Travel Says, “You Belong”


I’ve spent the last several days sick in bed, fading in and out between several-hour sleeps, trying to figure out how I’d start this chapter on how I met my father.

WorldNomads and Ancestry.com have teamed up for their Relative Distance competition, and will give one lucky winner and a guest the opportunity to explore their heritage with travel anywhere in the world. It left me inspired. I shared my first chapter of bastard identity earlier this week in my post “English, Danish, Irish, French, Italian

The goal was to feature travel to show how prominent it is in our personal histories, but sometimes the story of family and finding out who half our DNA belongs to after decades of daily wondering smears the scenery so that it’s unrecognizable.

I can remember lots of snow on the way to the Sandpoint, Idaho ski resort, Schweitzer Mountain. Blank, white snow that matched my emotions on the way to meet my Dad for the first time in my 21-year life. I had an unmarked slate: a bit cold and uncomfortable, yet something upon which to begin the re-writes of my somewhat broken personal history.

I also remember the prominent image of a wooden clock tower surrounded by skis. Another appropriate symbol of the time travel that was constantly going on within my mind. One moment jaunting to the past to recover some old, hurtful memory and release it, the next losing control and plowing into the future where this father, too, might decide to leave, recognizing the superiority of what he already had found in his wife and my two brothers.

The funny thing about it is that in literature, winter often signals death, an ending or foreshadows illness. Winter in Sandpoint was for me, however, a fairy tale beginning, and the start of a story of gains.

Granted my fears were not entirely unfounded. There would be trials in getting to know a new family and some of them would be downright ugly—but isn’t that always the story when it comes to relatives chosen or otherwise?

I guess if I look at it from a bird’s eye view, there was a bit of foreshadowing.

I’d be back to Sandpoint a year later for a quick visit with my grandmother Hilda. She had lung cancer the first time I met her and was losing her battle with it the second. I brushed her hair, kept her company in the nursing home restroom and let her cry in pain into my lap. It was winter then, too.

Still, that a little-known relative would entrust me with such vulnerable moments, was a gift.

Another winter later, I’d see her face again—this time while hovering over her open casket alongside her sisters. I’d be the one to point out the lips were off and that’s what made Hilda less herself. It’s a moment that, to this day, solidifies my thoughts that there is a unique power in genetic relation—a sort of energetic connection to what is quite literally a part of us.

Though I returned to my grandparents’ handsome forest property one summer, the memory of emotional winters that blur like ice on a pane of glass, I think, remain strongest. They hold a more firmly than the laughter shared the year Dad pretended to be a grizzly hiding in the dense trees as I made my way back from my first lone backwoods walk at dusk. I jumped higher than I could ever duplicate, and screamed with a vocal texture of which I’m not sure I ever knew I was capable. I also laughed until I cried–or cried until I laughed– while hanging from his neck.

The simplest lesson that remains most clear is that sometimes travel serves no other purpose than to show us where we belong. In this case, it revealed my rightful place among the Johnsons, no matter the weather.

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