If you need a soundtrack, I’ve got a recommendation I think is fitting:
My cousin got married this past weekend (congrats again!) and the wedding had me thinking about a lot of things. The most pressing of these things being that I am old and I know this because my cousin who is six years younger than me just got married. Freaky.
The ceremony itself was very quiet and loving (until the newly minted bride & groom walked back up the aisle to AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long” that is) and was very much my cousin. Not only was she henna’d up but she and her fella read from Tolkien during the ceremony. Fitting.
It wasn’t until after the ceremony that my mind started to wander a bit. We were out in Middleburg, VA which for those of you not familiar is about an hour outside of D.C. in what’s best known as Virginia’s horse country. This part of the state is all rolling hills with the Blue Ridge Mountains on every horizon. Imagine a landlocked version of the British or Irish countrysides.
Middleburg is the first place I remember. Not too long after my first birthday, my family went out west to live with my Grandfather at his home there. My first memories are of fields and ponds and learning to fish and whiteout level snows during the winter. Days spent in the tiny town itself, with it’s modest country bakery and toy store. Festivals celebrating local history, wines and farmers. When I got to be school aged, we moved back up to Northern Virginia so I’d be enrolled in the system I’d remain in through high school graduation. But every chance I could, I’d convince my Mom to drive us out to visit Grandpa, or after I got to be of age I’d drive myself to his new place in Upperville (about 15 min. from Middleburg).
I tell you all of this because I’m trying to find the words to establish in your mind the sense of ‘home’ I feel whenever I find myself out Middleburg way. We all have a place that has its own heartstring of ours to tug. A place that makes you feel safe, calm, whole, right, wonderful and sad all at the same time. For me, Middleburg is that place.
While all of this is going on the issues of my family hang in the air like a fog. I find a table with my Grandparents, my Mother and her sisters. This would be HQ for the evening. Through a confluence of things that I don’t even want to get into, my cousin and I find ourselves related to each other on both our mother’s and father’s sides of our families. Sitting here with our mother’s side, I notice a table at the other side of the room: One middle-aged woman, three girls about my cousin’s age. I know for a fact that they are all relatives of mine on my father’s side, but I only know one name for sure. Hell, between my cousin and I we couldn’t get them all. This, mind you is after the chat I had with the father of the bride, who asked not only if I knew if my father had been invited (my cousin is smart enough not to do that) but why he hadn’t gotten an invite to my own wedding last year (honestly I never would have guessed he’d wanted to go).
I explain that I haven’t spoken to my father in a few years and how that’s made my life simpler and better; he tells me how he understands. That’s my dad’s side in a nutshell.
Not that hanging out at HQ with my Mom’s family was carefree. My wife and I can’t help but notice those at the table who were absent from our wedding. In fairness two of them were my Grandparents, neither of whom were doing well this time last year. We completely understood and had an amazing wedding, but it still stings a little as we sit and chat and imagine how much more fun we could’ve had with everyone there.
And suddenly I just want to leave. I don’t feel like having a good time or dancing. I want to hop in the car and find my Grandpa’s old home (he’s since moved further south), let myself in, sit by the bluestone fireplace in the den and go back to a time before family complications. Back when the only people I knew were my parents and my Grandfather, before I even realized I had a family. Back when the whole world was hills and valleys in a spectrum of green framed by blue mountains that were The End of the World. Before other homes, other kids, other lives.
Instead I hop outside to bum a smoke off my wife. I look out over the valley below us. The valley looks damn near the same as it did some 25 years ago at least. Standing there on that hilltop I can feel the same wind, smell the same earth I did as a boy. My mind wanders: I know the BBQ place has shut down for the day but The Coach Stop might still be open. Then again, it is a Sunday so who knows. I still haven’t tried that new ice cream place that went in a few years back…
This could be any day I spent walking around town with my Mother. Those flowers could be sprouting up around the stone walk that lined my Grandfather’s house. That dog wandering the property could be one of an endless number of boisterous, friendly hounds and labs that neighbors seemed to have no qualms letting walk about.
It would be so easy to stay.
It would be so easy to stay. I keep thinking it to myself. All I have to do is wait everyone out; all those folks inside with their drinks and stories and convoluted messy relations who never existed until I left this place the first time. Then it could be mine again. I could disappear back into these hills I never wanted to leave in the first place and live a good, quiet life.
My wife notices some gear or another turning behind my face: “What is it?”
“I want to die out here someday” I tell her, not sure if I mean today or 50 years from now. At that moment I would have happily accepted either.
I was home.