Photo: Sorbie Farm, Salem, OH, Hanna Family Archives (circa 1958)
It was a day, her uncle said, more beautiful than it had any right to be. A single room church, an almost forgotten plot of land caught between farm and forest. Here, where the stories of families are re-membered as returned to the earth. Returned to this place they called home. And here is the only story of Pop I will ever be able to touch. He would have liked you, she said. But this family became mine much too late for that.
Rolling hills a thousand shades of summer green. A blue sky threatening to swallow the world. And I am still undone by these Midwest skies, blurring the distance between heaven and earth, becoming lost in this desire unsure of which way it flows. If we let it this sky will hold my world and my life, the joy and weight of this day. An Ohio day. Its feel, its taste and smell, lingers on skin. A long drive out of town looking for an unmarked gravel road. I know, my wife said, how to get there. This is my childhood.
My Ohio will always be I do’s and fireworks, “Happy Birthday!” sideways rain and sirens. 12 years earlier, a weekend of much too much. But this is how you meet everyone at once. The Farm overflowing with family, extended and unrelated by anything other than that place. Which is to say by so much more. She likes you, Gram said, so I do, too. And I was home. But still. Lost luggage and a quiet cigarette behind the barn, a moment to escape. I was the new one from California. Still to be tested. Drama, love, resentments lingering, hands that comforted and cared, not yet known—this wasn’t yet my family, at least not in those ways. So much to learn about what was really all there. Drive with me, my brother said, into town. Although is he now also my ex? My ex-brother? Was he then my just not-yet-ex brother-in-law?
Family is not always what is simply given. It is the hard work of all these histories, histories folded into our bodies as the places we make home. And so we become, through all these others, the practices and rituals of place as the inheritance of ourselves. Given not by birth or blood, these are the bodies and lives we become in the choices we call love.
A month before that day we made the drive to say goodbye, one last time, in person, before it will always and only be in memory. The Farm was sold a few years ago. Has she already returned there? Or has she always only been on the Farm with Pop? I am not sure she knows my name. Disappeared into a sadness I cannot imagine. Memories drift, do not stay, cannot make sense of this place or time that is not home. And then she is here again. With us. Love her, she says, always.