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Wilmes: You can go home again, but it will be changed

November 13, 2018

A small and long-haired black dog — handsome in an ugly sort of way as some canines are — dropped a small ball at my feet. Playing fetch in a holy cemetery may not be correct etiquette, but it was clear that he desperately wanted to play.

The dog retrieved the saliva-soaked ball each time until cars filled the gravel parking lot. We had driven more than an hour to reach St. Henry, a rural church that has remained for more than 150 years. It is also where I received First Communion and baptism, the evidence recorded in black-and-white photographs of a boy dressed in his Sunday finest.

I am reminded that one can never really go home again, but it may not be an infallible rule. Thomas Wolfe wrote a novel, published in 1940, “You Can’t Go Home Again.’’ Its main character had returned to his hometown and wrote critically about the community’s residents. He received death threats for having done so.

There is no need for any concern in that regard with St. Henry. Like many rural churches, the cemetery is a few steps from its front door. Parents, a brother and other relatives are buried nearby. Frost has turned Mother’s geranium brown while words etched in stone remain rock solid.

The wind blows hard and knocks what few leaves remain from the trees. A basketball hoop’s netting blows in the wind. The softball field that served its summer purpose awaits its winter dressing. The wind is both friend and foe. It’s a good companion because it stirs the soul and helps conjure memories of a past that is a blessing and a mild curse that speaks about if things would have turned out differently I would have been someone more than a visitor.

The pews are filled when the bell signals. The statues are brilliantly bright, and the stained glass windows unchanged from decades past. A search begins for familiar faces, but there are few. We had come because of a special event — a craft sale that included an egg bake, doughnuts, coffee, raffles and baked items for sale.

The hall was dressed in the finest new paint. Past pastors’ portraits are arranged on the wall. Food and talk are both good, but something is lost in the return. It is the uncomfortableness of realizing that it feels like that I have become a stranger in the land that birthed and raised me and created a rock-solid foundation that has kept me on steady ground through both the good and bad.

Kathy is invited to sing traditional songs in the church choir, located in the balcony where rambunctious children once sought fun during long and tedious religious education classes on Saturday mornings when we wanted to be anywhere but where we were.

Father Dudley led the parish for more than two decades and was followed by many others. They were in unanimous agreement that one is best served not by praying for specific wants but instead by asking for the ability to discern God’s unfailing will. It can be a rocky path dotted with pitfalls.

Kathy purchased raffle tickets without success. An apple pie, a cherry pie and a tin of apple crisp would be the material rewards for the trip.

Children played on the monkey bars while we made ready for leaving. The dog sat with his teeth-marred ball near where the children played.

A woman who I didn’t know said the dog is the church’s unofficial greeter. It is my opinion that no better greeter could be found.

The car’s radio was turned off on the drive home, Kathy napped and thus I was alone with my thoughts. Some were troubling and others smile inducing. We’ll go home agian, although it may not be as soon as hoped for.

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