I had intended to stay a week or less, just long enough to recover from the solo drive south and make the rounds to see as many cousins as possible.
And yes, I intended to blog from the road, but I'm a wimp. Besides that, real life happened.
I got busy with my scanner at the old home place, digitizing the family photos my dad's sister had preserved. There were breaks from the scanner to visit cousins in nursing homes, to shop with cousins, to eat with cousins, to tag along on errands and visits to the doctor, and to hear many, many family stories told by cousins.
I was in no hurry to get home. Besides, one of my cousins was expecting to deliver a baby boy at any moment.
Then tragedy struck. My cousin's perfect, full-term baby son became entangled in his umbilical cord and died in utero. I shared this unimaginable grief with her family, that is to say, my family, in the place where I feel most connected.
So a trip meant to last less than a week spread itself into a two-week stay. I lost track of time, rising each morning to look out over the misty Shawnee hills as I sipped my coffee.
Some of my cousins and I laughed and teased each other, just like in the days when I wanted nothing more than an older brother and older boy cousins made perfect substitutes.
With other cousins, I cried and mourned and waited for the tears to become less frequent.
We all shared our stories of our parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles, of our brothers and sisters, each giving up details unknown to the other and coming away with a more complete picture of the people who raised us and grew up with us.
I had lunch with a next-door neighbor of 50 years ago. My next-door neighbor from the house on the other side introduced himself at the funeral home: he was the baby's grandfather. Neither of these people had seen me since we moved away before I was 6 years old. But they knew me, in context, in a manner that more recent friends, no matter how close or like-minded, could never know me.
Is this a reason why we travel? So we can come home?
Notes about the photos
Top: John Scherrer, 92-year-old first cousin of my grandfather Sylvester Schoeny, identified him at front, far left. My father, Lawrence Schoeny, is seated next to him. This is one of two images of my father I discovered among his sisters' 1930s era photographs. Identities of the other people in the photo are unknown as yet.
Inset: 1. Wedding photo of my grandparents Sylvester Schoeny and Hanora Barrett. 2. Nora Barrett Schoeny with her four daughters, Elizabeth, Geneva, Madeline, and Pauline. 3. Lawrence Schoeny with his steer, identified on the reverse in my dad's handwriting as "Bozo." 4. Barn on Sylvester Schoeny farm with mules Jack and Jenny.