Friday night I drove out to Catherine Creek state park to see my aunt and her friends who were camping there. It is a lovely drive, one I know well as it was the road I drove many times on my way to Girl’s Camp. I spent some time with my sweet BFF auntie and her cute friends and as I was leaving, one of her friends suggested that they say a prayer for my safe return back to La Grande tonight and back to Smithfield in a few days. Her prayer in and of itself was worth the entire drive. She prayed for my safety and I could feel the love in her voice. She gave thanks that God had brought me safely home to La Grande again. She gave thanks He had given me the gift of keeping La Grande as home and prayed that I might know that wherever I go, I can always keep La Grande in my heart as home.
As I drove back in the dusky twilight and saw the lights flickering across the valley, I thought about when we first came to La Grande, 22 years ago. I was heartbroken to leave Utah at 15 and move here. I prayed and prayed for months that we wouldn’t have to go. As I told my ladies in Relief Society this past week, thank goodness God didn’t answer that prayer the way I wanted. Looking back I don’t know exactly when I came to define this place as home, more so than any other place I had ever lived. I only know that somehow along the way I grew roots so deep here that they still thrive, even though I haven’t lived here in 12 years. Sometimes I wonder what it is about this place that has such a hold on me. Is it simple nostalgia? Am I living in the past? I have had several people who love me and know me well wonder that over the years. I definitely am one for looking back instead of forward. I do enjoy driving past my old house, the high school and the seminary building. But while I do see in my mind’s eye ghosts of myself and my siblings all around; that is all they are…friendly ghosts who bring with them happy memories but no other connection. My life here was wonderful but that chapter in my family’s history is done.
So what is it? Is it the sheer beauty of the town? I look out the window and see Mt. Emily standing tall and beautiful and looking as though she is there to protect the valley below her, the endless sea of green pine trees, the red and yellow trains weaving around the landscape and filling the air with soothing train whistles. Is it the beauty? Yes, I think that is part of it. Is it the familiarity and sameness of La Grande that I love so much? I know this place so well. I know that when I drive down Island Avenue, I am going to roll down the window (yes, even in the winter) because I will smell the woodsy scent of the mill. I know that when I go to “Celebrate La Grande” Al Macloed’s jazz band will play music that will set my toes tapping. Dad calls La Grande Brigadoon. I love that about it. Yes, things change as they always do. Favorite teachers retire. Special little shops go out of business. Dear friends move or pass away but La Grande is as rich in treasured traditions as it is in pine trees. Is it the people here that bind me to this place? My aunt who makes every day a holiday, my sweet cousin, the best friends who know me so well they finish my sentences, the ward members who fasted and prayed for me while I was on my mission, people who have believed in me and loved me for over half my life. Yes, the people…my people…are a big part of it.
But there is still something more that makes my eyes light up when I talk about La Grande, something deeper that happens to me every time I drive around the corner of Ladd Canyon and see my beautiful valley. My aunt was right to thank God for the gift of being able to keep La Grande in my heart as home. From the first day, even though I didn’t know it at the time, La Grande has been a wonderful gift, all of it. It was a gift to that a little too tall and a little too dramatic 15 year old who had struggled most of her school life to fit in. It has been a gift to the woman who has dealt with anxiety of losing what she loves since she was six years old. I know there is such a thing as constants in my life. I know there is such a thing as safe harbors. And just like Frodo Baggins and his beloved shire, if there ever came a day when I couldn’t ever come back, I “shall know that there is a firm foothold even if my feet cannot stand there again.”
People ask me some times why I don’t just move back. Someday I might. But the truth is, it doesn’t really matter because no matter what happens, I do get to keep La Grande in my heart as home for as long as I need/want to. Today, I will probably shed a few tears as I drive back into Ladd Canyon and leave. But I know my other home, my other safe dock, waits on the other side for me, with my wonderful parents, friends, team BSA, and the best calling ever.
As I drive today I think I will listen to Phillip Phillip’s “Home” song. I think maybe this was what God was trying to tell me all those years ago.
Settle down, it will all be clear.
Don’t pay no mind to the demons. They fill you with fear.
Though trouble it might drag you down, if you get lost you can always be found.
Just know you’re not alone…
Cause I’m gonna make this place your home.