My maternal grandfather passed away last week. We drove back to Illinois for the funeral services, a beautiful display of fall color marking our route through the mountains and over the prairie. (Can you hear the strains of “God Bless America”?) Visiting the small Midwestern town where he and Grandma lived their whole lives, I thought seriously for the first time about moving back there.
I’ve considered moving to Illinois before, but never for more than a minute or two. The very idea stressed me out. I loved my childhood summer vacations in central Illinois. The small town coziness of waitresses who know your name and how you take your coffee, the rows of corn (knee-high by 4th of July) or soybeans, seeing storms approach from miles away. But as I got older, my visits back to Illinois became stressful. Dad’s and Mom’s parents lived in small towns less than two hours’ drive apart. As a kid, I lived with Mom and my stepdad, so Mom’s parents would visit us occasionally. My only time with Dad’s parents was during those summer visits. When I became an adult, planning my own vacation time, no longer living at home, I tried to visit both sets of grandparents. This made for some pretty exhausting “vacations.” Like the time Mom and I drove out to see her folks, a two day drive from Virginia with a stopover in southern Ohio. We were there for less than a week, during which I drove back and forth between grandparents, before making the two day drive back home. Talk about needing a vacation from your vacation!
And it wasn’t just my over-zealous desire to keep everyone happy. I loved my Dad’s mom, Ponci. I was her only grandchild and we shared a lot of fun times during those summer visits. As I got older and began to share my visit time between my two sets of grandparents, I knew Ponci didn’t like having to share me. Her disapproval was subtle but impossible to miss.
This time, driving back to Illinois, I stayed at one house, in one town. My dad’s parents are both gone—Ponci died in 2001 and Grandpa passed away just over a year ago. For the first time I can remember, a visit to Illinois was not a guilt-ridden balancing act between two families.
Even sweeter was the vision I had over and over again throughout the visit, a vision of my two grandfathers, arm in arm, looking down on me with love, pride, and encouragement from Heaven. “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1)