Friday, September 14, 2007

What we finally did

When we landed at Minneapolis/St. Paul airport, we were greeted by a gathering of friendly faces and flowers. Our names were lovingly scrawled - yet again - onto the traditional von Gohren family Welcome Home sign. A guarantee that you've really been somewhere.

Welcome Home.

Do you know what it is like to relax within the borders of your homeland, after having to justify your existence to a foreign government for a while? Try to remember what it's like being chased by someone on the playground, bursting your lungs to avoid the reach of their fingers, and the relief that flooded your heightened adrenaline when you reached "base". Now, France is not even especially hostile towards Americans. We did play cat-and-mouse a bit with the administrative details (see my posts from about a year ago) , but imagine what it's like for an Algerian here. Or an American in Indonesia. Or a Jew in Palestine. Or a Mexican in Minnesota.

Regardless of whether foreign governments have extended a robust welcome to us over the past year, we have seen it manifestly abundant in another sector - indeed, where one might hope to see it - the Christian church. As foreigners and aliens, we've always been given a little space under the tent - be it in Paris, Morocco, Bayonne, or Minneapolis. Wherever we've wandered, God has provided for us through His people who, largely, seem to be putting their Bibles into practice:

"Beloved, it is a loyal thing you do when you render any service to the brethren, especially to strangers who have testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey as befits God's service." (3 John 1:5-6)

Our Minnesota stay began with what is indubitably one of the sweetest outpourings of Christian service in the world...Sunday Pancakes at the Lewises. There is something eternal (I'm convinced) about the combination of ten of thousands of tasty carbohydrates covered in real maple syrup, gallons of high-test coffee, and high-spirited discussion on life, the universe, and everything. All accompanied by the constant plop-plop of more pancakes on the platter from Mom's spatula and Ethan's nervous fussing over the perfect background music.

Actually, looking back at our photos, I'm realizing that our visit largely consisted of gatherings around tables, especially ones on the right and the one below. We enjoyed immensely weaving meals together in large kitchens with these things called a dishwashers that clean up after you. Imagine that! And having gone a year without so much as touching a briquette (we cannot have barbecues within Paris proper), Karl joyously took up his Dad's flipper, turning out marvelous salmon and burgers by turns. I'm glad to see he hasn't lost his touch. Here, we had a chance to catch up with his sis and our two nieces, and get them hooked on our favorite German card game, Ligretto. Boy, do those girls learn fast!

Other memorable meals included: a superb, jovial dinner at our friends' David and Steph's house with about a dozen of our dearest friends, carrying off the catering project of the century for a Spanish wine-tasting fundraiser, and grazing over nibbles and stories on my grandparents' front porch in Ulen.


Ulen is a place where family ties are so strong, that even the thinnest and most brittle of strands will draw you back after years of absence. A four-hour drive northwest from the Cities through soybean and corn fields will take you past the "Lena's Lefse, Inc." building, the liquor store with the Viking ship, and into town. You pull over, walk down the quiet streets, and the one pickup that toddles by eyes you carefully - who is that, anyway? If he asked, you could tell him. You could take him to the graveyard, and show him how a third of the people buried there are "cousins" of one sort or another. (Heck, you're probably related to the guy in the pickup.) My great-great-great-great-great grandpapa founded this place in 1886, and we never forgot it. We never forget anything - we write up our histories in a big, blue book. They may only have one gas station, but they've got a newly-renovated town museum, and the guestbook says they just got a couple of visitors from Paris, France.

It is a really cool museum.

You know, it's one thing to wander around the Musee Carnavalet, seeing historical objects and paintings from the French Revolution era. Fascinating, but no real personal connection. It's quite another to walk through a museum with your grandma (that's my Nana at right) , and have her point out the Civil War portrait of your great-great-great-great grandfather as a young soldier in the Union army, or his wife's lefse-making stick on the other side of the room. We spent over two hours in this remarkably rich repository. I could've stayed hours longer, soaking in all the history.

Across town, my great-grandma Blenda had been anticipating us for weeks. She still makes the best oatmeal cookies ever. As talented at storytelling as she is, as she wanted to hear all about our adventures in places like Morocco and France, so we swapped tales. And almost as good as history is the present - finding out who's having babies, bandying about ideas for the next wedding, talking about our strange life abroad, trading recipes. All of this fueled by the constant flow of coffee from the pot. When we left (a little too late in the evening, as usual) for the long haul back to Minneapolis, that caffeine came in handy.

I like how my great-grandma always insists on saying "bye, bye" instead of "good-bye", since "there's nothing good about it". Apparently, these were my sentiments exactly, as I burst into tears in the middle of the terminal last Sunday, waiting for our plane to return to Europe. After a good cry on Karl's shoulder, he asked me: "are you sure you want to go through with this?" I answered with a sniffle in the positive. He left and came back with a large hot chocolate from Caribou. Wise man.

7 hours of jetlag, that I can get over. Leaving home? I don't think we ever really get over that.


Sasha said...

Oh sweet to the ears
are the reminisce of homeland tears.

Mel Arroz said...

Never been to Ulen, but have heard mention of it a time or two. :-)

Fun to see those pictures!

Thanks for sharing your experineces!