The last time I covered the stretch of road between Tennessee and Pennsylvania I was driving a moving truck north, running on fumes physically and emotionally after packing up our childhood home in Knoxville. So, I felt both anticipatory and anxious about being back in Tennessee 2 ½+ years later. In the ends, my apprehensions about being back in Knoxville – how the house was being kept up by the renters, and how I would manage to see at least most everyone I wanted to see, and how I would reconnect with family and friends – were, if not unfounded, softened by the kindness and warm welcome extended by so many.
The trip south included a worthy detour. I drove into D.C. to visit my old roommate Jessica, who moved back to the States in February. What a great two hours, which flew by far too fast!
In Knoxville I had three different wonderful host families over the 10 days – first, one of my earliest childhood friends and her husband and their little boy – who was quite happy to know me as “Aunt Eva”; then with an aunt and uncle – with more concentrated time and great conversation together than we’d ever had before; and then finally with a couple whom I’d be happy to call aunt and uncle – who spoiled me with the peaceful quiet of their home, German cuisine shared with a cousin who dropped in, and even an afternoon water skiing.
Besides wonderful visits with those who kindly hosted me, there were too many other special visits to adequately name. …Meeting up with a neighbor from my South Knoxville days, whose son I used to teach piano, and finding that despite our different stages in life and our homes thousands of miles apart, we could dive right in to meaningful and memorable conversation over coffee at a favorite bakery. …Visiting with elderly friends, meeting up at a hospital rehab facility where the husband was having testing done after a stroke. It was not the most ideal context for a visit, but I was struck by the perseverance of these dear people – and struck by the wife’s joy-filled confidence in the Lord amidst recent adversity. …Catching up with a group of women who used to gather weekly, and finding that our significant shared history had a way of seeming to reduce the gap between our last meeting over two years before and the present. …Spending an afternoon talking with a friend who volunteered as Mom’s nurse for many, many hours. …Impromptu meetings with friends and acquaintances at church. …A lavish breakfast with perhaps the biggest garden enthusiast I know (I think she said she put up 200 pounds of blueberries from her garden this past season?), seasoned with interesting stories and enriched with a sense of shared family history going back decades. …Digging through a closet with a friend in Tennessee August heat, trying to find Mom’s recipe box – located somewhere in one of the many boxes being stored in the friend’s parents-in-laws’ house (long story). …Enjoying a few rounds of the quintessential Holder game of croquet with my aunt and uncle! The list could go on.
Seeing our house was really important. I enjoyed meeting the couple now calling it home. Even if it seemed strangely different without the contents as I remembered – the formal dining room furniture and the many books – it was gratifying to sense that the couple living there enjoys the beauties (and puts up with the eccentricities) of an old house. Some things were the same – the charming cabinets in the kitchen, the bedroom curtains Mom sewed from wispy, white Indian saris. Some things improved – Hannah and Peter had new carpet put in and themselves radically upgraded the pantry (which Dad used for his study all those years).
Outside, I wandered around the yard slowly, trying to take in the way the field next door had grown up into a temperate-climate jungle, feeling a bit sad that the garden hadn’t been tilled or planted, appreciating the tire swing Peter had hung on their last visit before the house got rented out.
I also finally had the opportunity to visit the cemetery where both parents are buried. Of course, I had been there before, but when I last left Tennessee, the inscription for Mom’s grave was not yet in place, which was a definite disappointment at the time. I’m glad Hannah and I chose the phrases we did for the gravestone. For Dad, “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27), and for Mom, “Those who look to Him are radiant” (Psalm 34:5).
After so many visits and impressions and memories, it was time to head back north. Back in PA, there were a few days to recover from the full days in Tennessee before the next adventure.
Coming up next…Colorado.