Updated: May 28
Now you've climbed that western mountain.
I can see you smile.
I can hear you smile.
Sit, for awhile.
-song by Carl Schumacher
I planned on staying for just one night.
After all, I had things to do.
Places to go, people to meet, experiences to write about.
After months of planning, fretting, and stressing, I had finally packed up my (hastily) converted Ram Promaster and was (sort of) ready to hit the road.
In retrospect I probably should have waited a bit longer. At least until the conversion was properly done, and I had some sort of itinerary mapped out. But in typical fashion, I ran out of patience. I was dipping into the savings I had so painstakingly accrued, I was suffering from cabin fever from being cooped up at home all year, and I was desperate for a change of scenery.
So I hit the road in my partially converted van, kitchenware clattering around in drawers that I had neglected to latch, insulation peeking out from spots that I hadn't yet covered with trim.
It's now nearing sunset as I pull up to my uncle's house, tucked precariously up against a backdrop of classic West Virginia hills. My coffee pot clatters to the floor as I make the last turn, shattering into pieces.
When I look up from the mess I see him, a tall and lanky man standing in the middle of the road, waving, a big old grin painted over his face.
I'll just stay the one night, if that's ok I say as we gather in his kitchen over a steaming cup of coffee.
I can't recall a time I've seen my uncle without a cup of coffee in his hand.
We crack a few silly jokes, testing the waters, but before long we are doubled over in laughter, teasing one another like no time has passed at all.
But time has passed- years, decades even - and I'm not a kid anymore. It's been one thing or another -- school, internships, work, travel. Every minute of every day filled with meetings and plans and bills and hopes and dreams, until the years passed by, "like a broken down train," as Bonnie Raitt once sung.
Never any time to just sit for awhile.
But we sit now, over coffee.
We sift through old photographs and family documents, and as I look at the faces staring back at me from those black and white images, I realize there is a lot I never cared to know. So I ask my uncle, now, to tell me about my family.
I learn that the Schumachers first settled in Minnesota after immigrating from Germany. In an ironic twist, my grandfather flew 30 bombing missions over Germany in World War Two. In fact, many of my relatives took part in that war in one way or another. I learn that my great-grandfather bred German Shepherds. I learn that my family’s home is still standing in Ottertail, Minnnesota, and is considered a historic site. I learn about a great-aunt who was a journalist in a time when women didn't do that sort of thing. I learn about a great-uncle who was known for getting into scrapes and predicaments, everything from infected wounds to airplane crashes.
It must be in my blood, I say with a grin, looking down at my own bruises and perpetually skinned knees.
We grow somber as we look at images of family no longer with us. So many, it seems. My grandfather died of a brain tumor after returning from war. My grandmother passed away when I was in high school. Most of my aunts and uncles died long before I was born, victim of a hereditary disease called cystic fibrosis. My own father left us just over a year ago, my other uncle the year before. Too many of us, gone too soon.
The Schumachers are no stranger to loss.
When I was a little girl I once asked my grandmother why she never cried. She said “because if I started, I don’t think I could ever stop."
I know the feeling.
We shed tears now, my uncle and I, thinking of the ones we've lost. Some of the pain is tucked away, a dull throb that pops up randomly to remind us. Other pain is still raw, a wrenching of my gut each time I think of my father.
But the Schumachers also know humor, and we laugh a lot in between tears.
I was planning on staying just one night.
But he said he’d teach me how to make my grandmother’s bread.
I can still remember stepping into my grandmother’s home on a chilly day and being greeted by the warm, yeasty smell of fresh bread rising in the oven. A smell that conjures up images of family, home, a safe place. My mouth still waters at the very thought.
Bread-making takes time. It can't be hurried. It can't be partially done, like the van sitting in my uncle's driveway.
So I stay.
As the dough rises we play old records - Stevie Wonder, Tijuana Brass Band, Earth Wind and Fire. We dance and laugh, pausing intermittently to punch the dough and let out air as it rises.
My uncle puts latches on my drawers and screws in my curtains so they stop falling down everytime I hit a red light. He replaces my broken coffee pot.
He reads me excerpts from his own travel diary. Years ago, he had an inkling to get on a bike and ride around the world, to see where the road took him.
It must be in our blood, I think.
I leave the following day. Well-rested, a loaf of grandma's bread tucked away in my van, my veins pumping strong coffee.
It's time to go now, but I know I'll be back.
Because sometimes you really just have to sit for awhile.
Writing, Photography, and Videography by Teresa B. Schumacher