Monday, November 06, 2006

Bittersweet homecoming

To continue the homecoming theme here at Blogriculture, I just got back late last night from a quick trip to visit family in the community where I was born. I was in Scottsbluff and Mitchell, Nebraska, over the weekend for the funeral of my uncle, Don West.

My Uncle Don was an ag pilot, better known as a crop duster back in the days when he was getting started in the business. He also got my dad, Landis West, started in the same business, which eventually led to my dad buying an aerial spraying business in Oregon. That led our branch of the family tree to the West Coast. But the family tree is deeply rooted in the farm country of the Nebraska panhandle.

That's where I was over the weekend, in the flatlands of Western Nebraska, where the exhaust stacks and silos of the sugary beet factories tower above the plains and are visible for miles beyond the fields of corn stubble, bean and sugar beets. It was my first trip back there in nearly 15 years and marked the first time I'd seen many members of my family in maybe 20-25 years.

In spite of the solemn reason for our gathering, it was good to spend time with family and see some familiar faces and terrain. Many of those faces now bear the unmistakable signs of time's unrelenting march. Even the "children" I remember as little more than toddlers are now grown with children of their own. And the landscape too revealed some signs of progress in some places and decay in others.

It seems inexcusable that in a time when it is so easy to reach out to people via modern communications methods, like cell phones and e-mail, that so many years have passed without a word passing between myself and so many aunts, uncles and cousins.

But there were no pointed fingers or heaped guilt. Instead there were hugs and genuine attempts to catch up on a lifetime of missed moments and reminisce about memories shared. Better still, there was a brief period of time to create some new shared memories.

Like seeds lying dormant beneath the ground, enduring years of drought and neglect, all it takes is some nourishing rain to made the seeds sprout and grow, flowering anew.

As for Uncle Don, grounded in recent years by failing health, he has once again "slipped the surly bonds of earth and danced the sky on laughter silvered wings..." to "...touch the face of God." My thanks to World War I aviator John Gillespie Magee Jr., who wrote "High Flight," probably the best-known poetic tribute to pilots everywhere.

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