When I was little, and our family would take vacation, when we weren’t camping in the Cumberland Gap area of the Smoky Mountains, we would make the pilgrimage back to Omaha. As little kids, we never really knew which direction we were going – it was more like, “Get in the car, we are leaving…” And so when we finally got to Omaha, we would usually first stop on Bedford Avenue, and settle in to Grannie’s home, where we would overrun the little house. The stops also included going to Aunt Donna’s, where we would reunite with all the kids from her family, with the boys playing in the basement, and the girls playing in their second floor bedroom. Next stop was going to visit Great Grandpa and Grandma Serviss, in their wonderful (what we thought) big home on the west side of town, and also going to see Grandpa Jorgensen in his house just down the path from the big house.
We used all of those as our home bases, as places to explore, to play, to eat great food and to listen in as the adults would tell their stories. The only bad time I had there was when I stepped on a rusty nail with my flip flops and had to get a tetanus shot. Not fun.
Those places were frozen in time for me, even after 1969 when after living for a year in Omaha, we moved to Grand Forks, and really never went back again. The inhabitants of the home places – what we always dreamed to be our “ancestral” spots – all took sick or died, and those homes were sold away, along with the foundation of so many of my dreams and memories.
Mom and Dad bought their retirement home from the Air Force when they lived in Fort Worth, Texas in 1978, and that became the new headquarters for the Cross clan, as brothers and sisters married newcomers to the family in rapid succession, and then had kids, so that when we came down from the Dakotas to visit in the summer, the place was packed, with sleeping bags and mattresses and couches all filled with adults and kids alike. It was a huge get-together, whenever we got together, and full of games and talks and arguing and tons of food. Kind of an adapted Norman Rockwell painting.
And then – Dad died in 1993. Even though Mom continued to live in her home, we never again gathered as the family of seven with their families. Most of us still came to see Mom – I would often come in the summer or even winter to do some fix-up, or gutter cleaning, or tree pruning. Lots of sweat was produced during those visits, for sure!
I’ve written earlier, two summers ago, about Mom’s death at the age of 90, and our need to clear out the house and get it ready to be sold. After a few months, that family home on Winesanker Way was gone from our family.
Meanwhile, over the years, I of course fell in love with a Norwegian farmer’s daughter, and was introduced to their family farm home. It actually was the home that Cheri’s dad had built, across the driveway from what was truly the “old” farmhouse, dating back perhaps before the 20th century. The house had been empty of life after Cheri’s grandmother moved into town following her husband’s death. Finally, it became more of a rickety place, and so they tore it down, leaving only her folks’ home.
Well, time certainly passes, and more quickly than we ever imagined it would. The farm is seven miles away from town, and with Cheri’s dad’s health failing, and after a number of falls, Cheri’s mom had to make the hard decision that the two of them should move from the only place he had ever lived, into a townhome in town. It was heartbreaking, to see the farmer having to live away from his farm, in a place he really didn’t love. However, it was safer, and closer to the medical stuff that he needed.
He died in 2018, and the rest of the farm house was cleared out with the idea that Cheri’s nephew would renovate it, and make that his home. It was hard for us all, because it meant it was no longer the gathering place, the headquarters for the family. We experienced grief of a different sort, as the home where I first kissed Cheri, where we came to change clothes after our wedding, and a thousand family meals and celebrations just seemed to vanish.
This last May, at the age of 88, Cheri’s mom died. It almost seemed as though we were getting used to going through the death ritual, but something more profound and permanent was about to happen. After renting the townhome, and then having both Cheri’s father and mother dying there, we kids – now the elders – realized there was no longer anyone to occupy that place for future family gatherings. Cheri’s brother and sister in law still live in Grafton, as do nephews, but the idea of us invading a home and filling it with all sorts of family just wasn’t going to come true. So, after May, our work this past summer was to clear out, clean out, sort out, and claim pieces of Cheri’s family’s past, with there no longer being a farm to go to, nor even a townhome to visit.
Cheri’s sister did stay at the townhome for the summer as she came up to escape the Arizona heat, but with the change of season, it is now time for her to go back home. That means that finally, the place will be cleared out completely, possessions divided up, and the last home returned to the landlords.
I can’t even count the number of times when we have all pondered what happens next. There really is no reason to come up to Grafton anymore. Over the past three years or longer, it’s been an every other week trip and spending the day. That’s all gone. We will head up tomorrow to finally move things out, and shut off the lights to an entire history. To say that there are tears is an understatement. There has even been talk of, “Oh, we can always come up to Grafton when we want to…” but there will be no place to come to, besides having lunch at the local restaurant, but that’s a long four hour-drive to have an omelet or a hot beef sandwich. We can visit their graves, but there is no life there, no catching up on activities. I can’t foresee driving up, and so the connection is cut. The boys’ children, when they have any, will never know the fun of playing at the farm, and the exploring of the machinery and the fields.
So – we move on from there. Fortunately, with my career as a pastor, it was difficult to get there for holiday events, since I was working, and so we have made our own traditions. Now we have our home, where we can enjoy making memories and look to the future.
However, I’ll still miss that season, that time of life, when it seemed nothing would need to change. It’s all changed so much, so quickly in three years for both my family and Cheri’s that I will need to leave the transition, and the loss and the change in God’s hands, hoping that we might smooth over what will be now, as we live today.
Do I need to say to you to cherish your life now? To carefully enfold your tender and special memories, and then to share them with the generations to come? The time does come when the roots of our family’s life get dug up, and the memories are truly the treasure that remains.
Saying for the day: If life were easy, where would all the adventures be? Enjoy your life of adventure, no matter where it takes you today.
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.