It was a wonderful weekend.
Both my brother and sister made the trip down from their homes in Northern Michigan. Mary's hubby, all three of her adult children, and her four grandkids were all a part of the happy crowd on my front porch, while Jim's eldest daughter flew in all the way from L.A. to share her July fourth birthday with us.
I was excited to see my two siblings. I am blessed in the fact that they are both family members and my very best friends, as well, which is a rare, lucky thing, indeed. It was a crazy-busy holiday weekend, with even our old barn of a house almost full to bursting. But despite the sometimes hectic pace, the three of us still found the time to just sit and talk once in awhile.
Nothing real rare there, because although we usually go months and more between visits, our conversations quickly pick up and slip into an easy rhythm based on the childhood we shared and the close friendship we still enjoy.
Mary and I were in the midst of one of those moments, sitting on the deck at the back of the house, when we heard something.
"5-10-15-20, 25-30-35-40... ."
It was the clear, sweet voice of her teenage granddaughter, counting down the start of another round of the complicated hide-and-go-seek game the kids had been playing over in the park across the street all weekend. All the grandchildren--from six-year-old John Patrick to sixteen-year-old Megan--were playing the game as they unknowingly established the kind of first-cousin friendships that can be good for a lifetime.
Ready or not, here I come... ."
Mary and I shared the secret smile we've been passing between us all of our lives.
"The park," she said softly. "The pull of the park."
The park that sits across the street from our big, old house has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I cut through it on my way to school, skated on its frozen rink, played baseball on the field next to the playground, and shot baskets on the blacktop across from the old elementary school. I taught my sons how to ride their bikes on the narrow road that cuts diagonally across the park, and watched them play games of their own over the years. Now, it's my grandsons who have made that beautiful green space their own special place to be, with their summertime comings and goings often announced by a slammed screen door and a single word lingering in the air.
In fact, the park has been a part of my hometown for as long as there's been a town at all. Local history has it that founder William Wiley stood on that very place and said these words.
"What a beautiful spot. Let's buy the land and lay out a town."
Fact is, his decision may have been at least partly based on something more than simple beauty, as just a few rods away could be seen the surveyor's flags that marked the route of the coming railway that would bring a new kind of commerce and vitality to the region. Later, that lovely patch of green grass and trees would be given to the new town by a long-time settler named James Bonham, who proposed it as the site of a college that would eventually locate in Rock Island, to be later called Augustana.
I'm back now. After three years splitting our time between Galva and the shores of North Carolina, we are living full-time in our home next to the park again. Of course, there were practical considerations in our decision to leave the beach place and return to the midwest. To effectively battle the rare, aggressive cancer that befell me earlier this year, we would need to live where I'd have access to the kind of advanced healthcare my condition required. We considered staying out east, as teaching hospitals like Duke and UNC offer some of the very best medical minds and treatments available.
Eventually, though, we decided it was time to come home. Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago has provided a kind, nurturing expertise that seems to meet both my medical and spiritual needs.
And then, there's the big, old house.
It, along with the park across the street, means life and love.
It means faith and hope and laughter and prayer.
It means friends and family and the town where I grew up.
And, most of all, it means home...and the clear, sweet voices of those children at play.