It doesn’t take much. Just a cool breeze, the smell of bread in the toaster, or the sound of a train whistle. I am transported to my carefree childhood summers, spent at my maternal grandparents’ home in Wisconsin. The memories flood my mind and I am filled with a sense of peace and order…and a terrible longing to go back there again. Not just to the home, but to the time when I didn’t have the responsibilities of adulthood on my shoulders. To the time when my days consisted of sitting in the sun reading an old book I found in the attic (like Louisa May Alcott’s Old Fashioned Girl), or feeding chipmunks out of my hand, or playing Cowboys and Indians in the yard.
The memories are a bit fuzzy and golden with age. I remember more of the good and less of the bad. I remember the cleanliness and order of the home, the cool wood floors and the shaggy aqua carpet. I remember the wall paper in the kitchen, decorated with pictures of fanciful boutiques.
I remember eating Papa’s homemade rhubarb jam at the kitchen table that boasted an eating surface made entirely of glass. How enchanting that table seemed to me. It was like the table in Alice in wonderland through which a shrunken Alice saw the all important key. The tragedy of being able to see your heart’s desire but being unable to reach it was not lost on me.
I remember the sun room that served as the bedroom for my brother and me on those summer nights. We would lie on the perfect sofas, full of swirling colors and patterns from the 60s and listen to Alice and Wonderland on the record player as we were falling asleep.
I said goodbye to my grandmother at her funeral on a frigid Wisconsin winter day. I felt like I wanted to say goodbye to her home as well, which contained most of my memories of her. My husband drove me to 921 Humbolt Ave. Grammy had sold it years before, but I was surprised by how different it looked. Sure, it was surrounded with snow rather than all the greens and reds and oranges of summer. But it just wasn’t as beautiful as I remembered it. And there was a hot tub outback were Grammy’s cucumbers used to grow! Was it that my memories were just better than reality…or had the place really changed so much under new ownership? One thing was clear to me; I could never physically return to the place that had brought me such joy. I could never relive the memories in that house of the people who were so dear. I felt a grief flood my soul at the irrevocable loss.
I felt a similar grief and bewilderment when I drove past the childhood home of my father after his passing. I had wonderful memories of that little house as well, the home of my Grandmother and Grandfather Beyer. The yard was like a fairy wonderland, full of trees and ferns and mosses, dotted with bird seed for the always welcomed feathered friends. The inside was always exactly the same. Every piece of furniture, every old and charming knickknack, just where it had been the last visit, always polished and dusted. The only change I remember over the years was the addition of a large TV the sat on the floor. My brother and I thought we had hit the jackpot as we watched the early years of MTV on that TV.
Grandfather always had to show us some wildlife slides, play a classical piece on his record player, or read us the Robert Louis Stevenson poem about how the robin ate the “fellar raw.” He would always let out a loud chuckle after he read that line. Grandmother wanted to sit on the sofa with us and read Snip, Snap, and Snur.
Their kitchen always smelled like coffee and contained one of my favorite treats…malted milk tablets. The upstairs had beds for all of us, a strange bath tub, and a little kitchen that we never used. We visited during the Thanksgiving holiday each year. I remember my mom addressing what seemed to be hundreds of Christmas cards, spread out over their living room.
When we drove past the home after my father’s internment, I was shocked at what I saw. The yard had been cleared of most of the trees and looked barren. The house was tiny and rather unpleasant. What had happened to the 75 Prospect Street that I remembered. It was gone forever…and I mourned that loss.
But are they truly gone? Need we mourn when something beautiful on this earth passes away, or is destroyed, or is changed beyond recognition? I found a lovely picture of hope in The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis. It is one of my favorite books containing one of my favorite descriptions of heaven. The Pevensie children, along with their Narnian companions, find themselves in a beautiful land after Narnia had been destroyed. They grieved for their beloved land, but they began to notice that this new place was oddly familiar.
“Kings and Queens,” he (Farsight the Eagle) cried, “we have all been blind. We are only beginning to see where we are. From up there I have seen it all – Ettinsmuir, Beaversdam, the Great River, and Cair Paravel still shining on the edge of the Eastern Sea. Narnia is not dead. This is Narnia.”…
“The Eagle is right,” said the Lord Digory. “Listen Peter. When Aslan said you could never go back to Narnia, he meant the Narnia you were thinking of. But that was not the real Narnia. That had a beginning and an end. It was only a shadow or a copy of the real Narnia which has always been here and always will be here: just as our own world, England and all, is only a show or copy of something in Aslan’s real world. You need not mourn over Narnia, Lucy.”
I believe that it is true. We need not mourn over what we lose here in the shadow lands. All that is stunning and marvelous and true and real and loved in this world will be healed and restored and renewed and made to be all that it was intended to be from the beginning. All that is precious to us in this life is being kept safe for us in the “real” life that we will someday enter into, if we trust Jesus to take us there.
Then we will say, like the noble Unicorn in Narnia, “I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now.”
We will hear Aslan (Jesus) say, “The term is over: the holidays have begun!”
And it will be a holiday full of sights, sounds, aromas, and tastes that are as familiar as being home for Christmas, cozy and surrounded by family. Yet they will be brighter, fuller, more majestic, and more magnificent than anything we had ever imagined. After millions and millions of years, the wonder of it all will still be fresh and new. All mourning will be long forgotten and our joy will be everlasting!