Texas Homecoming

If you had asked me that morning, I don’t think I could have told you what Possum Kingdom State Park looked like. I knew from family lore that I had been there, that we all had, on several occasions. I have so many memories of camping with my family throughout my childhood, so I didn’t doubt the validity of the claim. But I just couldn’t conjure the place in my memory. It was so long ago.

“If this is supposed to be Possum Kingdom, where are all the possums?” Dad asks, laughing at himself. We groan. We’ve heard that one before. “They’re nocturnal,” my sister says matter-of-factly. “That’s why you never see them.”

As we drive through the gates to the park, the memories begin to creep in. I recognize that camp store, and the playground out front. I’ve swung in those swings. I’ve walked on these paths. Driving past the cabins, I remember so vividly that early morning when a deer came down out of the hills, came right up to me as I stood so still in the fog, holding out a handful of Fritos. I thought I’d never forget the moment that deer ate out of my hand. But I haven’t thought about that in years.

“You fed a deer Fritos?” My brother the nature expert exclaims in condemning disbelief when I recall the memory. “Why would you do that?” Like an eight year old city-slicker should know better.

As we come upon the swimming beach at the lakefront, I’m flooded with the memories of swimming in that opaque brown Texas water with my siblings and cousins. So many times we swam in that lake, camping with the family for the weekend or even just on a day trip. The park is only a 45 minute drive from town, after all, the town where my mother grew up, the town we’re visiting again this weekend for my cousin’s wedding.

It’s only 90 degrees today. Warm, but not unpleasant in my shorts and t-shirt. I stand by the shore as I watch and listen to the children laughing in the lake, squealing as they push each other under. Familiar sounds. Mom lays out the blanket she got from the trunk, and we place our things on top, marking the spot as ours. Then we wade out into the lake. We didn’t bring swimsuits, or a picnic, or even anything to drink. We just came on a whim. So now we’re standing here in our bare feet among the muck and the reeds, letting the water cool our toes. We’re all together. Mom, Dad, Zach, Katy, and me, the firstborn. We stand there at the mouth of the lake together quietly remembering the times we’ve shared in that same spot many years ago.

People say places change. But nothing looks different. Everything feels the same as it did the day my bathing suit snapped in the back and I just covered up with a t-shirt and kept on swimming. We haven’t been here since Katy was probably eight or nine. Twelve years at least. Her own memories are vague, but she knows where she is. We all do. Our bodies know and recognize this place.

We make our way to the blanket where we lay down on our backs at odd angles, heads together, staring up at the bright blue sky and the hot sun. We tell stories. We laugh. We remember and smile. It’s so nice out here we could all doze off I’m sure. But the afternoon is waning and Lindsey will be getting married at the church in a few hours. We should leave. We need to shower and get ready. But I wish we could stay here forever.

People say people change. But we feel the same to me. We’re five adults now, but in my mind we’ll always be Mom, Dad, and the three kids. It’s a bittersweet feeling, laying on that blanket and listening to the sounds of my family’s breathing and laughing. These are my people, the ones I am so connected to by blood and DNA and personality traits and history and memories. I live far away now. I forget what it’s like to come home. We are inextricable from each other.  It’s a rare thing for us all five to be together, without spouses, or partners, or extended family, or friends. Just us. Us as we’ve been together a thousand times in restaurants, at home, camping, road tripping. Just us as we are right now in this moment. And it can’t last forever. It makes me sad. And yet I’m also so very happy.

A Day in the Life

I watch them from the fourth floor window overlooking the courtyard. The sunlight shifts and dances as the trees blow in the soft breeze. It’s warm down there I think.

Sitting under the umbrella at the table below me is a woman knitting with multi-colored yarn in purple, pink and blue hues. What she’s knitting I can’t tell. A hat maybe. Or perhaps some sort a bag. Or maybe nothing at all, just a way to pass the time. The umbrella obscures her face, but I watch her fingers direct the needles, and I imagine the clickety-clack they must be making.

Across the way at another covered patio table are two boys playing cards. They can’t be older than twelve. They have the look of wild abandon and confidence and mirth of twelve year old boys as they laugh at each other and throw down their hands.

In the far corner on a bench sits a middle-aged woman. Her pristine auburn hair flows gently about her face. She is sharply dressed, her Coach bag resting next to her as she stares down at her phone, texting, or scrolling for news, but most likely perusing her social media accounts.

In the walkway stands a doctor in a white lab coat, her dark hair glistening in the sunlight. I can only see the top of her head as she stares down at the phone in her hands, but if I could only zoom in with my eyes I swear I could read the screen she looks at as she stands there.

On another bench further down the way sits what might be a graying father and his son. The father has his hand on the son’s back as the son leans forward and rests his face on his hands. He might be sobbing.

In the corner across from my perch I see a woman, a salty-haired woman, standing with her face to the corner, her back to the rest of the world as she talks to someone on her phone. She barely moves. She seems distant and isolated. What news is she delivering? What news is she hearing?

Finally, on a bench almost beyond my vision, there sits a red stuffed bear. It sits by itself, away from the people, but it sits properly, like a tiny well-behaved child. No one seems to have it claimed. No one seems to know it’s there. But it sits there, silently, watching the scene unfolding before it, just I watch the scene unfolding below me.

We are all in our own world, some of us more aware of our difference presences than others. But we are all together for a brief time. And I think to myself, what a day in the life of a hospital chaplain.