I got lucky this year – I got to go to Minnesota twice in one summer. That’s a rarity. Some years, I don’t get to go at all.
There’s no place in the world that has ever felt the way Minnesota feels to me. Because I spent the first 18 years of my life there – it is like my native language. No matter how long I am gone, the roads run through my memory like a song I didn’t even realize I knew the words to. Not to say it’s a feeling without complication or that there aren’t many other places that call up emotion – only that Minnesota is the one place with this feeling. After all of these years, I still call Minnesota home.
Anyway, it was good to be back.
There are so many familiar places – places filled with memories and stories.
Dan, James and I spent a week up my family’s cabin on the north shore of Lake Superior.
My great great great grandfather, Joseph R. Kingman and a bunch of buddies bought this land back in the 1920’s. I’m sure they all imagined their grandchildren and their great grandchildren enjoying this place- but I wonder if they fathomed the sixth generation (James) walking the trails that they built.
We’ve been going to Encampment as long as I can remember and there’s a picture of me at about one or two years old in the clawfoot tub.
In a way, our family history is chronicled in the guest books. My grandfather wrote about his solo journeys- splitting wood and hiking the trails. There are marriages, births, deaths.
It was magical to be there with James. Long mornings with too much coffee, afternoon hikes with him in the carrier. Him, grabbing at rocks on the beach and trying to put them in his mouth. Sitting by the fire. Loading him into the tub for a picture.
Back in Minneapolis, Mom, Dad, Dan James and I went to Lakewood Cemetery where both of my grandfathers are buried. You can track my mom’s side of the family back to the Skiles family, for whom I’m named – the Eastmans, the Woodwards, the Welles, the Kingmans.
My dad’s dad, Don Hornig, is buried there too. We stood under a tree by his grave and read prayer.
Grandpa and Grandma Hornig began buying apartment buildings decades ago. It’s become a pretty big thing. They started with nothing. As a family, we drove around to look at the buildings. What a story, I thought. What a legacy.
What I’m getting at is that I have roots in Minnesota. Long ones.
And above all the places and the history are the people: our family.
My cousin Meghan – we’re six days apart, grew up down the street from each other, and have always been the best of friends. Getting our little beans together – well, that was the best. And the late night at her house drinking wine with her and her husband – that was the best too.
And my sister and her husband coming over for dinner. And my brother stopping by to hold James. And my aunt and uncle and cousins coming over to say hello. And visiting my two grandmothers – James’ great grandmothers. It’s popping in and out and everyone being close.
And, of course, my parents. My parents who love us to the ends of our tippy toes. Who can’t squeeze James enough times in one day.
When Dan and I were doing long distance, I used to crave everyday moments with him. Just waking up on a weekday and having coffee before work – that kind of thing. I find myself craving that with my parents now. Like them coming over for a little while just to play with James or take him to the pool or for a walk around the garden.
You want to know something funny? Whenever I watch comedies about dysfunctional families – like Arrested Development or Transparent – I wish I lived near my family. Imperfect as we all are, as much as we drive each other totally nuts and gripe about each other – there’s nothing like family. There just isn’t. We have so much fun together. We have quirks and share memories, know how to push each other’s buttons and make each other laugh.
Anyway, we’ve all been spoiled rotten by all this time together this summer.
I read a great article a while back in the New York Times that children who know their family history do better. “The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned.”
My parents have done an incredible job of keeping our family history alive–the good and the bad. They’ve been honest. I hope to do the same for James. Even if we never live there, I hope James feels connected to Minnesota – because he is.
I hope is some place in this world for him that calls up memory and comfort and the love and wonder of childhood.