After a life spent wandering from place to place in service of the church, my wife, kids, and I now live an hour from Cane Ridge, the very spot where our movement began. For four years we’ve called Kentucky home. I’ll always long for the Caribbean, always feel like moving after a year or two, always think the only real mountains in this world are the Sangre de Cristos.
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That summer I read Whitman, played bocce and drank beer with my grandfather, sat on the front porch and had conversations with my grandmother, dug fence posts, watered his pear trees, built a retaining wall, linseed oiled the wood on the adobe house, drove up to Chaco canyon to tour the ruins. I worked the land every day: hoeing, weeding, watering the trees. Both my grandfather and I ignored the hard fact that his pear orchard was a chimera. They never produced fruit; and, now, they are not there. But it was a lesson in tending a plot of land, in living in a place with a contentious history, in learning how to be both of these United States and something other.
If Dad longed for anything, though, it was Italy. He didn’t share much with us, however. His mother died of cancer while he was in college. Childhood memories were hard. And, though his dad remarried, his mother wasn’t there to pass-on family history, to tell us stories of his childhood. When the family gathered, however, siblings would reminisce. Most had to do with “the family mission,” like how he, his siblings, and his cousins torched a roadside shrine in some northern Italian village, thinking they were advancing the cause of Christ.
“Chaos is not uncommon in a big family. During a televised football game at one of the many Thanksgiving holidays we spent at Smithover, my older brother surprised us all during the half time show. He pulled out his shotgun (safely, but without warning) and struck a buck from our back deck, out of nowhere. The younger kids jumped for joy. Once the gun was locked away, they ran to inspect the kill. It was not a customary family event. One of my cousins left with her young child and did not return on that trip. But she did eventually return. Your family can really turn you off…but it always amazes me how you come back home for the holidays. That is the beauty of family. They say you can’t pick your family….but I sure would pick mine if I had the chance.”