monticello is a small town. there is a main road and a few arteries – small businesses dot these arteries a block or two off the main street. we’ve driven through there a time or two before, to see the place columbus talked about, but mostly to try and buy him a t-shirt. somehow, we managed to always get there after the shops closed, which is a little earlier than we were used to. so, no t-shirts.
this time, though, we were there to stay a few days. we picked up columbus and jeanne from the airport and brought them to an airbnb farmhouse we had pre-arranged. i knew that was the place to stay when i saw the porch. i could picture columbus sitting on that porch, with the surrounding land to which his soul was ever-connected. i booked it, despite my mother-in-law’s wishes to stay at a motel in the area. now, it is dangerous to not listen and, even with my certainty about that being the right place for this pilgrimage, i was a little nervous about how they (read: she) would feel about it. they are dear to me and i don’t want to – well, let’s just say – tick them off.
the first time we sat on the porch columbus had a lite beer and stared out at the corn and soybeans (at least we think they were soybeans.). he talked about his days working in fields, traveling the roads he wondered if he could now remember, his friends, his growing-up house.
i sat in the back row on the porch and listened and watched. although we all asked questions, no other voices were really necessary…just his. the back row is a good place to listen from and to watch from. i could watch my husband listening to his dad, absorbing the details, sometimes patiently listening to repeated stories. i could watch my mother-in-law help with some of the details, talking about the history columbus had and their shared decades of life, some of it spent in this panther-highschool-football-team-land. i spent a good bit of time staring at the corn and soybeans too. and a good bit of time silently taking pictures of a sojourn that my father-in-law had talked about for years.
he had wanted to “go back home” for quite some time. he wanted to visit the cemetery where he “knew a lot of people”. he wanted to go see and touch the home that his grandpa built, proud to have been raised in a house where he saw the toil that made it possible. he wanted to visit with his aunt joanne, a feisty woman just a couple years older than him. his list wasn’t long. not much else. he just wanted to BE there. and so we were. we followed his heart around his home town.
we sat on the porch the second day to greet the morning and later in the day to process the day. we seemed to have assigned seats, mine, once again, in the back row, a place i lingered in, petting the farm cat i had fallen in love with, listening, sipping coffee or wine. i watched the satisfied look on columbus’ face take hold, the longing of wanting-to-go-back sated by the being-there. he was surrounded by memories-he-remembered and by memories-that-were-slipping-away. he navigated trying moments of confusion in his talk-talk. he spoke of glorious times. he spoke of hard times. he talked -like we all talk about the place that was home- with deep love and a root that is unbreakable.
the next day we visited with his aunt, a couple other relatives, a few old friends. we went and found a pork tenderloin sandwich for him. we drove away from town for the last time and back to the farmhouse. it was a little chilly that evening. early the next morning we would be taking them back to the airport. we didn’t sit on the porch.
i went out to see sweetie (the name i gave the cat) and to look at the sky, to remember. i, momentarily, took my back seat on the porch and quietly gave thanks for this time. i know why columbus didn’t want to porch-sit that night. sometimes, it’s a little too much. sometimes, a porch can make you feel more emotion than you can handle. i think, for columbus, that last night on the porch was one of those times.
so this time we were there -in that little town- when it was open. and this time we got him a t-shirt. he was planning to wear it the day he got back home. and who doesn’t get that?