I started writing The Little House Essays over a dozen years ago. I don’t know why it’s taken me all this time to share it. Maybe because it’s hard to bare my soul; maybe because I had a difficult time believing that my story was worth telling. Either way, I’m sharing it now as my self-doubt has turned to the belief that each and every one of us has a story worthy of sharing. In order to appreciate the following “Little House Essays”, a point of reference is needed. This is the Before Story. The events in this story took place one month before I moved to the little house and spent a year of getting my life back. A year that I refer to as a sacred year of the soul.
THE WAY BACK HOME
By Melodie Lane
It was the Monday morning following Thanksgiving break, 2008. After spending the week at the home of my sister Pam and her husband Jim in Rochester, New York, I was enjoying my last chance to sleep in before flying back to Minneapolis the next day. I heard the overhead garage door shut after Pam and Jim left for work, and I lingered in bed pondering my life situation…
Up until four months ago, I had been living in Texas with my husband of 17 years. From the outside looking in, we appeared to have an idyllic life – spending summers and autumns at a beautiful lake home in northern Minnesota; and wintering in Texas at another home in the prized Hill Country. We both owned our own businesses, which had allowed us a lifestyle to travel, play ample amounts of golf, and entertain friends and family in both places throughout the year. Most of them were surprised when I told them in August that he and I had separated.
I hadn’t seen it coming either, but looking back over the past ten years the signs had been there all along. Other than entertaining friends and playing golf, the two of us had little in common – not enough to sustain friendship and intimacy, least of all a sense of belonging, of partnership, of home. The distance between us had grown too wide to ignore. Once I woke up to this realization, my options seemed clear: live with it, fix it, or leave. Option One was not an option for me, as I believe life is too short to live it half-heartedly. Option Two: when I suggested we go to marriage counseling, he quickly ruled that out.
“Counseling isn’t my thing,” he said, “Besides, marriage isn’t supposed to be happy. This is good enough for me”
His words stunned me. I believed in happiness. I believed in love. The fact that he wasn’t willing to work on our relationship left me feeling like the responsibility was all mine, so I found my own counselor. Using her guidance, I made attempts to reconnect with my husband, to find some common ground. But these efforts typically ended with both of us feeling frustrated and me in tears. The disconnection between us continued to worsen until we had reached an impasse.
An unexpected job offer for a temporary position in Minneapolis, gave me an opportunity to take a break from the daily stress of our relationship and, I hoped, a chance for us to gain some perspective. I accepted the job for four months.
During the four months of working in Minneapolis, I lived with my friend Patty. It was her friendship and compassion, along with the support of friends and family, that provided me with the true meaning of “home.” Home is less about a building and more about a sense of feeling safe, secure, loved, and respected, something I had not felt for a long time in either of the homes I shared with my husband. However, the blame did not rest solely on him; my personal sense of home was missing – home in the sense of loving and accepting myself as I am. Questions about my worth and purpose had been challenging me for over twenty years, ever since I learned that I couldn’t bear children, which had been the primary catalyst in ending my first marriage. I had found the help of a great counselor at that time, too, and I thought I had my life all figured out. (I know. I know.) But here I was again, searching for answers, searching for that elusive sense of home.
So, back to that December morning in Rochester…. As I lingered in bed looking out the window, I thought about my personal quest to pursue my sense of self and home, but the “answers” seemed no clearer to me than they had four months ago. I struggled with the guilt and grief of leaving a relationship that was supposedly “good enough” for him, but so unhappy and unfulfilling for me. Was wanting life to be better such a bad thing?
Perhaps the sunshine of this morning would provide me some answers and dissipate some of the sadness I was feeling for what was looking to be another failed marriage. With a sense of hope, I unfolded myself from the bed covers and pulled on long underwear, wool socks, and a pair of old gray sweatpants. I added a cotton turtleneck and fleeced sweatshirt to battle the 30-something degrees of Rochester and decided to skip the most important meal of the day. I padded down the stairs in my stocking feet and headed straight to the door where I laced up my tennis shoes, pulled on my headband and mittens and patted Calvin, their aging black lab, assuring him I would be back soon. He didn’t bother raising his head.
I stepped out the front door, feeling free and unburdened from the rituals required for a typical Monday morning of work – a shower, makeup, and my usual bowl of oatmeal. I was about to go back in and grab my cell phone, but decided against it. This morning I wanted to be unplugged and undisturbed. My planned route was the same one my sister and I had taken yesterday – a one-hour loop through a tall section of woods that began at a small neighborhood park at the end of their block. It followed the edge of a local golf course and circled back through the same woods where it began.
Two suburban blocks later, before entering the trail into the woods, I sat for a few moments on my nephew Carl’s bench, a memorial for Pam and Jim’s 21-year old son who died unexpectedly from a rare heart condition a few years earlier. The bench had become a sacred place and sitting there was a ritual for members of our family. After offering a silent prayer, I stood up and headed into the woods.
As I walked along the tree-lined trail, I concentrated on the singing birds and the squirrels chattering in the trees. Since the golf course was close by, I also kept my eye out for any golf balls that had made their way into the undergrowth from the nearby tee box. After about 15 minutes I reached the little league baseball field and leaned against the left field fence – another brief ritual to honor Carl, who used to play ball.
From here I ventured out onto the open fairway and walked across the golf course to the top of a grassy knoll. There wasn’t a soul on the course but me, which made sense since it was November and 30-some degrees. Feeling uninhibited, I spread my arms out and upward, tilted my head back toward the blue sky, and turned circles like a young child. As I was suddenly possessed by my eight-year-old self, I then laid down at the top of that grassy knoll and rolled all the way down to the bottom. Not the smartest idea. You know that feeling in your head after you get off of a roller coaster? It took a few minutes for my brain to stop spinning before I could stand up again and proceed on my hike.
After about fifteen more minutes of walking inbetween two fairways, I made sure to veer near the edge of the woods so I could catch the path back to the park. It hadn’t seemed this far yesterday…. Had I missed it? I stopped and looked behind me, and for a second considered retracing my steps back to the ball field; but my inner mantra this morning was about moving forward in life – not backwards. I continued walking along the edge of the golf course, looking for the familiarity of my sister’s neighborhood. After another hill and fairway, I still hadn’t located the trail. My inner GPS, however, was telling me that Pam and Jim’s house was somewhere close by, so I kept walking in the same direction.
Fast forward about an hour – yep, I was still walking on the golf course. I considered cutting through the back yard of one of the houses abutting the green, but the neighborhood looked nothing like theirs. How could I have missed it? Undaunted, I continued along the outer perimeter to the end of the current fairway and faced the back of a large public building. It had a playground with a life-sized, multi-colored elephant for children to climb on. I resisted the temptation and traversed to the front of the brick structure, the Education Building at St. John Fisher College. Thank God. This was actually a familiar landmark, as it was on our weekly route to Wegman’s grocery store. I tried to remember which way we took to get home from here but I hadn’t paid enough attention. Change of course. Even though my original intention was to take a nature hike, I concluded I’d have better luck finding my way home via the paved streets. I crossed to the other side of the busy road in order to face traffic as I looked for Pam and Jim’s street. At the next two intersections my opportunities to turn off were thwarted with street signs reading, “No outlet”. I was starting to feel uncomfortable with the direction – or non-direction – this hike was taking me. I just wanted to be back home – even if it was only a temporary one.
After walking a few blocks, I decided that the golf course was my largest known landmark, so I better stay close to it. I turned right on the next street with an outlet, Clubhouse Drive. Noticing a lady walking her sweatered gray schnauzer, I approached her for directions.
“Excuse me.” I said in my most Minnesota-friendly tone. “I think I’ve gotten myself lost. Do you happen to know where this golf course connects to the baseball field and the walking path through the park?”
“Not really…” she responded slowly. She actually looked more puzzled than me.
“Well, thanks anyway,” I smiled with a nonchalant chuckle. “I’m sure I’ll find my way back home eventually.”
Schnauzer Lady continued walking her dog, and I continued walking through the neighborhood to find a yard that would give me access back to the golf course. Choosing the friendliest looking house, one with decorative white shutters, green plants in the windows, and a manicured lawn – I cautiously cut through the front yard and into the back yard hoping there were no attack dogs. To reach the fairway I had to cross over their decorative bridge surrounding the homemade moat, which was most likely constructed to discourage people like me from trespassing. Once more I was back on the course.
Although I wore no watch, I calculated I had now been walking for about two hours. Nothing looked vaguely familiar. I guess it was time to declare myself officially lost. Silently, I chastised myself for not bringing my cell phone so I could call Pam or Jim or, better yet, look up directions.
“Keep moving forward,” I said to myself. “If you stay on the golf course, you’re bound to find the baseball field and the path that leads you back home …”
Nope. One hour later, no baseball field. No path. No home.
The fairways had become soggy from the day’s snow melt, so I chose my footing carefully. Then, lo and behold, I sighted a greens keeper on his tractor mower. Getting up my “this-is-going-to-be-slightly-embarrassing” nerve, I waved to Mower Man who smiled with a cigarette dangling from his mouth. Approaching the side of his tractor mower, I declared, “I think I’ve gotten myself lost. Do you happen to know where this golf course connects to the baseball field and the walking trail through the park?”
Mower Man didn’t say anything for an uncomfortable 10 seconds. Then I realized he didn’t speak any English. He smiled at me awkwardly and pointed in the direction of another greens keeper on a larger mower, which was now moving in reverse toward the two of us.
“I’m lost!” I yelled over the sound of the engine, like I had just won an award for traveler of the year. I repeated my script about the ball field, the trail in the woods, and, out of nervousness, threw in an unnecessary detail about visiting my sister from out of state.
“Oh,” he replied looking upward for a few seconds. “Ya know . . . there’s a ball field over at St. John Fisher College.”
“I’m pretty sure that’s not the one,” I replied. I hadn’t recalled seeing any college logos at Carl’s baseball field.
“Okay…the only other ball field connected to this course is the one at Allendale Columbia Elementary School,” he said. Then, making large arm gestures from the seat of his tractor mower, he directed, “If you follow this straight line and head diagonally across three fairways, you’ll run right into it.”
At last, someone who was giving me solid directions. With relief and a smile, I thanked him profusely and headed that direction, looking back occasionally to make sure my diagonal was following a straight line. Three fairways later, however, I ran right into a wall of a chain-linked fence that blocked the intended path and enclosed the entire end of this side of the golf course. This was becoming embarrassing.
I flipped a mental coin and turned right along the fence until it ended in a residential neighborhood. From there I ventured off the course through a cute little gated backyard in search of a human who could help me find my way back home. I avoided stopping at a pink house with peeling paint and five assorted vehicles parked in the driveway and stuck to the sidewalk for about twenty minutes. Then I spotted another pink house…wait a minute! Did I just walk in a complete circle? My eyes searched for the street sign. Yep. Circle Drive. Is it really too much to ask for a street with an outlet, for God’s sake?
Then I spotted a man wearing some sort of official-looking vest walking up to the neighboring residence. Not wanting to frighten him with my soggy shoes and the muddy hem of my sweatpants, I casually walked up to him with an “I’m-not-really-a-vagrant” smile on my face.
“Are you a postman by any chance?” I asked hopefully.
“No, Ma’am, I’m the meter reader,” he replied with a hint of wariness.
His occupation still offered me a ray of hope.
“Perhaps you can help me,” I began. “I’m lost. You see, I’m not from around here. I’m visiting my sister . . . (yada, yada, yada) and I’m looking for a ball field at the edge of a–”
Just then I spotted a UPS truck. Wait! A UPS man is required to know exactly where he is and where he’s going, right?
“Never mind,” I waved, dumping Meter Man like a bad blind date.
Going to the driver’s side of the brown truck, I stated once again, “I’m lost! I’m not from around here.” Trying to be more specific, I added, “I’m looking for my sister’s house on… (what was their address?) “On Cromwell Drive!” I blurted.”
His eyes looked upward in The Thinker’s pose, but he shook his head and said, “Sorry.”
I placed my hands on the edge of the open window and asked, “Don’t you have a GPS or something?” perhaps a little too desperately.
He shook his head again and looked at me like I was a crazy woman. Perhaps my lack of makeup and bedhead hair was more frightening than I thought. He shifted gears and, not so politely, shrugged me off like a street person. He must have been on a tight schedule.
At this point I strongly considered resorting to my standby solution for dealing with highly stressful situations – sitting down and crying my head off. Perhaps a compassionate suburban soul would take pity on me and give me a ride home. But from recent past experience, I knew hysterical sobbing held no solution for my present dilemma. So mustering up my best “I-can-handle-this” attitude, I headed back towards the nearest fairway. Just when I thought the day was going to be a total loss, I spotted a white Titleist golf ball at the edge of the course. I picked up the free treasure, put it in my pocket, and once again continued walking.
Having lost all of my original enthusiasm, I began talking to myself, “Just keep moving forward, Melodie.” My stomach growled, reminding me that I had neglected to eat breakfast. It must be time for lunch by now.
One more fairway, one sand trap, and one green later, I came upon a maintenance building with a golf cart parked in front – its motor running. A sign of life, thank God. Maintenance Man appeared.
Sounding very close to obnoxious whining, I said in an exasperated voice, “I’m lost.” You know the rest of the details . . . I’m not from around here, the ball field, the trail in the woods, my out-of-state status, and, I added, “I didn’t bring my cell phone with me.”
“Do you mean the ball field at St. John Fisher College?” he asked?
(Are you kidding me?) “Uh, no,” I replied, rolling my eyes.
“Well,” he said, “You must mean the field at Allendale Columbia Elementary School. You’re not too far away at all. Just follow this paved cart path and you’ll come right to the ball field and the school.”
This was the second person to mention the Allendale ball field, which I took as a good sign.
“You can’t miss it,” he added.
And I didn’t miss it.
It just wasn’t the right baseball field.
I mustered up more self-encouragement. At least I was on my way to an elementary school. There would be friendly people there – with computers that could access a map. Perhaps some kindergartner could Google my sister’s address to get me back home. I plodded around the field, into the front parking lot in search of the main entrance. Two Custodian Guys were loading up a pickup truck. Rather than bother them, however, I headed for the double doors where I hoped to plead my case to a nice school secretary. The doors were locked tight – not a surprise at this point.
Back to Custodian Guy One.
“Excuse me. I’m lost.” (the park, ball field, golf course, blah, blah, blah.) “By the way, do you happen to know what time it is?”
Flipping his phone open, he replied, “Almost noon.”
Noon? Three and a half hours of walking? I’m not in shape for this kind of exercise.
“I’m looking for my sister’s home on Cromwell Drive,” I said trying to remain calm.
“What’s the cross street?” he asked.
“Maybe Washington Street? I’m not sure. You see. I’m not from around here.”
“Neither am I,” he said. (Of course not.) “But I’ll see if Mr. Garrett knows. He’s the principal.” He opened up his flip phone again and used it like a walkie-talkie to inform Mr. Garrett that he had a “lost lady” looking for Cromwell Drive. I couldn’t hear Mr. Garrett’s exact response, but Custodian Guy responded back to the phone, “She’s not from around here.”
He flipped his phone shut and reported, “Mr. Garrett is on his way down.”
At last. Educated assistance. One of the first lessons I was taught in kindergarten had been “Principals are your pals.” I knew it would come in handy one day.
“Thank you SO much for helping me,” I gushed to Custodian Guy.
“Well, I really didn’t do anything,” he admitted.
“You got me to the next step,” I said, relieved.
Mr. Garrett appeared through the double doors. After a brief discussion about my dilemma, I learned that he also served as a volunteer fireman and knew exactly where Cromwell Drive was.
Like a street cop directing traffic, he began… “You’re going to go out of our parking lot and take a right onto this busy road. Take a left at the next light. Then take a right on Blah Blah Blah Street.” He was starting to lose me. “At the next light take a left onto Buford. The next street is Cromwell Drive.”
“Hmmm… Buford doesn’t sound familiar,” I said with a puzzled look on my face.
“Well, I know these streets like the back of my hand. You’re not very far from Cromwell.”
“Okay,” I replied. What choice did I have anyway?
Trying to lighten the moment, I added, “But if I can’t find it, I’m coming back here for a ride!” Custodian Guy and Mr. Principal/Fireman chuckled nervously. Neither looked enthused about giving me a ride anywhere.
Once more, I set out on the next leg of what was now my personal episode of “Lost.” Out of the school parking lot, past classrooms where kids and teachers were wondering why that lady in the muddy gray sweatpants was tramping along their campus. (Don’t worry, kids. I mean no harm.)
Feeling renewed energy, my pace picked up a little. I got to the first stoplight and waited for it to turn green. But an unsettling thought was worming its way into my no-breakfast-and-walking-for-almost-four-hours head. My brain was trying to pull up data from an old file. The light turned green and I stepped into the crosswalk. Then I stopped dead in my tracks.
“You, idiot,” I declared. “It’s Cranswick! Pam and Jim live on Cranswick Lane—not Cromwell Drive.” Cromwell was their previous address from… oh, about twenty years ago. Perhaps if I had written them more often, I would have remembered that.
Geesh. What now?
There was only one thing I could do – walk back to the elementary school, admit my stupidity and plead for directions from Mr. Principal/Fireman – again.
Back onto the campus I slogged, past the windows full of the faces of curious kindergarteners, and back to the gymnasium. Thankfully, Custodian Guy and Mr. Principal/Fireman were still standing inside the locked double doors. I tapped on the glass and waved at them sheepishly. They looked out at me like, “You don’t really expect one of us to give you a lift home.”
Nevertheless, they opened the magic doors and allowed me to enter.
“It’s Cranswick,” I said dejectedly. “Cranswick Lane. Not Cromwell Drive.”
They both looked at me like I had early dementia and if they should call a hospital.
Remembering more, I continued, “And I think the cross street is Washington.”
Mr. Principal/Fireman took the lead. “Cranswick Lane … hmmm … that’s not anywhere in my district. Is it in Fairport or Pittsford?”
“It’s in Rochester. I don’t know the suburb or whatever you call it here in the northeast,” I said dejectedly, sounding like a complete buffoon.
“Remember, Mr. Garrett, she isn’t from around here,” remarked Custodian Guy softly. I think he felt sorry for me.
“I’m not even from this state!” I said, feeling the need to defend my intelligence and my sanity.
Mr. Principal/Fireman got on his walkie-talkie and called another fireman to ask about the location of Cranswick Lane. Mr. Phone Fireman Guy apparently started Googling the street. Precisely what I would have done – had I brought my cell phone.
Flipping his phone shut after getting Fireman/Google Guy’s directions, Mr. Principal/Fireman began rattling, “Okay. You’re still going to take a right out of our parking lot onto the busy street. It eventually turns into 31F. At the fork in the road, stay straight.”
“Straight.” I repeated slowly, my eyes starting to glaze over.
“Then you’re going to take a right at the next light. Go underneath the expressway and take another right. That’s Washington Street. You’re going to cross over the expressway that you just crossed under. Go one more block and you should be at Cranswick Lane.”
“Okay”… I said doubtfully, not trusting anything at this point, especially myself. “But I don’t remember ever crossing over or under any expressway. Let me make sure I have this right. Out of the school, I take a right. Then I go straight at the fork. Then right. Then I take another right. Then right again.” (Sounds like one of those damn circle streets to me.)
Once more I set out past the windows of distracted learners, out of the paved parking lot, looking for 31F. By now, I was hangry, tired, and wondering how I EVER ended up here – wherever the hell I was. The fork at 31F ended up being about two miles away. By the time I reached it, a light mist had started to fall. But, hey, what did I care at this point? When I got to the pigeon-poopy underpass, I considered taking a break and sitting down on the concrete ramp. I could contemplate the day, my life, or just continue to feel this sense of homelessness.
But I persisted. After another long stretch of road, I came to an intersection that looked familiar. Washington Street. I turned right, crossing over the expressway. I picked up my pace. The street sign on the corner was coming into sight … Cranswick Lane (aka Cromwell.) Dear, sweet, Mother of God, I had made it. I started jogging like Jimmy Stewart at the end of “It’s a Wonderful Life”.
“Hello, Cranswick Lane! Hello, Pam and Jim’s house! Thank you, Clarence!” (But I digress.)
Five hours from the time I had set out for a leisurely nature walk, I let myself inside their home and patted Calvin the dog, who looked like he hadn’t changed positions since I left and seemed baffled at my excitement in seeing him.
After shedding my wet clothes and a nice hot shower, I relaxed and waited for Pam and Jim to get home. Over dinner and wine, I related the odyssey of being lost. Embarrassing as it is to admit, they informed me that there were three different golf courses in their neighborhood, and the original baseball field actually did belong to St. John Fisher College. Go figure.
As I lay in bed that night I suddenly remembered the golf ball I had found. I retrieved it from the pocket of my sweat pants that still lay discarded on the floor, and inspected it more closely. Imprinted above its “Celebrate Rochester” logo was the term, “Meliora.” I Googled the definition on my phone. After reading it, I knew my life was on the right path – the way back home – to myself.
Meliora ~ n. “better things”, “ever better” or, more fully, “for the pursuit of the better”…
~ While the past may be comfortably familiar, we cannot return to it. We can only remember it, hopefully with compassion and kindness.
~ Our path may require many detours before we find our way to…well, there is no ultimate destination; only the journey in between.
~ As we go through difficult times and find ourselves in unknown territory, sometimes the only thing to do is put one foot in front of the other.
~ Although we humans try to chart our lives very carefully, almost all of us have experienced or will go through a time when we feel hopelessly and thoroughly lost. With faith, determination, and a lot of help from others, we will find our way back home.