Sunday, March 14, 2010


Safety. We fret about it, especially lately, what with terrorist activity, earthquakes and tsunamis, job losses, stock losses, and steadily increasing divorce rates. We long for that feeling of comfort and security we had, if we were lucky, when we were very small. It’s hard to find.

We can remove guns from our public buildings; we can stand in eternal lines while they scan for bombs and knives and nail clippers in our purses; we can store our food in the basement and pack a 72 Hour Emergency Kit to put by the back door; and this might bring a sense of preparedness and some security. But the deepest, surest safety lies in feeling confident in the people around us.

Constancy. Sister to Dependability. Something in my soul longs for steadiness; for just the right amount of repetition to make me feel like a warm bed and a down comforter and a hot meal at a familiar table are just around the corner.

Between kindergarten and second grade we moved five times. Two thousand five hundred miles. We left our oldest sister, and our German Shorthair Pointer, Schatze. We left the warm dry summer nights of Idaho and replaced them with hot wet, sticky breezeless nights in Pittsburgh. Our houses changed, our father left more and more often, we changed schools every year for the first three years, and to top it off I knew for positive sure my first grade teacher hated me.

So when school ended for the summer and we loaded into the station wagon pointing west, I felt like I was going home. Where home was safe.

My mother had six sisters who all made their homes in the west; all of them in Idaho in fact, except Aunt Edna who lived in Salt Lake City UT. Six sisters and two brothers, one of whom died before I was born. Her brothers Marion and Daniel had died before mom was born. Lots of mouths to feed in those days.

My mother’s sisters all lived in humble homes, half of them farmhouses, but their doors were always swung open wide when we came. There were always enough blankets and pillows for sleepy children; enough bread in the bread box; enough milk and eggs and home bottled peaches. I never slept better than on the lawn in an Idaho summer night, the stars twinkling in the pure clear indigo sky like silver glitter spilled on a velvet skirt; with the shadows of dishtowels hung on the clothes line flicking in the moonlight; and a chorus of throbbing cicadas pulsing against our whispered conversations. It felt delicious and cozy and safe.

Years passed and our lives shifted. I married and busied my life with children and music and service. Drove kids to art and dance and piano lessons; worked in our church and neighborhood communities; served as PTA president…all the good exhausting busyness of a blessed life. But once in a while we would pause and make the trip to Idaho; to meet the Aunts for a birthday lunch, or to soak a worm in an Idaho stream.

Always…always…it felt like going home.

When Mom’s oldest sister, Ruth, celebrated her 90th birthday, I wanted to somehow express to her my gratitude for the safety. I wanted her to know how important her steadiness was to a little girl in a shifting world. All of my aunts, really, represented such constancy to me and my siblings.

Gratitude always begins with awareness. And so I began remembering, in detail, what it was that was so powerful to me. I realized that what was so comforting and safe to me could be construed as boring to someone else. Blessedly, eternally boring. Unchanging and unchanged. Though at 90 she no longer lived in that little white farmhouse on the border of Blackfoot Idaho, I wanted Aunt Ruth to know that the steadiness remained locked in my heart and my memory. And I wanted to thank her.

So this is how I thanked her; her and Aunt Mae and Becky; and my angel aunts who had gone to heaven: Ruby, Edna, and Mary. I sat on the couch in my cousin Marilyn’s house surrounded by some of the people Ruth loved and who loved her, and I played this little song. The writer part of me wanted to find something that represented the constancy they gave us. The most constant thing about Idaho, just about anyone will tell you, is the wind.

                              Idaho Wind
This blacktop unravels here on the outskirts of town
Dust rises from gravel like the trail of a jet going down
We pull up in the shade of this tree that is ageless
It’s never not been here, it waves its leaves at us
The screen door slaps open, I smell toast cooking
Aunt Ruth’s in her kitchen, the curtains are flapping
Here in the window, here in the Idaho wind

Idaho Wind sweeps through the desert and up through the sage and the pine
Idaho Wind sweetens the sheets and the pillows that hang on the line
And the willows bend low, and she is whispering through them
Deep waters flow and she’s calling me to them
Sure this is home, Sure as the Idaho Wind

I’ve come here forever, certain of what I would find
Though lately I travel through memories locked in my mind
There’s the shell of a truck we pretended to drive in
The old barn our three little kittens were born in
We’re Indian maidens, our arrowheads hidden
We’re pioneer women, come searching for freedom
Our shawls drawn around us, here in the Idaho wind


Calling me home, home to the Idaho Wind.

We no longer make the trip to that farmhouse. They sold it after Uncle Wayne died. But if I close my eyes I can feel the changing music of the station wagon tires as they leave the concrete of the freeway. The pitch lowers when the car wheels hit asphalt; then the asphalt turns to gravel and the gravel to sand and then, in a cloud of dust that swoops over our car like Marilyn Monroe’s dress, we are there….parked under the eternal tree, beside the barn and the old red truck sitting lifeless near the haystack…just a hop-skip-and a-jump from the sand dunes where our native Native American ancestors had roamed centuries before us. The aromas of Aunt Ruth’s cooking waft through the black netting on the wooden screen door. Aunt Ruth comes out to greet us, wiping her hands on her flowered apron as she hobbles, the screen door slapping like a horse whip behind her, her silvery hair swooped elegantly atop her head. I can sense my mother’s heart rate slowing to a steady rhythm, her blood softly throbbing through her veins like the creeks and rivers that pulse under low hanging willows. Safe - solid - sure.

Sure, this is home….sure as the Idaho wind.


  1. I know this feeling. It wasn't the farmhouse, sadly, but a little house in Waldo, Kansas City - my grandfather had built it, and nothing every changed in it, even as we were blown from coast to coast with stops in between. But I think I wrote about that all ready -

    That feeling of constancy. It's why we still live here. Because a child needs it. Four children needed it. The mother, who barely had it for herself, knows.

  2. Ah, Cori. You got me again! That was amazing to read. As a little girl, I would visit my Great-"Grandma Idaho" in Bennington. Some of my memories parallel right along with yours. Thank you for helping me remember.

  3. Was so excited to leave it and now long to go back.