Sunday, September 7, 2014

Volume X, issue viii. August 2014

Chapter One: The Purpose or 

The Face that Launched Us 2,293,71 Miles

Only the face of Edna Devine and her surprise 90th birthday party could launch us and our rickety Suburban 2,293.71 miles across the country. 

Rexburg to Connecticut. I've been telling folks for years that we couldn't embark on such an emotionally perilous journey. Not wouldn't. Couldn't. The thought of nine sets of squirming arms and legs being car-locked for at least six full days made me dizzy. I didn't want my offspring to experience torture on wheels and I didn't exactly want to experience it myself. 

When the invitation to Grandma Devine's party came in July, I felt guilty that we would be conspicuously absent. I couldn't foresee a way that we could make the trip, financially or otherwise. 

But then what can only be described as the Spirit of God told me that we needed to go. It took me several days to bring it up to Eric and he felt the same initial hesitation that I had felt. But that tugging feeling wouldn't go away. I knew that we had a mission to go on, and that mission would include at least six days feeling like mobile sardines, which would be roughly half of our vacation. 

Only a few days before we had to leave in order to get to Connecticut for the party, I had a conversation with Eric in which we talked about the life of Edna Devine. We spoke of her saintly sacrifices for her eight children, the tragic loss of Eric's mother, and the way her love envelopes, nurtures, and anchors her entire family. How could we not make the trip for her? We both cried as we spoke in reverent tones about this woman whose life is the very essence of the term godlike. If the One she emulates with her every smile wanted us to go to her birthday party, then surely He would help us get to her. 

And He did.

We prayed our way across the country to get to Edna Devine. Each morning as we tangled ourselves into a familial heap in our car, we started with a prayer and then had a devotional. As we sailed serenely along I-80 hour after hour our car felt more like Home than a necessary evil. I remember thinking, "If my friends knew how easy this is, they would want to slap me a little."

We ate piles of peanut-butter sandwiches and winced a little with every refill of our Suburban's greedy tank, but we felt that "mission feeling" that comes when you have a purpose that extends beyond your wants and reaches into the heart of why we're all here. 

Frankly, I worry that the experience might have ruined any future "vacations."

Seeing the face of Edna Devine seeing our faces was like coming Home. It was what I imagine it will be like when we get to the other side of the veil--smiles and reaching and hugging and crying and comfort and family and relief. 

She held Eric close and whispered, "I thought I'd never see your face again." 

Every inch of that cross-country trek became almost holy when I looked into her face at that moment.  

Photo courtesy of David Benthal Photography (Eric's talented cousin)

Photo courtesy of David Benthal Photography

At the party, our kids rubbed shoulders with the people who are the roots and the branches of Eric's  happy childhood memories. Some of Eric's uncles and aunt's miraculously memorized the names of all of our children and called them by name the whole evening. I think the name of Eric's Mom was floating around lovingly over every laugh and every hug that night.

Our kids played wiffle ball on the same grassy field where Eric played at the family gatherings of his childhood with the same wonderfully wise-cracking pitcher who is the quintessential big brother in every way. That night filled with so many bright birthday candles and the glow of a life filled with pure maternal love, they ate and drank and breathed in the laughter and love that wrapped up Eric's Connecticut boyhood. For our kids, their own family roots are now more focused because of these Connecticut moments. 
Chapter Two: Danbury, Connecticut
                                                                                
I snapped this shot from inside our car, which is apparent from the freshly squashed army of insects spattered across the windshield turned graveyard. In the photo, they look corpse-y snowflakes trying to welcome us back to Eric's homeland. 

We waited to eat dinner until we got to Danbury so we could feast on one of Eric's favorite foods: JK's Hot Dogs. I'm salivating just thinking about their spicy, roasted, slightly-acidic. . . . sorry. I lost consciousness for a second there. Eric's Grandpa, John Devine, was the one that introduced Eric to this life-changing meal when Eric was only about three or four, so we figured we owed it to his memory to go there. Eric's face in the picture below says the thousand carnivorous, satisfied, indulgent words I might use here. 
 Here is where we learned that we had gone above and beyond the "Are they ALL yours?" question. The waitress asked us if we would be needing separate checks. She wasn't the only waitress to ask this question on our trip either. They must have assumed that a crowd like ours must be a day-camp. Camp d'Evegnee on the road. That has a nice ring to it (especially if we can start giving our kids their own checks for food).

At the top of Eve's list of sights to see in Danbury was the statue in front of the city library. Our young advocate of women's rights was captivated several months ago when Eric told the kids the story of Sybil Ludington, who was only 16-years-old when she rode all night (apparently side-saddle based on the statue) to warn American colonials about an imminent British invasion. Eric had told the kids how there was a statue of Sybil in Danbury and Eve's inquisitive brown eyes lit up when she realized that she'd be able to see Sybil's statue on this trip. It was one of the first things she talked about when we got into town. Sybil's story and Eve's reaction to it reminds me that we need more stories about the Founding Mothers and Founding Daughters to accompany the traditional tales of the Founding Fathers. 

Another "big ticket item" on our schedule was attending church with Eric's Dad on Sunday in Connecticut. To see him in the chapel surrounded by a stack of grandkids who love him with all of their souls was enough to make the whole congregation get a little lump in their throats.
Eric and I snuck off together on our first afternoon in Danbury to eat lunch at Sesame Seed, which is the restaurant where we had our first "official" date 17 years ago, only five months before we got married. 
One of the kids' favorite meals on the trip was a picnic we had outside of Stew Leonard's grocery store in Danbury. Our tight vacation budget dictated that sandwiches were on almost every lunch menu, but on our last day in Danbury we branched out from our PB&J and ate baguettes stuffed with fresh french cheese and meat from Stew's impressive deli. Eric and I sighed with heavy gustatory happiness and nostalgia and told the kids about lunches just like this one on our missions in France.
Of course we had to try a Cronut

We pushed each and every one of Stew Leonard's buttons so we could listen to chickens and other farmyard animals sing and dance. You can't visit Danbury without taking the grand tour of this grocery store and trying each sample!


Our last day in Danbury wouldn't have been complete without a visit to Eric's Mom's grave. I look forward to the day when we can all meet her and understand who she was. So much of this trip had her in it.

As Eric took us on a driving tour of places from the past, including his elementary school, high school, his childhood home, and the homes of some of his best friends, we stopped near the hospital where he was born that was also the hospital where he recuperated after the tragic accident that almost killed him and that killed his Mom.

We realized that perhaps the subject matter had gotten a little heavy when Eric pointed out the hospital and one of the kids pointed at the grass and yelled, "Look! A woodchuck!" We couldn't wait for them to get back to Idaho and tell all of their friends that they had traveled over two-thousand miles and had gotten to see a really cool woodchuck.

Chapter Three: Boston

We snuck up to Boston "on our way" to my brother's house in New Jersey for a little day trip. We slurped up heavenly Boston Chowder and lobster bisque for lunch in Quincy Market.

With their fanatical Celtics fan father, our kids couldn't wait to see the TD Garden, and we found a street vendor selling some pretty sweet and thankfully cheap hats for Holden and Eric. As we toured Faneuil Hall, I decided Holden might be destined for the Madison High debate team since it's in his blood. His great-grandfather Orval (from whom Holden got his middle name) was a master debater and Utah State Senator and his Uncle Jon left a Madison High debate team legacy behind him that Holden wants to follow.

We split a fresh lobster nine ways for dinner in Boston. The whispering diners surrounding us "are they ALL yours-ed" us with sea-food-filled mouths agape and then started applauding my maternal efforts. It was as super awkward as it was flattering and hilarious and I'm still blushing lobster red and laughing.




Chapter Four: New Jersey
My poor brother, Tom, and his family must feel like we're following them from one end of the country to the other. Last year we descended upon them in Seattle, and then we rolled into New Jersey this summer just in time to help celebrate Tom's birthday. My Tommy is probably the most creative person I know, and he did not disappoint. He set up his pool area as a massive outdoor movie theater and we watched "Sharknado" as we swam. As we've relived different parts of our trip, this moment resurfaces again and again as one of everyone's favorites.

I couldn't resist creating a Sharknado-themed cheesecake to go along with all of the other finny festivities.

Chapter Five: New York
My niece, Elia, babysat Charlie for the day so that we could galavant around New York City with a few less worries.  Eric started calling this our "Char-cation."

Before we left for the city, I told Peter that he'd get to see the Statue of Liberty, and his blue eyes widened to maximum capacity as he whispered with disbelief, "The REAL Statue of Liberty?"

I nodded and he said, "Will all my friends be jealous?"



The Twin Towers Memorial

The American Girl store with my American girls



Rodin and I both created beautiful Eves
Chapter Six: The Sacred Grove
One of the quietest, yet most striking highlights of our trip was walking through the unremarkable grove of trees where Joseph Smith found out that God is real. There are no stores here, no clanging cash registers or souvenir t-shirts. Only the trees and the wind and the presence of God. The leaves seem to echo the message that Joseph heard when he prayed in 1820: God's influence and authority needed to be restored to the earth, including the full power of the priesthood and eternal families. I love how the volume of this place is a mere whisper, rather than a piercing scream. I loved standing in that very spot and telling my children that I know for myself that the grove is sacred and that all of the decisions in my life lean on that foundation. I loved inviting them to discover this sacredness for themselves while watching them hang on my every word with sober, reverent expressions.The day before our trip to Palmyra we had been wincing up at the glittering flare and deafening glare of Times Square, almost unable to process the sense-flattening boom. As we almost tip-toed through the grove in Palmyra only 24 hours later, the contrast was a stark lesson. At the edge of the grove, after our hand-in-hand tour, we whispered to the kids that God's language is more of a gentle nudge than it is a Times Square roar. 

As soon as Eric and I both bore our personal witness about Joseph Smith and the Restoration of Christ's Gospel, the sky opened wide and poured out a drenching rain that helped to punctuate our feelings. With no shelter other than the trees, we were all soaked and we didn't mind too much. The downpour only served to memorialize our tender experience.

A few days later when I wanted to bear my testimony for Family Night, Caleb warned me, "Don't bear too strong of a testimony, Mom! You might make it rain again!"