I was allowed to see very few family members during our time in the cult. However, I did not see my Dad’s side of the family for nearly 25 years. They would occasionally pop in for a surprise visit. These visits were always short. I would feel worried that I would get in trouble for family being at our house. As if I was responsible. I did not see Dad’s family for birthdays, Christmases, summer breaks, and even my wedding. In the years since leaving the cult, I have been in touch with the closest family members. Grandma, Grandpa, Aunts, Uncles, and Cousins. Most of the family at the reunion I had not seen in at least 25 years, if at all. All this time we were in the cult, I was told that family didn’t love me. That they had forgotten about me. What I did not know was that my family would send my siblings and I presents and cards every year. I am not sure how those packages were intercepted. I am assuming since we always lived with some sort of leadership, that they were responsible for us not getting our presents. Also, my Aunt had hired a lawyer and private investigator. They were working the whole time to get us out of the cult. There was a plan to take my siblings and I to lunch one day and then just keep us after wards, but I ended up having to babysit the day of the lunch. They had to take us all, not just Brother and Sister. Knowing these facts helps to change my memories. All the times that I felt alone, that no one was thinking of me, that wasn’t true. They were working for us. They wanted us, and they never stopped caring. When I look back at the little girl in my memory, there is some light. She felt she was in darkness, but all along there was soldiers going to war for her. She is wanted and she is cherished. The little girl does not know this, but there is love waiting for her.
Five days in St. Joseph, Missouri. Thursday through Sunday away from my husband and children. I am looking forward to sleeping, eating, and spending time with family. I have never been away from my children for more than a night. In the weeks leading up to this trip I am finding myself having feelings similar to the nesting feelings I had when I was pregnant. I wanted to get the house “ready” for when I was gone. I was cleaning, shopping, and planning. I found myself feeling stressed. Then I looked at my actions and suddenly realized that I didn’t have to feel this way. I decided I would do a few things and trust Husband with the rest. The few things I chose to do was: get all the laundry done, the dishes caught up, and make sure the dog and cat food was fully stocked. I got my to do list done and I felt good. I made a few decisions before I left. 1) I was not going to get mad at Husband about the state of the house when I got back. I was going to trust that he would take care of the children and that everything would be okay. 2) I was going to approach my family with my arms wide open. I was going to live this experience to the fullest. I was going to give love and receive love. I was going to say thank you often. I would feel no guilt.
I felt peaceful when packing. I felt peaceful when riding to the airport. Until we took the exit and I saw the white airplane on the blue sign. Airport this way. I was overcome with a wave of emotions. Nervous, happy, worried, excited, unsure, and overjoyed. It was really happening. This was it. I spoke these feelings to Husband. He held my hand, the way he always does to reassure me. He understood and helped me to center myself. We said our goodbyes and I went to meet my family.
I met my family at a restaurant/bar one the other side of security. We all had drinks before getting on the plane. We raised a toast to Fricking Family Fun. I did not feel nervous. I felt happy. I felt that I was a part of the family. The flight was non-stop. I sat next to my cousin, and felt no anxiety.
We landed and set to work finding our bags and making our way to the rental cars. First opportunity for guilt: we were at the counter doing the paperwork for the car. I didn’t have enough money on my card for the amount they wanted to hold. We discussed it, and Aunt had a card she could use. I just said “thank you”. No guilt. We would all split the cost at the end of the trip. Time to drive to St Joseph. We were going to drive to the hotel first, then Grandma’s house. But Grandma was texting. Everyone was there, where were we? We laughed and drove to Grandma’s. No guilt. Upon arrival, we saw cars lined up on the street and we knew which house was Grandma’s. While we were walking up the sidewalk, the door opened, and we heard cheering. Our family was so happy to see us. Cousins, aunts, uncles, great aunts, and Grandma. Hugs and kisses. Sweet embraces. I was welcome. I was wanted. I am cherished. I took it all in with open arms. Some I had never met, or it had been around 25 years. We sat around talking before deciding to go check in to the hotel, then meet back at Grandma’s for pizza and beverages. After checking in, we rushed to Grandma’s for eating, drinking, and talking. A few family members asked me some questions about my past, but mostly just about my family and current life. I am eagerly listening to everyone about their lives. After dinner Auntie and I drive over to Great Aunt’s house with Grandma’s sister and one of my cousins. We say goodnight to Great Aunt, with more kisses and hugs. She shows me a picture on the wall of the family house in Maryville, the town we are going to visit tomorrow.
When we get back from Great Aunt’s house, everyone decides to head for their beds. Auntie and I stop at Wal Mart on the way to the hotel so we can get breakfast items for the morning. While we are there, cousin sends me a text that there is a surprise at the bar. I wonder “is it my Dad?” Auntie wonders “is it my husband?” Her husband passed away earlier this year and she still hopes to see him. I love her so much. We drive eagerly to the hotel and walk by the bar. There is Grandma and her sister! We sit around having more drinks and talking. No one wants the day to end.
Friday morning- I am glad that we bought breakfast items, and grateful for the free coffee in the lobby. What a great, uninterrupted, night of sleep. I haven’t had one of those in years. Auntie and I wake early and get ready for the day. We plan to go to Maryville! The town where Grandma and her family have their roots. In the car, Uncle tells me a story about my Great Grandpa. How he used to clean a bar in town, and when he was done he would always take a shot of Wild Turkey then head home. The caravan parks at the town square, and I am in love with the large brick building, and benches under the shady trees. Grandma gets out of her car, and tells us all to get out. She tells her kids and their cousins that they are supposed to find 823 N. Mulberry. On foot. We ask them if they remember which direction and they all point. They start on foot and we all drive. They all found the correct house. It has been completely rebuilt. Different than the picture I saw on the wall. But Grandma and Uncle tell me all about how it used to look. I am using my imagination. We play at the park across the street.
I feel so happy and connected to my family. I am listening to stories of growing up in this town. Grandma went to college here. Uncle was born here. I am taking it all in. I never want to forget. It is a charming town. Best of all, it holds some of my roots. They told me where the water tower used to be, and all the stories of getting into mischief. Then it is time to head to the cemetery and see where my Great Grandparents are buried. If you have read my past blog posts, these are the ones I believe used to come visit me, as spirits, when I was little. The cemetery is beautiful. Featuring rolling hills, and a single dirt road winding through the grassy fields that contain the plots. We all disperse, eager to see the headstones of our relatives who have passed. Grandma finds the ones with our family names. She points to the headstones, explaining how we are connected with each one. I feel deep respect. The headstones are covered in grass, and partially grown over. Most of us get to work, on our hands and knees. Clearing away the overgrowth to reveal the beauty underneath. Three of the men work together to carry Great Aunt up to the headstone that marks her parent’s grave. Grandma says a few jokes about what she wants done with her ashes. I laugh, but I am not ready to think about that right now. When we finish cleaning up, we decide it’s off to the Saloon. Only a few of us want shots of Wild Turkey, the others have beer. We toast to family. We play pool and dance to music. We wash the dirt from our hands and forget about our knees. We smile and try to think of what life was like a few generations before us. After the Palms, we head to a restaurant for lunch. Great Aunt surprises me when she says she will pay for my lunch. An opportunity to feel embarrassed, unworthy, or guilty. I smile and say “thank you”. I accept the gift, and let in the love. I am cherished. We decide that we need to buy memorabilia from this town. I decide to get shirts for my boys, a hat, and a water bottle. Great Aunt decides to buy a shirt for my oldest boy. I smile and say “thank you”. I am loved. Arms open with acceptance.
Back in St Joseph, we decide to rest a while before meeting for dinner. A few family members are walking down to a music festival called “JoeStock”. Featuring local musicians. I walk with them. I don’t want to miss a thing. Once there, we hear barking coming from a nearby car. We are all disgusted that a dog was left alone in a car on a ninety degree day. A few minutes goes by and we see the windows get rolled down. We are a little relieved, and then the dog jumps out the window and is running in the street. I decide it is my time to help this dog. I take off running across the street. The dog doesn’t want me to come close. She is barking and circling around the car, scared and unsure. I decide to sit on the sidewalk to let her know I am not a threat. She runs to the other side of the car and attempts a jump into the back window. Only her front half made it. She is hanging on, kicking with her back feet, trying to gain enough traction to hoist herself into the car. She needs my help to get back in. I walk up behind her, she is barking, letting me know she doesn’t want me to grab her. I tell her, “I am just going to scoop you in to the car.” I then push up on her rear, she pees on me, and jumps the rest of the way into the car. I am standing there looking at her, assessing the situation. Just then, the owner walks up. I am relieved. We exchanged a few words, then I walked away to wash my hands. When that excitement was through, I was ready for a nap. I walked back to the hotel with my family, we had enough of JoeStock.
Dinner on Friday. I know nothing about this restaurant. We are going to eat and we are going to be together. That’s all that matters. Even though I am still full from lunch. I am ready to spend more time with family. We walk in, it is cozy with dark wood accents and large dining tables. It is a family restaurant. Our family has a private dining room in the back. Two long tables are set up for us. Grandma and I decide to sit by each other near the door. As the family members arrive, we greet each other with smiles and holding hands. This is what I imagine Heaven will be. Walking through a door and greeting your loved ones waiting for you. It will be a joyous reunion. This experience is feeling surreal. I am floating on a cloud of love and happiness. The interesting thing about this restaurant is they have no menus. They will bring you the food. They specialize in fried chicken and the special of the evening is fresh baked bread. My anxiety sometimes centers around food. I am afraid of eating something to which I am allergic. I can get obsessed with knowing ingredients when this panic comes over me. Tonight, I am deciding to breathe deeply, and enjoy the evening. I let go of the food anxiety. They start with soup and salad. Then comes huge platters of fried chicken, bowls of corn, green beans, mashed potatoes, gravy, and of course bread. I eat everything except the bread. I am so stuffed I cannot eat another bite. The waiters wrap the leftover chicken in tinfoil the shape of birds, and we drive back to the hotel. My cousin from New York had arrived this morning with her husband. The family gathered at the hotel bar. She showed deep interest in my past life. This is the night that I spoke very openly with her and everyone about my experience in the cult. She shared some experiences about her life that were also difficult. I did not feel embarrassed or ashamed. My family told me how strong I am. I am believing them. They tell me they read my blog. I am happy about this. It helps me to share my experiences, and to know they are listening. Arms open, I accept the love. They tell me they thought about me the whole time I was gone. They talked about my siblings and I. They wanted to see us and show us love. I receive their embrace.