ALMOST HOME

 cover

It’s late on a Sunday afternoon and I’m backing a rental car full of teenagers into a tight space in the sprawling parking lot of MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. A guy wearing a Rolling Stones baseball cap and talking on a cell phone is using his free hand to motion me back, back, back, stop! The moment I step out of the car it’s as if I’m surrounded by friends. I’m greeted by tailgaters in shorts and tank tops who are barbecuing Italian sausage while tossing Frisbees and footballs. It’s 90 degrees and sunny on the acres of blacktop surrounding America’s largest pro football stadium, but everyone is friendly. We share something in common – we have come to see Coldplay kick off its North American tour.

1

There is nothing quite like a summertime, big-stadium concert in the Northeast. The traffic, the heat, and the sheer size of the crowd and venue are all part of it. My kids have been looking forward to this for months. So have I. But when I purchased the tickets back in the spring I had no idea that our move to Connecticut would take place on the same weekend.

Conventional thinking would have argued for selling the tickets. But the older I get the less interest I have in conventional. This post is about daring, adventure, and change.

Leaving an 1860 farm in Virginia to return to Connecticut is a monumental move. It’s also a ton – and I mean ton – of work. For the past two months, we’ve been simultaneously packing and renovating our farmhouse in Virginia. We’ve been living out of suitcases. Last week we rented a 26-foot moving truck. Rather than hire a moving company, we decided to do it ourselves.

2

I admit I was a little intimidated by the size of the truck. When I first got behind the wheel I felt like I was navigating a ship. Then there was the business of loading. But one of the best aspects of living in a rural southern town these past nine years has been the salt-of-the-earth friends we’ve met. One of them is Randy Stinnett. He offered to help.

Randy and I both turned 50 this year. He’s a Red Sox fan. He’s also one of those guys who can fix anything with nothing. There are few people on the planet I enjoy talking with more than him.

At around 5 p.m. Randy showed up at our place with his son and his son-in-law to load the truck. He brought along a cooler full of Dr. Pepper, a stack of pizzas, and a tool box full of wrenches, ratchets and sockets. After downing slices of pepperoni and cheese, Randy dissembled beds and furniture while the rest of us hauled and hauled and hauled items from the house to the truck. It was so humid that when we set a wooden table on the driveway for more than a few minutes we needed a squeegee to get the moisture off the surface.

Randy and his son

By 10 p.m. we were so tired that we were barely standing. Randy and I were up in the truck when my kids spotted headlights coming down our long, tree-lined driveway. A pickup truck approached and the driver rolled down his window.

“Need any help?” he said with a smile.

It was 62-year-old Wayne Mace, the building contractor who has overseen the renovations we’ve been making to our home. Wayne’s another local that I have spent hours and hours talking with. I love this guy. My whole family does. And when he stepped out of his truck and started handing boxes to us, I felt like I was in the closing scene of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” when friends show up to rescue Jimmy Stewart and his family.

The next morning, Lydia and Clara Belle stayed behind to clean our empty home while Clancy, Maggie and I set out for Connecticut. Our first close call was squeezing the truck between the tall pines on our farm.

4

But that was a piece of cake compared to navigating over the George Washington Bridge and through New York City. Here’s a little video my son shot of us going through Manhattan.

It took 12 hours to reach our new home in Connecticut. Since we haven’t closed yet, we had to unload the truck into two garage bays on the property. My brother and one of my closest friends in Connecticut are beasts. My brother single-handedly carried dressers, bureaus, and appliances off the truck. Here is a picture of him lugging a freezer.

6

The entire truck was unloaded in 48 minutes!

7

The next morning, I rented a car and headed to New York City for a cyber encounter. For the past 18 months, my 16-year-old son has been communicating online via Skype with a couple of girls that he met through Minecraft. One of them, Kaya, lives in Canada. The other one, Izzy, is from Chicago.

I had been suggesting for a long time that they figure out a way to meet in person. Coldplay ended up being the ticket. All three of them love the band. The girls convinced their parents to purchase concert tickets and fly with them to New York and meet up with Clancy.

I spoke with the girls’ mothers by telephone and we agreed to meet in Times Square on the night before the concert. As we made our way toward the Cold Stone Creamery on 42nd Street, I sensed my son’s apprehension. What will this be like?

Kaya and Izzy were dancing on the crowded sidewalk when we came upon them. They insisted Clancy join them. They instantly hit it off. It was as if they’d been neighbors for years.

Clancy, Izzy and Kaya at NBC Studio.

The girls’ mothers were super friendly. We spent the evening in Bryant Park, getting to know each other while our children hung out. “You hear all these horror stories about people who meet online,” I told them. “Meeting you and your daughters has been a wonderful experience. I’m so glad you trusted my son enough to come to New York and meet us.”

Agnes, me and Lucia

The next day was Sunday. While Clancy bummed around Manhattan with his friends and their mothers, I spent the day with Maggie. We went to mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue, where I took the opportunity to tell her about my grandmother’s lifelong commitment to Catholicism. But my grandfather never went to church. My grandfather was a war veteran who would give the shirt off of his back to a homeless man or stop his car to rescue a wounded animal. Yet the greatest man I ever knew didn’t feel worthy to be in the company of church people. He never felt like he quite measured up. The pews of all churches would be a lot more crowded if there were less judgment and more acceptance.

Then we ducked into a bookstore and I bought this card for Lydia.

10

On the way to MetLife Stadium, we picked up Maggie’s friend from Connecticut – Alex Chambers.

Maggie and Alex

Inside the stadium I looked up at a jet flying overhead and thought to myself: I can’t believe I’m here. We are really going back to Connecticut.

While I was lost in thought Chris Martin introduced special guest Michael J. Fox, who played two tracks from the “Back to the Future” soundtrack.

 Michael J. Fox and Chris Martin perform “Johnny Be Good.”​

By the time Coldplay launched into “Sky Full of Stars,” I was on my feet, bouncing up and down beside my son and daughter and their friends as fireworks lit up the stadium.

In a sky full of stars, I think I see you.

I felt so young, so alive.

You’re a sky full of stars. I wanna die in your arms.

I felt connected to my kids.

You get lighter the more it gets dark. I’m gonna give you my heart.

We’re going home.

end

 

PrintEmail

FEELING GRATEFUL

cover wide

A few years ago I received a phone call from Sheri Dew, the publisher and CEO of
the Deseret Book Company. She reads my blog and suggested it might make for an inspiring book to expand some of the blog posts I’d written about people who had wrestled with pain, loss, and hardship. She didn’t suggest any specific storylines or even offer a general outline. It was more of a hunch or gut feeling.

Continue Reading

PrintEmail

SELLING THE FARM

1

We are selling Rockspring Farm.

That’s a line I never thought I’d write. In fact, when I telephoned my mother to give her the news she was literally speechless. I thought my cell phone had cut out. Then she finally whispered, “I never imagined you’d leave that place.”

Continue Reading

PrintEmail

WE’RE NOT GAY, BUT …

1e

You’re about to read a partial transcript from a private phone conversation between a college senior and her mother. The call took place just a couple weeks ago from the campus where I teach. It began like this:

“Mom, do you promise me that you will still talk to me and still love me if I tell you this?”

Continue Reading

PrintEmail

UP AND UP

ferris wheel

(March 21, 2016) It’s late at night and I’m standing beside the stage at the Neptune Theater in Seattle. Other than a few roadies packing up guitars, the hall has emptied. Lydia and I are waiting for David Crosby to emerge from his dressing room after his two-hour acoustic performance. For my 50th birthday he had arranged tickets and backstage passes for us and four friends.

Continue Reading

PrintEmail