Saying good bye

This morning, after we have gotten ourselves some breakfast, we will drain the water from the cabin, finish winterizing the system, and head west pulling a trailer loaded with my sister’s things. We also have a couple of items that will end up at our home. It has been fun to spend a few days at a place that was so central to my childhood. It has also been handwork. The routine, however, is not unfamiliar to me. For several years, when I was living in South Dakota and our mother was spending her summers here, I would fly out to Portland and drive mother to Montana in the Spring. I’d turn on the water, open the shutters, and help prepare the place for her summer stay. Then, in the fall, I’d make the trip in the opposite direction, winterizing the place and driving our mother back to Portland where she had a house near my sister’s home.

The years have passed, and I’ve said good bye to this place many times. Each time I knew there was a good possibility I would return. This time is different. If things go as planned, a company that conducts estate sales will sell and dispose of the remaining items at the place and a customer will be found to purchase it. For the first time in nearly 80 years, our family will no longer own property in Sweet Grass County. Saying good bye is especially difficult for my sister, who was the most recent member of our family to live at the place. Unlike our mother, who always treated the property as a summer home, two of my sisters and one of my brothers spent winters here, heating with firewood and electricity and making themselves cozy in the cabin. I’ve visited during winter weather, most recently getting snowed in at the place in the late fall of 2020, but I’ve never spent a whole year at the place. It has always been a place that I visited, rather than my full time home.

My emotions at this time are mostly simply being tired. We have been working hard and some of our work has been sorting through possessions that have been in our family for generations. Among the final items at the place are the diaries and journals of our great grandfather, an early Montana settler who was the territory’s first court reporter, who traveled part of the state by bicycle, and who was friends with pioneer Methodist circuit riders. When they have been digitized they will become part of an historic archive. The paper copies have been stored in an old deep freezer. It turns out that the appliance, after being retired from serving our family storing food, is an excellent waterproof and mouse proof storage place for the documents.

It won’t be hard for me to pull up the driveway and turn west. I have a lot of reasons to be eager to get back to my own home and the life we have in Washington. I’m eager to see our grandchildren again. I want to watch the last weeks of the blooming of our dahlias before cold weather sets in. I have several exciting projects going at the church and am looking forward to a season of growing our faith formation programs.

Life is filled with loss. Learning to say good bye is part of every human life.

I remember packing my clothes, my typewriter and a few books in the late summer of 1970. I was heading off to college. I looked at the cabin where I had spend the summer and it was hard to say good bye. However, college was exciting and fun and I had a girlfriend waiting for me. I was a bit emotional as I took a last walk around the place, looked at the river and got into the car.

I also remember the late summer of 1974, after my wife and I had spent the summer at the place. I had already made a trip to Chicago and placed most of our possessions in storage in the basement of the apartment building where we would be living. For this trip, we loaded our remaining belongings into our small Opel car and headed east toward Chicago. We already knew that the next summer we would have jobs waiting for us in the mountains. We fully expected that we would be returning to Montana to live after completing our seminary educations. It didn’t turn out the way we expected. We did come back for the next two summers and work at our church camp. But we never returned to Montana to live. When we said good bye to Big Sky Country, we would follow the call of the church to North Dakota, Idaho, and South Dakota, and now Washington. We never came “back home” to live permanently.

In a way our lives have been a succession of saying good bye. We have lived in some wonderful and beautiful places. We have been connected to challenging and faithful congregations. Life has been good to us. We have passed milestones on our way. Our children were born in North Dakota. They both graduated from High School in South Dakota after having lived for a decade of their lives in Idaho. Neither chose South Dakota as their adult homes. One lives in Washington and the other in South Carolina right now, but we have the sense that our South Carolina daughter isn’t finished with making moves from one place to another.

So we will say good bye to another place that will remain an important part of our stories. We’ll come back to the mountains. We still have reasons to come to Montana to visit. But it won’t be quite the same when we will no longer have a driveway to call ours.

I am looking forward to shedding the responsibility of sharing ownership of a distant cabin with my siblings. Each passing year makes the work of maintaining the place more difficult for me. I know it is time to say good bye and move on.

It is time for a new family to discover this wonderful place and begin filling it with their own memories.

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