I still dream about it.
Which is odd, considering I’ve lived in 3 other houses since then, and the combined years at those houses is now more than half of my life.
But, somehow, my brain still hasn’t registered that monumental change. I dream of being there, living there, never having left there. Sometimes my subconscious tries to reconcile this new life with the old one; I’ll dream that I am married and have kids, but we live in a house with obvious similarities to the Colorado one. Sometimes my parents and brothers are even there, and we all live together in that 1500-square-foot place! Or I’ll be somewhere else in my dream and I’ll think, “time to go home”, and my mind immediately conjures up images of the old house, and that’s where I head.
I even have dreams featuring certain stretches of the driveway, the county road, the highways. We spent a lot of time driving when we lived in Colorado. Living 30 minutes from Durango and 1 hour from Farmington, the two closest “real” cities, we drove a lot. We traveled 3 times a week to Durango for church, plus other trips for doctor appointments or the grocery store or the library.
I knew every part of those roads. I didn’t mind the driving. Honestly, I didn’t know anything different! It was just part of living in the country; a small price to pay. I just looked out my window, watching the familiar houses flash past, looking at the trees, the fields with their tall wheeled irrigation systems with the booms stretching out across, almost endlessly. I was pretty fascinated by those irrigation systems. The water would shoot in 30 foot arcs over the crops as the wheels slowly turned in their ruts. I remember thinking how much fun it would be to play in sprinklers like that. But, I was a bit wary of being smushed by the wheels as they were moving slowly but determinedly, driven by some motor that I couldn’t see.
I remember driving home from church at night. I sort of prided myself on knowing exactly where we were, based on the bumps and curves and hills, even with my eyes closed. It became a little game I played in my head. I would close my eyes, and as I felt each jolt or change in speed, or felt the car going up a hill, I would predict where we were, then open my eyes to see if I was right. I got really good at it. Even now, I can remember exactly what it felt like on certain stretches of the road. It was also a way to pass the time; when I felt us slowing down after about 25 minutes, I knew we were about to turn left by the big church with the green roof, then it was dirt road for a couple miles, around one sharp corner and down a big hill, and finally a slowing and a turn to the right, where we drove the last ¼ mile up the driveway, and then we were home.
So I have dreams about it. Often. And I can close my eyes and remember every bit of that drive. But I haven’t made that trip in 17 years. That’s a long time. Half of my life to this point. Will it still feel the same? Will it look like I have envisioned it? Is this a bad idea? I know it won't be as pristine and manicured as we left it. Mom and Dad came back 10 or 12 years ago, to take away the last of Dad's machinery he had been storing in the shop, renting from the new owner, and they were dismayed at the state the place was in. They told me not to come here, it would only make me sad.
Maybe it’s not really as great as I thought, and this is just going to burst my bubble and ruin my memories.
Maybe I shouldn’t go back.
A thousand questions and hesitations flood my mind as Scott slows our minivan on Highway 172.
It's almost noon, August 28th, 2018. We left our 3 kids in 3 different cities, staying with family, and we just got to Durango to stay in a hotel the night before. There are lots of activities on our agenda for the week, but this is where I wanted to go first.
I need to go here first.
Scott accepted that first item on the itinerary with no questions. What an amazing man. It was like, "hey, let's drive for 2 days to the picturesque city of Durango, but before we do ANYTHING cool there, or see any mountains, I want to take you to my old house out near the tiny, not-so-great city of Ignacio, even though I know the property and house is run-down." And he just went with it.
“Do I turn here?” he asks. I nod, trying to appear casual, unaffected. “Yeah, hey, there’s that church! Wow, the roof is still green. Ha!” I speak in a tone that I hope conveys nonchalance, amusement, detachment. He’s probably not fooled, but he doesn’t let on. Really, I’m so full of emotion I can barely breathe. Doubts and a sense of loss and longing all mix together with my excitement and eagerness to share this part of myself and my past with Scott; he's heard the stories, now he will see where I really came from. And most of all, I think what I’m hoping for is to bring some closure to the gaps that even my subconscious can’t gloss over when I'm asleep.
I hadn’t wanted to leave this house when we left. I knew it was the right choice for our family, but that barely made it any easier, and there has always been this feeling of....incompleteness. Like a part of me is missing. A part of me that I really liked. And it has been missing for so long, and so much has happened in the interim that I have begun to wonder if I imagined all of it.
We moved away. I started college 2 weeks after that. I graduated 4 years later, got married that same summer, and now I'm homeschooling our 3 kids. I am living a life so different from my past, so different from what I envisioned back then for my future. I need to see everything again to relive that first half of my life. To find my past, and assimilate it with my present, and fix this disconnect in my brain.
So that my dreaming mind will finally rest and stop searching for the old me.
I ask Scott to pull over at the church so I can take a picture. I had planned to document everything like this, but it's also kind of a stalling tactic. I'm beyond excited but also nervous about getting closer to the property where I lived until the summer I was 16. My hands are a little shaky, so I pull my arms tight to my body, bracing my camera with the huge wide-angle lens I rented just for this trip. Man, this lens is heavy! It literally doubles the size and weight of my camera. I concentrate on the best angle of this old beaten-down church building, having to walk almost up to the front door to have the building fill the frame. So cool. The lens is huge, but I'm loving it already.
Climbing back in the van, I explain how that church was a landmark. That church meant "almost home" in my mind as a child. And, I think to myself, it still means that. My parents would give people directions over the phone, "....when you come to the big church with the green roof, turn north onto County Road 514...."
We drive north. Scott comments on how it's really pretty good for gravel, well-maintained. The road curves left, then we come almost to the top of the hill. I know what lies ahead, the view he's about to see, and I don't want to see it through the windshield of a minivan. I ask him to pull off in someone's driveway, and we walk the last 20 yards, holding hands,until suddenly we are looking out over the valley.
And it looks exactly like I remembered.
My mind is flooded with memories, as all my senses strain to soak in where I am.
I'm really here.
I remember how I jogged up this long hill and back, a 2-mile roundtrip run, almost every morning in my early teen years. No matter the weather, I was out there. I have never been a morning person, and I really do dread getting out of bed, but I was irresistibly drawn to the feeling of contentment and peace I had while I plodded up the hill on gorgeous spring mornings with meadowlarks singing back and forth to each other. In the summer, I definitely had to get up earlier, because even in Colorado, the temperatures can get a bit toasty for jogging. Sweat dripping down my face, I would focus on the brilliant yellow chest of a meadowlark on a fence post just a little ways ahead, telling myself I could get to him before he flew away. I never did, of course; they would fly away when I was 10 feet from them. But it was a lovely distraction from my aching legs. In the winter I had to pay close attention to where I stepped, finding traction on the snow-packed road, but still, I listened to the silence, and looked around at the snow twinkling over every surface as I made my way up and then back down that long hill.
More memories rush in.
Walks with our German Shepherd, Chelsea, before her hip surgery.
Blue flowers on weeds.
Horses galloping in the fields.
Watching from the house for the blue and white Bronco to come down this road. It's Mom coming back from the grocery store. Did she get a movie?
Watching from the house for the red Grand Am. Is Dad home from El Paso yet? He's been gone for weeks, working.
Watching from the house for a light blue minivan. My best friend Lisa was almost to our house! Maybe our moms would let her stay Friday AND Saturday night, if we ask really nicely....
Scott and I stand for several minutes, looking at the valley. "Well.....this is it." I say somewhat lamely, around the lump in my throat, and he nods, looking around, taking it in. He comments on the beauty. I try to think of something to say, but nothing comes. We listen to the silence. My goodness, the silence. I knew I missed it, but wow, I really really missed it. I look for a meadowlark, but it's midday, and they only come out to sing in the morning and evening.
As we get back in the car, I tell him about my art teacher, Julia, who lived just a couple driveways past ours on that road. "She had received one of Mom's packages by accident. I guess the UPS driver delivered it to the wrong address. So she found Mom in the phonebook and called her. Mom went to pick up the package—I think maybe it was new curtains from J.C. Penney—and when she was there, Julia showed her her art studio. Mom said, "Oh wow, my son and daughter would love to learn to paint!" And a week or so later we started taking lessons from her. Thursday nights, Tim and I joined a group of about 6 retired ladies for 3 hours of oil painting. I don't remember exactly how old she was when we started classes ( took lessons for several years) but she mentioned one day that it was her 70th birthday, and we were shocked. She had the energy and face of a 55 yr old! My favorite other student was Betsy. She was hilarious, always cracking jokes. And I think I was kind of her favorite, too. She called me "Precious", half mockingly, since Julia seemed to instantly adopt me as a granddaughter and SHE called me Precious, but after a while, I think Betsy kind of meant it, too. Those were some really fun times, and I learned so much. I love painting. Wish I had time to do it now.
"Julia was quite the character. She would come FLYING down this road in her big yellow car. I think it was maybe an older Cadillac? She would go about 50 mph down this hill, and from our house way up there I could see her car and the huge plume of dust billowing out behind. We'd say, "Yep, there goes Julia!" She was awesome. I even started going on walks with her in the morning, and I mowed her yard one summer."
As I speak, we pull up to the mailboxes. I am amazed to see that what looks like our old mailbox is still there. Wait a minute, it IS our old mailbox! The exact same one. Two of the number stickers had fallen off and a Sharpie had been used to write them in. It says 'Warr' on the side now, and I push aside my annoyance at that. But there it is: a mailbox proving that I have traveled back in time.
3269 C.R. 514
I'm 17 years older, but I feel that old feeling of relief that I always had when I came to this exact spot on Earth.
I feel like..... I'm home.
Thank you for reading!
Read the other installments in this series of blogs about our trip to my hometown!