We just recently returned from our annual “duty call” to Idaho. You know, a couple of years ago I’d have referred to that trip as the “pilgrimage” or “annual sojourn” or even maybe the “return home,” but this year I am feeling a little snarky. Of course we all know how much easier it is for us in Alaska to travel the thousands of miles necessary to visit the friends and family in the Lower 48 than it is for them to come see us. After all, we are traveling south so it’s all down hill.
I understand that statistically it is easier for the two of us to visit the multitude of friends and relatives we see when we go out. It would take many trips for each of them to visit us, but just once I’d like someone to say, “Hey! See you in Kenai in a couple of weeks.” It’s not that none of them have never been here. In fact most of them have made the trip at least once, but it’s that the parting shot is always, “See you next year. When do you think you’ll be here?”
We went a little earlier than usual this time. Daughter and S-I-L had business in California that brought them over from Hawaii in May so they said they’d meet us in Idaho if we could be there at that time. Easy enough for us, as our social calendar is geared toward “the kids” again or maybe that is “still” ( funny how that works. Do parents ever not plan around the kids?) and we did have a good time. Saw most of the family although not any big get together this time. The “youngsters” are busy working and coordinating time just wasn’t in the cards. But individual visits worked. We saw people we hadn’t visited with for awhile and a few places we’d ignored the past few times.
The weather was good. Not so hot as when we go in July. But we were too early for the local cantaloupe, which is always one of my special perks. And of course the huckleberries were not even in the picture yet but we enjoyed a couple of lightning storms and watched the hummingbirds cavort around the feeder. And the hills were green instead of golden with ripening wheat.
We happened to be there over Memorial Day, something that hasn’t happened for years. And coincidentally, the sister who usually does the flower stuff had to be away this year so she asked me to take over the responsibility, as our other sis has two broken legs (no joke. Another story, another time). It was nice to visit the cemetery where many of my ancestors from both sides of the family are buried. It is a very old part of the small town, and it was gratifying to see that each generation of the town fathers has kept it up, modernizing when necessary, but maintaining the traditional areas, too. My godfather is there, with a flag and flowers placed by the local American Legion. The day we were there flags flew at every other gravesite it seemed , in tribute to a population that has always honored its obligation to the country, regardless of politics or religion.
But lots of other things have changed, even from last year, or maybe I just hadn’t noticed. Houses being built where there should be wheat fields, road construction (that I understand!) on roads that were just bypasses before, and old stores closed but new ones opening. I hate to admit I am at the age where I don’t tolerate change much. I want things to remain the same. Probably because it’s easier, but I’m afraid it’s because things change, but I don’t. Is the word for that “curmudgeon?”
I think my snarky attitude came from the visits with old friends. Every one of them mentioned how old they are getting, and how difficult it is to get around, or even that they don’t go much anymore (won’t be coming to Kenai anytime soon, I guess). And to top it off, Cousin grew a beard. He’s been clean shaven all his life. I didn’t tell him he looked like Santa Claus.
The saddest moment, and maybe the tipping point, was a visit to my BFF from forever and she didn’t really know me. She knew she should know me, and we visited superficially, but I cried when we left her. Made me realize how tenuous our connections are to what “was.”
All that said, I know next spring sometime one of us will sigh and say “I suppose we’d better get tickets to go outside” and we’ll call the Sibs to warn them we’re coming. They’ll all say “We’ve been waiting for you guys!” And it will be our annual sojourn again, downhill all the way.
Virginia Walters lives in Kenai.