of eternity, let us lean into our lot full heartedly.  Grieving that which isn’t ours to enjoy, but bursting wide with the joy of what we do have.  And you know my dream?  Of having all whom I love all together in one place?  Why, that just may happen, on the other side of when eyes close in death and awaken in truest life.