South central Iowa is the home of my people. By that I mean that both my mother and my father were raised there. Although we moved quite often and always lived some distance from the area that they called home, we visited nearly every year. As a result, that area of the country became something like home for me as well.
I looked forward to being back in Iowa most summers. And when we lived in Omaha, we were able to spend Christmas with our relatives as well. I didn’t have many cousins my age, but it didn’t matter. When we visited we were treated like royalty. Many of my uncles and aunts farmed. For a city kid, doing some simple chores like gathering eggs or ‘helping’ in some other way was a treat. The only thing better was chasing fireflies on hot Iowa nights while the adults talked, and then having an older cousin make a firefly ring for me. If you don’t know what that is, you probably shouldn’t ask.
A few weeks ago, my husband and I had the privilege of being in Iowa again for a wedding. My elderly parents rode with us. He and I would likely make the 7 hour trip with only a quick stop for gas. But my parents needed a little longer break so we stopped for gas and a sit-down meal, joking that we had to “walk the parents.” They thought that was funny too.
Going to Iowa with my parents is fun. They point out landmarks and memories that we would not know to look for. They showed us where my dear Uncle James and Aunt Nelly are buried – a small, out of the way country cemetery. They pointed out where the old school house used to stand near my Grandpa’s farm. In short, they helped me remember things I had long since forgotten.
And that in itself is interesting because my Dad has dementia. There is not much he remembers these days. But he remembered ‘home.’ At least to some extent.
The most precious moment of the trip however was not what I expected. I expected it to be the wedding which was very precious. I couldn’t get through it without tears. But the most precious time was watching my Dad with his brother.
Dad’s brother, Uncle Hank, lives in a nursing home. It is actually a beautiful place. Very clean. Nicely kept. No smells. He is 92 years old and while he is quite deaf, his mind is still fairly sharp, unlike my Dad’s.
My mom had to wake my uncle up from a nap. Perhaps because he was still groggy, or perhaps because he didn’t expect to see my Dad and Mom in Iowa, he did not immediately recognize my Dad. But that was only for a minute. Soon he and Dad were chatting away and Dad looked like Dad before dementia.
The rest of us left them alone to enjoy each other’s company. After about ½ hour, it was time for us to leave. We re-entered the room where they sat and told them it was time to go. My Dad got up and turned to Uncle Hank to say good-bye. Uncle Hank held out his hand to my Dad and tenderly said to his younger brother, “the Lord bless you, Wilbur.” Still holding my uncle’s hand my Dad said, “the Lord bless you too, Hank.”
It was as if the world stopped at that moment. I felt like I had witnessed something that went beyond words. Two old men, both deeply committed Christians, saying good-bye, perhaps realizing that they may not see each other again in the flesh. And rather than saying good-bye, or even ‘I love you’ – words so often used tritely nowadays – they bless each other.
The Celts speak of ‘thin places,’ places where the veil between heaven and earth becomes penetrable, and one can glimpse of glory of God. That little room in the nursing home on that cold November day was such a place. And I had been blessed to see it.