It was eight years ago today that Dana accepted a better offer of where to spend Christmas (as her Unkie Jon described it), passing from the land of fake angels on treetops to the land of real angels with Jesus.
On the occasion of the date of Dana’s passing, I thought I’d commemorate a different life passage of sorts that my family has recently experienced, a passage which is somewhat connected to the passing of Dana.
When I was in grade school my folks did something that seemed strange to me: they bought a plot of land. The land had no house. No cornfields like what we were used to. It looked a little scraggly with lots of rocks. But it featured giant tulip poplar trees (which could be seen from miles away), a creek, a bank, and even an island carved out by the creek.
We would visit this land from time to time. Maybe do a picnic or take a hike. Mom and Dad would do some work (clearing, mowing) and Beck and I would explore. It always felt like we were entering an unusual land. We were used to cornfields, ponies, and things you find around an old barn. This was a land of weird crawdad mounds and creek life which included water spiders that could rest on the water surface, tiny minnows, and the crawdads that made those weird mounds.
On several occasions when we’d leave the land of woods and creek to make the 30-ish minute drive back to our farm, mom would say something like, “Someday it will be good to see a nice home with warm, glowing lights nestled back in that woods.”
Within a couple of years, Mom and Dad realized their “someday” dream for that scraggly, wooded, creek-split land. With the help of construction friend Bob Creech and all the friend help they could muster (which was a formidable crew), Mom and Dad built that home with the warm glowing lights.
And for over 40 years those warm, glowing lights welcomed friends, strangers, family, new family, and babies. It became a first stop for couples with news to announce or struggles to share. It was a sanctuary for prayer and rest. We sang. We celebrated. We cried. We laughed.
Its dining room table hosted countless birthday parties, Christmas dinners, and New Year’s Day sauerkraut buffets—the perfect food for the day’s football binge. The legacy of the dining room, of course, is the Sunday dinner: roast beef, mashed potatoes, Grandma Ruth gravy, and vegetable variations which were superfluous to the meat and potatoes. Two things I know about those Sunday dinners: First, Mom seemed to pull those off as easy as pulling a meat tray out of the fridge. Second, of all the weekly dinners stretching over 40 years I don’t think we ever had the same table crowd from one week to the next.
Creek and woods life eventually became second nature to Beck and me. We enjoyed introducing friends and cousins to our woods and creek: catching minnows and crawdads, climbing the bank, and of course, making world class forts. The large front yard, naturally, became our sports arena: football, kickball, softball, Frisbee, whiffle ball, and much more.
It’s been idyllic ground to grow up on and an era that I thought would never end. But as the upkeep of such a place has outpaced the abilities of Mom and Dad, the end of the era has in fact come. Just this week, 44 years since flipping the switch for those welcoming warm lights, Mom, Dad, Beck and I took our final tromp through that woods. We told stories, we reminisced, we paid our last respects to our beloved collie who made the move with us from the farm and is buried in the woods. We tromped with Beck’s husband Rick, their daughter Maggie, and with my kids Reade and Rachel—a fitting patrol representing how that land nurtured the original four and welcomed our growth. A few minutes after all us kids left, Mom and Dad met up with the next owners and handed over the house keys.
In the movie “Gettysburg,” a film depicting the Civil War battle of Gettysburg, we’re introduced to the descriptive phrase of “good ground.” It’s a phrase I’ve come to use to describe Mom and Dad’s idyllic plot of land in Preble County. It’s the phrase I’ve used to describe Preble County in general. In fact, it’s this ideal that led Dana to say, even before facing a life-threatening illness, “If anything happens to me, I’d like to be buried in Preble County.”
It’s good ground.
If I might find the common ground in all of this: No matter what life might throw our way, if our feet are set on good ground, we will not only survive, but thrive. And of course, when we’ve enjoyed such good ground, whether it be a plot of land or a deep relationship, it’s sad when our feet step away from that ground. But it’s a privilege, and a gift, to have had such a ground. It makes us better people, “grounded” people if I may, who are on a constant search to provide good ground for those we love.
I leave you with some images below. First, the original foursome to inhabit the welcoming lights of this home in front of the tree trunk, and then the tree, of our first Christmas tree in our home of welcoming lights. Yes, for our first Christmas Mom and Dad bought a Christmas tree with a root ball that could be planted. This tree has been the faithful witness to all that was written above. And finally, I leave you with a picture of those warm lights that Mom spoke of 44 years ago, a picture taken the evening of the final tromp through that good ground.