It is late November. I can feel the muslin shroud begin to descend over the holiday season – dulling my senses. The Christmas season is my favorite time of year and my least favorite. It is the best of times, it is the worst of times.
I can feel the tug of “the journey” begin to pull at my heart strings. December 22nd has come and gone fifteen times already; fourteen Mother’s Days and fourteen July 11ths. During the past fifteen years, I’ve made this passage dozens of times. Sometimes it was multiple excursions in a year, especially in the early years but not so much in recent times. For two years during my battle with my inner demons, my addiction, I didn’t make the trip at all; too ashamed to make an appearance on those “holy grounds”.
I travel northward, ever northward, like the snow geese above me. Passing the Canadian geese heading south with their incessant honking. Over the same pathways as before, through the barren and bleak winter countryside. Past the familiar hamlets and lakes that dot the route of PA 402 through the mountains. I pick up US 6 through Wallenpaupack and Hawley and Damascus. There is very little in the way of traffic except in the villages. Not many people are making this trek.
As I approach Narrowsburg I cross over the Delaware into New York. Sometimes it feels like I’m crossing the River Styx for nothing awaits me except for reminders of death. Nevertheless I push onward through Lava. All around is evidence of a region that is long past it’s prime: unkempt lawns, cars on blocks in the driveways, paint peeling off the ramshackle homes. Depression epitomized.
I am close. The summer camp sites that surround Lake Huntington are the harbinger that my pilgrimage is nearing its end. The three hour journey ends when I pull into the cemetery in Fosterdale. Fosterdale is so tiny a town that one would miss it if one blinked; it doesn’t amount to much more than a gas station/convenience store, a church and a flashing traffic signal. An unlikely backdrop, I admit, for this blog post but there it is. This is where she “resides” now. The car comes to a stop and I turn off the engine. Silence.
Not much has changed since last year. I remove the dried out decorations and memorials from last visit and replace them with fresh ones. No doubt they will be there next year and I will repeat this little ritual. I brush away the dead leaves. My aunt, Margaret, rests nearby. I silently pay my respects to her memory as my cousin, who has accompanied me on this trip for the past five or so years, places her Christmas memorial greens on my aunt’s resting place.
She used to live not far from here, my Mom. I can’t be sure for how long but it was long enough for me to have visited several times. The truth is, I think I’ve visited her more since her untimely passing than when she was living in the area. There was always going to be plenty of time to visit … maybe next Mother’s Day … maybe next summer … maybe next Christmas. There wasn’t going to be any more “next times” after December 22, 2000.
Honestly, there were several trips when I felt “obligated” to make the trek – six hours of traveling for a 15 minute visit – but this trip felt a little different. This time it felt as if she were saying, “It’s ok. You don’t have to do this anymore although I do appreciate the effort and the thought.”
But as I write this I feel something else. I feel that gentle tug on the heart, that flash of the memories, and I reach a place of serenity and coalescence. For as long as I am able I will make this pilgrimage to that holy place. Her memory deserves it and I need it.