The one we hardly knew

blogScan_knickersWe received the call one day last week. And even though we knew eventually it would come, we still were a bit surprised.

Papa’s oldest brother had passed away. The brother who was so much older than Papa by about 17 years. The brother who joined the navy as soon as he was old enough and was pretty much absent for most of his baby brother’s life.

The brother who, after facing disappointments and difficult circumstances, removed himself from the family for years with little to no contact.

The brother who finally reunited with his elderly parents and his two younger brothers. The brother who attended Papa’s and my wedding and not long afterwards found his own bride.

The brother who with his new wife had a child just a few months before Papa and I had our first little one.

The brother who would take time to see us when we came back to our home state from living far away to visit family, but who never had much to say.

The brother who never talked about his past or about things of importance with us.

The brother, who along with his new family, joined us for funerals when both his and Papa’s parents died. But afterwards, we didn’t have much contact other than annual Christmas cards sent by his wife.

The brother, who, after over a decade of not seeing one another, agreed to meet us for lunch a couple of years ago as we were passing through the area where he lived.

This brother, this man who shared the same parents as Papa, was very different than my husband and even his other brother. And even though they were never close as brothers and didn’t really share the same life experiences, Papa still cared about his oldest brother.

A few short months ago, we learned this brother, who we never really knew very well, was diagnosed with stage four metastatic cancer. Too far advanced for any treatment, this brother spent his last months in a nursing home.

There, after a several hours drive, we visited him a couple of times. We asked him if he needed anything. His answer was no. We asked what we could do for him. His answer was nothing.

We attempted to cheer him with stories. We brought old photographs of him with his parents to help him recall fond memories he might have had with them. He simply looked at them without a word and set them aside.

We hugged him. We told him how much we cared. And we asked him if we could pray for him. He silently nodded, bowed his head, folded his hands, and waited for his younger brother to say the words. To ask God for strength and comfort and peace, for God’s will to be done.

Just before Christmas, we sent this brother a greeting card and told him we would come again to visit him after the holiday was over. But we didn’t make it. He passed away before we arranged to make another trip eastward.

“Other things may change us, but we start and end with the family.” ~ Anthony Brandt

Even though I certainly did not know this brother of my husband’s very well at all, I do know this.  He was a veteran, proud of having served his country. He was a hard worker who provided for his wife and child. He also served his community for many years as a volunteer fireman and rescue worker. And he lived for over 80 years.

Those are the aspects I know about my brother-in-law.  I don’t know if he loved us, but he seemed to like us at least. I don’t know if he had regrets in life or what made him happy because he never shared those stories or the experiences he had that seemed to cause him emotional pain. I don’t know for certain if he had faith in the same Savior we do.

But I know this – my heart is sad. My heart is sad because I don’t know the answer to that last statement, but I know God does.

My heart is sad for my husband because he had this brother that he really didn’t have a bond or connection with. I am very close to my two older sisters and have always been. So it’s foreign to me to have a sibling that you don’t really know.

And it saddens me that my husband didn’t experience a close relationship with this brother and never really had that opportunity as his brother seemed to close off deep, personal relationships.

What does this sorrowful experience tell me? It tells me to hold your loved ones close to you. Talk with them, share your life with them. Don’t ever let circumstances or difficult experiences keep you from reaching out to your family.

We only have one life to live on this earth. Choose to be present with those who care about you. Choose to open your heart to others. Choose to love and be loved in return.

“Think of your family today and every day thereafter, don’t let the busy world of today keep you from showing how much you love and appreciate your family.” ~ Josiah

©2020 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

And so this is Christmas

blogIMG_0169.jpgAnd so this is Christmas. Another holiday over. Another year almost at its end.

Christmas has come and has gone. There’s leftover food in the fridge. Garbage bags full of ripped wrapping paper and ribbons. Cookie crumbs all over the floor. Not to mention the containers of cookies and other treats not eaten taking up space on the kitchen counter.

The Christmas tree which once had gaily wrapped gifts gracing the floor underneath now stands bare and alone. But laundry baskets of towels and sheets are full to the brim.

Christmas is over and this place Papa and I call home is quiet and empty once more. Just a few days ago, the house was noisy and full of joy and laughter.

All the “kids” were home for the holiday this year along with Nana and Papa’s three apples of our eye, our grandchildren. Even the grand-dog, Barley, joined us to celebrate this year.

We enjoyed five days of celebrating together, filling our bellies with good food, our hands with thoughtful gifts, our ears with conversations, our spirits with merry-making and fun, but more importantly, our hearts with much love.

We worshiped our Lord together as a family at church. We listened to time-honored Christmas carols played on the piano by our oldest daughter.

We watched those Christmas movies that make us guffaw every single time and some old VHS tapes (remember those?) from our kids’ childhood that they want to watch every Christmas.

As we gathered around the dining room table for Christmas Day dinner, we continued our tradition of Christmas hopes, writing down our wishes, hopes, or goals to take place by next Christmas. First we take turns reading what we wrote for this year, then we write our wishes for the year to come.  

And we played game after game – some competitive like the candy cane (spoons) card game and Christmas movies team trivia; some just plain silly like charades and marshmallow tower building, and some ridiculous like Beard Ball (we don’t recommend it).

blogIMG_0197Nana fashioned fun times for the little ones as well. The two oldest (almost five and just turned three) searched the house for clues to a hidden treasure (a box of Christmas novelties under the tree) and played round after round of “find Santa.”

And we squeezed in two December birthday celebrations and managed to serve our family tradition of Christmas sundaes.  

All in all, it was a wonderful family Christmas celebration with a crazy white elephant gift exchange thrown in for good measure.

But I find myself wondering did we truly take time to honor the reason we celebrate this holiday in the first place? Were we so busy doing and preparing and gathering and eating and trying to get little ones down for naps and moving on to the next activity that we forgot to focus on Jesus? Did we truly honor our Savior?

blogIMG_1528Our Christmas was definitely family-oriented but I have to wonder was it Christ-centered? Did we really take time to remember the reason for the season? I think we did, but I also think we could have, should have done much better.

That needs to be my Christmas wish for next year and every year thereafter.

“The great challenge left to us is to cut through all the glitz and glam of the season that has grown increasingly secular and commercial, and be reminded of the beauty of the One who is Christmas.” ~ Bill Crowder

©2019 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

 

Nutcracker memories

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Little One’s fascinated by them too.

Since I was a child, I’ve always loved the classical music of The Nutcracker, written by Tchaikovsky. I mean who doesn’t love the idea of a sugar plum fairy dancing in your head while you listen to that beautiful music?

A long time ago, I started a small collection of different nutcrackers and they almost always adorn someplace in our home at Christmas time. I don’t really recall which one I acquired first, but over the years, I’ve added more. But before the collection became too large, I decided to stop and just keep it small.

Of course, The Nutcracker is a famous ballet, usually performed during the Christmas season and I do have a vague recall of having seen it televised when I was a child in the early 1960’s.

Later, as a married adult I attended a live performance of The Nutcracker danced by a ballet company in the city where we lived at the time.  And as our children came along, I decided that one day we would take them to see the ballet as a holiday treat.

We managed to accomplish that, although our son, who was pretty young at the time, fell asleep and missed more than half of the performance. Still it’s a lovely memory in my mind: the five of us all dressed up in Christmas finery traveling into the city to enjoy a live ballet with a Christmas story line.

Our oldest granddaughter seems to share my fascination with nutcrackers. We’ve read the story to her and she remembered that Nana has a set of nutcrackers that decorate the top of the piano at Christmas time.

While Papa and I were hauling out the holly to set our house ablaze with lights and decorations, Little One was here as it was a baby-sitting day.

“Nana, can I help you get the nutcrackers out?” she asked. Well, I’m a grandmother, a doting one, and even though I probably never allowed my own children at her age to help with the nutcrackers in fear that they would break one, of course, I said, “Sure!”

I found the plastic storage bin where the nutcrackers were located, opened it, and one by one, Little One helped me release them from their protective layers of tissue and bubble wrap. Something needed my attention in the kitchen, so I left our granddaughter in the dining room with the decorations.

Re-entering later, I found myself amused that she had lined them all up mostly by height and was enjoying them. So I left again to do something else.

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“Okay, all of you nutcrackers, line up!”

Soon, I heard a little bit of thumping. I called to her and asked if she was alright. She assured me she was. A few minutes afterward, she sought me and asked me to come into the living room. I was shocked at what I found.

My four-year-old grandchild has an eye for decorating! She had crawled up onto the piano bench and placed the nutcrackers, one by one, in a very nice fashion. She was so proud of her accomplishment that she dragged her mama, when she got back from working, in to see her display.

We all chuckled when she announced that she did it all by herself and “I didn’t even get distracted.”

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Little One’s display — just as good as Nana can do!

Those nutcrackers gave me yet another Christmas memory to cherish. And some day, when she’s just a tad older so she won’t fall asleep, this Nana and Papa will take our granddaughter, dressed in her Christmas finery, to see The Nutcracker ballet in person.

And that will be yet another Christmas memory for her and me, I hope.

“The nutcracker sits under the holiday tree, a guardian of childhood stories. Feed him walnuts and he will crack open a tale.” ~ Vera Nazarian

©2019 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

Words for Wednesday: dear Santa

blogIMG_0023.jpgA trip to a nearby farm to choose a real Christmas tree for daughter and granddaughter also provided a fun visit to see Santa Claus. And an opportunity to write him a Christmas letter. blogIMG_0053

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blogIMG_0061Our little one truly has been very good this year so I imagine those special wishes she whispered to Santa just might be fulfilled.

“Dear Santa, I hope you and your elves been very busy, because I’ve been very good.” ~ unknown

©2019 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

For the love of family

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Family game time

Family time.

It’s always been an important aspect of our lives here in this empty nest home even when it wasn’t empty.

When our three offspring were young, we tried to spend as much time as possible together, attending activities and sports events to support one another. At times it was oh, so very hectic.

That and living at a great distance away from our extended family – parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, and cousins – prevented us from spending as much time with our relatives as we would have liked.

Over 20 years ago, we relocated back to my hometown to be closer to some of our family. Our kids were teens and pre-teens and our household was still a busy one; Papa’s work travels interfered, but we managed to devote time to parents before they passed away and to some of our extended family.

But since Papa’s extended family lived several hours away, we couldn’t always attend family events like reunions.  As the years passed, we found ourselves only seeing those family members at funerals.

Circumstances changed as we entered these retirement years, and we’ve found ourselves with time to devote to family gatherings afar. As the older generations of our families are now gone, it seems more important than ever to stay connected.

Now days, families are scattered hither and yon. Two of our own grown children live in other states as does one of my sisters and one of Papa’s brothers and their families. Visiting with them requires major trips.

Maybe that’s why I relish time with family so very much. We just don’t get to experience that luxury very often.

Back in the beginning of September, Papa and I traveled across our state for an overnight stay to attend a family reunion with his mother’s relatives. Uncles and aunts are now long gone but still the cousins meet on a Sunday afternoon at a state park for a picnic and time together.

We enjoyed our visit and picnic lunch in a quiet, tranquil area of the park. It was a joy to see the “kids” all grown up with spouses and little ones of their own. The day resulted in a wonderful time of reconnecting, reminiscing, and reacquainting.

Just last weekend, we were blessed with another joyful time of family togetherness when our own “kids” all came home for a visit. The house was full. And with two preschoolers running around, a baby, and a dog along with seven adults, it was a loud and boisterous place.

Quite a difference from what this empty nest home usually is like but we wouldn’t have traded that time and noise and chaos for all the world.

It’s family time. And it makes me happy and contented and looking forward to the next time we will gather again.

Christmas this year in this ol’ empty nest is going to be the most wonderful time of the year.

“When we sit thoughtfully pondering in a quiet place and the Spirit speaks to us, there will come into our hearts and souls the things that are truly our greatest desires, those things that are more important in the long run than anything else. Away from the appeal of the world, that greatest desire usually relates to relationships with family and with the Lord. And when that priority is in place, then we begin to plan our lives with purpose. We begin to have goals that cause us to live with anticipation.” ~ Ardeth Kapp

©2019 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

Be still…as time goes on

blogIMG_7808Over 30 years ago, I held my last born baby in my arms. That boy gave us such joy. And in the years to come, that joy increased and grew as surely as our son did.

And now, that baby is a grown-up man. Our son is husband to a lovely (inside and out) wife and father to two precious little girls, one just newly introduced into this world.

While I just was still on my blogging/writing sabbatical, Papa and I took the opportunity to travel to meet our newest granddaughter. Welcome hugs greeted Nana and Papa when the new baby’s big sister met us at the door and then…as my arms filled with that new little life, so perfect and beautiful, my eyes welled up with tears, my nose caught her sweet newborn baby aroma, and my heart exploded with love.

Over 30 years ago, a friend gave me a gift upon the birth of my last born baby – that boy become man who is now father to this new child.  The picture, a framed print with two little baby feet on it and a quote from Carl Sandburg, hung on the nursery room wall until that baby boy became a toddler. 

As our boy grew out of babyhood, the picture was relegated to the box of no longer used items, stored away, but those words not forgotten.

And as I held my newest grandchild and photographed her tiny, adorable toes (photo above), that quote came back to my mind.

“A baby is God’s opinion that the world should go on.” —Carl Sandburg

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©2019 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

This girl

blogAustralian travelerThis girl.

This girl I once carried in the hidden space inside my own body.

This girl made me a mother for the very first time, just a few minutes before Mother’s Day.

This girl, who seemed a shy, quiet child, possessed an adventurous spirit inside that reserved façade just waiting to soar.  

This girl discovered her wanderlust in high school on her first adventure to France.

This girl journeyed by herself to Africa, much to the worry of her parents.

This girl’s faith in God and her caring soul prodded her to minister to the unfortunate in Honduras more times than I can count.

This girl captured the heart of another adventurer and married him.

This girl, whose dream it has been to travel the world and see new sights, pursues that dream alongside her husband.

This girl experienced mountain top lifetime thrills at Mt. Kilimanjaro’s summit and at Peru’s Machu Picchu.

This girl has visited more countries on this earth than I can remember and has stepped foot on every continent except Asia and Antarctica.

This girl is my beloved oldest daughter.

This girl is celebrating a birthday.

And this girl amazes me.

“Actually, the best gift you could have given her was a lifetime of adventures.” ~ Lewis Carroll

©2019 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

Not a good replacement

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Photo by Helena Lopes on Pexels.com

So very much has been written about it. Even research studies launched about the effects of it.

You can use it to acquire all kinds of knowledge. You can use it for leisure activities. You can use it to conduct business, purchase items, save an image, learn the latest news, you name it. And we have convinced ourselves we can’t be without it.

Ever.

It must be clutched in our hands. And our eyes must be fixated on it. It’s the cell phone and it’s infiltrated our lives to the point where it truly has become an addiction, as gripping as the strongest drug out there, if you ask me.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not anti-technology. Technology is amazing. It can be life-saving; it has opened up new frontiers in so many fields of study. And it is good when it is used appropriately.

But just like everything else in this world, it depends on how you use it. Use it for the betterment of mankind? Great. Abuse it and go down dark alleyways that harm our fellow man? Terrible.

So how, you may ask, does the simple use of a cellphone do harm? We hear and read a lot about the breakdown of the family in our society. We see articles about the lack of communication even though we have the easiest form of interaction literally at our fingertips with texting on our cells and you can reach anyone anywhere on the cell phone.

Of course, there are a myriad of reasons why we are in this predicament in our society. Why families are falling apart. Why families don’t feel connected to one another even though they may live in the same house. Why we don’t interact verbally with one another in meaningful ways any more….or at all.

I don’t have the answers to these problems, but one thing is as clear to me as those photographic images I can take with my smart phone.

Those smart phones have made us not-so-smart.

Last week, I enjoyed a shopping trip with my daughter and granddaughter. We stopped for lunch at one of our favorite spots which happens to have an indoor play area for children. Of course, Little One wanted to play for a bit with another little girl who was there.

So I stayed at our table and minded the purses and jackets and sipped my unsweetened iced tea while Daughter and Little One entered the play area. I started doing what I usually do when I’m seated alone in a public place….I people watched.

And I got an eye full (although not what you may think) and the idea for this blog post. The restaurant wasn’t overly crowded yet as it usually is at lunchtime because we had decided to grab an early lunch. So in the area where our table was located and where I could view comfortably without turning around, there were approximately 15 people of all ages, including children and a couple of teens.

All of these folks were eating their lunches. None of them had laptops or briefcases with them, so I’m assuming none of them were taking “working lunches” especially at 11 am.

Looking straight ahead, I spied a person on her cell phone. Behind her a woman and two teens on their cells. Next to them, two more people, both on cells. At the next table, a man with eyes glued to his phone and earbuds in his ears. Next to him, a gray-haired couple…you guessed it… scrolling through their phones.

All of them – people of different ages – were so engrossed in their phones that they couldn’t be aware of anything happening around them.

Beside me, a family of four – husband, wife, and two children. The little girl looked to be about six years old or so and the boy probably was around nine or ten. Dad was on his phone while chomping away at his food. Mom too was captivated by her own cell. The boy, earbuds stuck in his ears,  had his cell propped up on the table watching a video. Only the little girl had no phone and she was chatting away….to herself.  All as they ate their lunch.

I wanted to yell, “Put away your darn phones and talk to your family!”

I shook my head to myself and thought no wonder families are falling apart, they don’t even talk to one another at lunch. They don’t pay attention to their kids because they are mesmerized by technology instead of communicating verbally with the human beings right there with them.

I glanced into the play area, waved to our Little One who was having fun playing hide and seek with the other little girl. But then I noticed another disturbing sight. My own daughter was sitting there, entranced in her cell.

What have we become? Humans with eyes only for our cell phones?? Since when is social media, videos, email, texting, whatever entices you to keep that phone in your hand and your eyes glued to its screen become more important than the people around you? The ones you love. The ones you should be spending time with, connecting, sharing, just talking over your day, your thoughts, your ideas. Enjoying the company of family and friends.

Out of those 15 or so people in my view, I saw two people (not including me) without a cell phone attached to their hands. Two human beings – a young man and a young woman probably in their late 20’s – were actually having a conversation. A real, live, face-to-face discussion over lunch. With no cell phones in sight.

Maybe there’s hope for us yet.

“Give the people in your life the gift of your presence by putting down your mobile device.” ~ Kate Northrup

©2019 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

Here we go again

 

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Photo by Lukas on Pexels.com

It was a bit of a déjà vu or, at the very least, that feeling of coming around full circle.

On a sunny but cool Saturday morning this past weekend, Papa and I were settled in our folding camp-style chairs on the sidelines cheering a youngster on the soccer field just like we’ve done countless times before in the past.

But this time, Mama and Papa were gray-haired and years older. This time, we weren’t cheering our own youngsters running up and down the length of the playing field.  This time we were encouraging our four-year-old granddaughter during her very first ever soccer game.

Incredulously, our Little One began her first soccer season this spring, learning the sport that her own mommy loved and played continuously through her school years and into college.

Incredulously, our Little One looked so big with her hair pulled back in a ponytail and clad in her YMCA soccer shirt, shorts, shin guards, knee-high socks, and cleats, carrying her water bottle.  Where did the time go???

Wasn’t it just yesterday, she was a newborn baby and those feet now sporting soccer cleats were tiny little barefoot ones? Wasn’t it just yesterday she was learning to say “ba, ba, ball” instead of kicking around a bright pink soccer ball of her own?

And wasn’t it just yesterday this Mama was the one hauling her own children to sports practices, games, and meets? Wasn’t it just yesterday that I was a “soccer Mom”?  And a baseball Mom, a cross country Mom, a track Mom, a volleyball Mom, and a basketball Mom?

And now I’m a “soccer Nana”.  You blink and no longer are you parents of young athletes playing their favorite sports. Now you are doting grandparents reliving those days gone by as you watch the grands growing up.

Now in these empty nest years as grandparents, we’re smiling, cheering, clapping, and laughing while trying to capture moments with our cell phone cameras at the antics of four and five year olds as they attempt to maneuver the ball into the net. 

We have always jokingly called soccer at this level “bunch ball” as the players bunch around the ball trying to kick it. And bunch they did even if our Little One was a little hesitant to immerse herself into the fray.

She did make her mommy, Nana and PaPa proud as she managed to kick the ball (in the right direction too!) and jump back up without crying when she got knocked down.

As this empty nest Nana recalls sweet memories from years past of all of those activities of our own children when they were young, I’ll be eagerly making new ones with the grandchildren.

So for the next few weeks if you need me on a Saturday morning, you can find me on the sidelines of the soccer field. Here we go again!

“As I grew older I thought the best part of my life was over…then I was handed my first grandchild and realized the best part of my life had just begun.” ~ unknown

(Note: Neither my grandchild nor her teammates are depicted in the photo above. In order to protect their identities, I chose not to publish a photo of them, but use a stock photo from the WordPress free photo library instead.)

©2019 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

Heading back instead of forward

blog103Sometimes the road before you takes you back instead of forward.

Last Saturday, Papa and I awakened early in our empty nest. We crawled out of bed at o-dark thirty (as my once-an-Army-man husband says) to shower, get dressed, and grab a quick breakfast.

Actually it was 5 am and we planned to leave our house around 6:30 because we had a three+ hour long trip to take to attend a morning gathering in a town over 175 miles away from ours.

One of the last surviving aunts on my husband’s mother’s side of the family passed away last week at the age of 87. We decided to attend her memorial service, not only to pay our respects for her and her family, but also because we knew it would be a family reunion of sorts.

We would have the opportunity to visit with my husband’s cousins who we haven’t seen in 20 years. Some of them live close by the town so far from ours, but some of them reside even farther away in other states, even on the West Coast. Papa’s older brother, a Texan now for over 30 years, was flying in for the service as well and we looked forward to seeing him.

We traveled by highway eastward as the sun arose and once we crossed the mountains, crystal blue skies and sunshine greeted us making our drive very pleasant.

Once we arrived at our destination, the air still nipped at us with a bite of chilliness but the greetings from family warmed us with smiles and hugs.

Reconnecting with cousins and my husband’s brother truly was a joy. We shared updates about grown children and cell phone photos of grandchildren.

We listened to stories of days gone by and memories of childhoods when that side of my husband’s family would all gather together at their “cottage” at a church campground and spend summer vacations together on the Jersey shore.

Quite some time ago, I tackled the plethora of old photos that had belonged to my in-laws. I managed my way through them all, deciding which ones we wanted to keep and placed them into photo albums.

But there were so many old photos of aunts and uncles and older cousins as youngsters that we decided should be given to those family members who were still alive.  Since Papa knew the family histories better than I did, he sorted those by families, bundled them up, and inserted them into large envelopes.

They traveled with us on our journey and as we all gathered at a lovely restaurant for lunch, Papa passed the envelopes out. Smiles spread on all those faces as they viewed those photos from yesteryear and passed them around for others to see.  Gracious thanks rained over us like blessings.

As the time ended and we all dispersed, Papa and I hugged everyone goodbye with promises of coming back in late summer for a family reunion. His brother had some time to kill before heading back to the airport, so we stayed and visited with him before we gave more hugs goodbye.

But before we left to travel back home, we meandered around this quaint town where so many of my husband’s relatives had lived. We drove past their former homes and Papa recalled many fond childhood memories.

We wandered down country roads and found the church campground where so much family history took place and marveled that the “cottage” the family once owned still stood.

The roads that led us to this wonderful time of family took us back – back to the days when families weren’t so spread apart by distance, back to a simpler time, back to childhood memories, and reminisces of those who are no longer among us.

Our day was a bit bittersweet. As we headed back westward to our home, I thought about the fact that we are now becoming the older generation of this family.

And how it saddens me to know that our children – all young adults and some reaching middle age now – will not have this experience of reconnecting with this side of the family. Yes, they are second or third cousins or however you classify the offspring of first cousins, but they don’t really know one another because distance separates us all.

Family stories and histories will probably become lost in time. Unless some of us try to preserve them. That’s what this day of traveling back showed me.

Sometimes we need to let the road before us take us back.

“So much of who we are is where we have been.” ~ William Langewiesche

©2019 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com