Now that I’m quite grown up

I guess it is important to note in the beginning of this ‘what-is-destined-to-be-long-blog’ that all (nearly all) of our family lives Florida. In our married lives, we have only lived there for a few months. For many years we lived thousands of miles away. I guess the older I’ve grown, the more sentimental I’ve become. This blog will certainly reflect that. May I first say that I’m fully aware that not all homes conjure up images of contentment, love and happiness. Some may never experience the beauty of a good home this side of heaven. The lack of godly (and even simply loving) homes is a tragedy. Thankfully, our homes on earth are but temporary. Ultimately, the child of God has a perfect home in heaven. No matter how wonderful our homes on earth, none can compare to the place God has planned for His children when death, our last great adventure, takes us to our final home.

The past few trips we’ve taken have caused me to consider how my feelings toward that earthly ‘home’ in Florida have changed over the past…gulp…25 years.

Though we’ve lived away for almost two decades, we still call Florida home. It is where our parents live–Jonathan’s in New Port Richey, mine in Lutz. It is where my siblings live (all but one of them), and where Jonathan’s siblings live. It is where we grew up (mostly). It is where we met and fell in love. It is where we were converted—just days before my college graduation—just months before our wedding. So many memories…

When I was in my first year of high school—14 years old–I visited my sister and her husband in Gainesville, Florida. I loved the college town atmosphere (USF was still quite ‘commuter’ oriented then and did not provide the college town feel I yearned for). I immediately decided that I would attend UF. The rest of my high school years were spent in preparation for that (and I will leave that up to your imagination). I could hardly wait to leave home and “G-ville or Bust” became my motto. I left for college when I was seventeen…a few months before my 18th birthday. I did not miss ‘home’ at all. I was happy as a lark—carefree and enjoying every minute of my freedom. I loved G-ville, I loved living on my own. I was surrounded by friends and frolics. When I returned to the Tampa area during the next two summers I could hardly wait to go back.

Circumstances caused me to leave G-Ville after 3 years and transfer to USF. Though living at home, I did not feel any ties to Tampa. Actually, I envisioned some tall, dark and handsome man whisking me away to some state or country far away.

Fast forward a couple more years and Jonathan and I marry (yes, this was the epitome of my vision)—he joins the military and off we go. I never looked back. I was so excited for us to be on our own. I threw myself into my family—adored my husband (though he worked long hours!), poured my waking ours into our children. I was never homesick for our extended family…not really. I was happy to see them when we visited, but that was it. I was so busy with Jonathan and babies and toddlers that I had little time to pine away for Florida and our parents and siblings. Colorado. North Dakota. South Dakota. Wisconsin. Alabama. Lots of moving, settling in, creating homes in each new area– I thrived on setting up our home and keeping it ‘just right’…I always loved my career as a homemaker! I enjoyed my years as a military wife, then as a preacher’s wife.

Don’t misunderstand me here. I love my family. I always have. I was loved unconditionally and who could ask for more? I never doubted my parents’ love. I was cherished, nurtured, given every necessity and nearly every desire. I was ready to leave and cleave. I was ready to raise my own family. I was ready for adventure!

Okay…I can imagine what some of you are thinking—an abundance of small children and frigid temperatures may not qualify for adventure in your book, but they were good enough for me. We built our home-away-from-home. Interesting idea isn’t it. We still called it ‘going home’ when we returned to Tampa. Why is that?

We visited every one to two years for the first few years. We were living on one income—an airman’s income and then a preacher's income—and were not able to travel often. I still did not miss being in Florida. I actually had a rather disdainful attitude about Florida. Why would anyone move there? I was so glad to be away! Think of the crime…the crowds…the high maintenance homeschool laws…the cost of living…

So, the years have gone by and we’ve taken many trips ‘home’ to Florida—trips for holidays, trips for special occasions (my parents 50th anniversary, my father’s 75th birthday, my father’s heart surgery, graduations, etc). After a few years, I began to notice that I could smell Florida…seriously, the first time we’d get out of the car I’d notice something in the air…Then the palm trees began to make me cry. Next, just the thought of going home would choke me up…Jonathan would tease me that it was a “Whitlock” disease—both of my sisters’ husbands retired from the military and moved to Florida. My younger brother went to graduate school in Savannah, but returned to the Tampa area after that to begin his family. After nearly a decade of living away from our extended family, I finally began to miss that home-away-from-home. Songs, movies, discussions of family all moved me to appreciate what I had been given, what I had left behind, and what would always be waiting for me (in one way or another).

***“All my life, when I'm quite grown-up I will always remember my grandfather and how he smelled of…tobacco and peppermint”. Susan Evers (The Parent Trap 1961).***

I loved that movie as a child. I don’t ever remember that line moving me, though, the way it has in my adult life. I never had a relationship with a grandfather. My father is the 14th of 15 children. His parents were both dead long before I was born. My mother’s father was not a happy man, nor was he interested in a relationship with his children or grandchildren. So, when I hear that line, it is not a grandfather I think of—it is my father. Now that I’m quite grown up, I always remember my father and how he often smelled of freshly mown grass and fuel. Strange mix, I know. It did not occur to me until the past few years. One day when my husband came in from mowing, I became overwhelmed with emotion and realized that the smell reminded me of my dad—far away and growing older every day. Strange how that happens, smells prod our memories and memories move us to emotion…

It is interesting to me that our children all love and cherish their extended family, though they’ve always lived away. They were not surrounded physically by the love of extended family (though they were surrounded by our love). Even though we’ve done things differently than our parents, even though we do not have all things in common, even though we only see one another on occasion…we share a strong bond of love. Our children feel that bond. They share in that love. Even miles away, that love is strong and true.

If I could have three wishes, here’s what they would be: For every child to experience the love and nurturing that I experienced; for every spouse to experience the love and devotion that I experience; for every child of God to experience the grace that has been bestowed upon me—which provides my ultimate home.

Here are some quotations from famous people who can say in a sentence what I cannot yet say in a blog…

Home is a place not only of strong affections, but of entire unreserve; it is life's undress rehearsal, its backroom, its dressing room. ~Harriet Beecher Stowe

Home is a name, a word, it is a strong one; stronger than magician ever spoke, or spirit ever answered to, in the strongest conjuration. ~Charles Dicken

Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in. ~Robert Frost, The Death of the Hired Man

He is the happiest, be he king or peasant, who finds peace in his home. ~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The strength of a nation derives from the integrity of the home. ~ Confucius

God has given me my castles in the air, my wonderful husband, our six beautiful children, friends all over the globe and a world of opportunity. Carpe Dieum—enjoy every moment!

Category: Reminiscings
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