Elsa came home on Sunday to cheers and welcomes, hugs and kisses. We couldn’t wait to have our girl home and with us.

It was sweet to have us all together again.

But it was sad, too.

Yesterday, I drove her over the mountain to visit the orthodontist. The appointment was two weeks overdue. As we cascaded down Mt. Hood and emerged into the dry side of Oregon where the Junipers replaced the Firs and the rivers ran swift and clear, Elsa burst into tears.

“It’s so beautiful!” she exclaimed, and then covered her face again with her hands.

Aine wrapped her arms around her to comfort her. Greta climbed into the backseat to be beside her. Dagne hugged her waist and watched, blinking, waiting. I glanced worriedly in the rearview mirror, knowing that there is no comfort, there are no words to lessen the pain, but wishing for them anyway.

The air hung with sadness, juxtaposed against the clear, bright day full of desert hum and buzz.

Elsa had seen the architectural wonders of Rome; the greatest masterpieces on the planet — The Pieta, David, and the Sistene Chapel; iconic landmarks like the leaning tower of Pisa and the watery streets of Venice; the villas of Tuscany; the beaches, famous and unknown, of the south of Italy; and sacred, pilgrimage places like Vatican City and Assisi.

But the delicious return to all things familiar, to the beloved known little nooks and crannies, to the welcoming arms of home were denied her.  

We stayed with the SJs, who feel like family.

But it’s not the same.

We visited the tennis courts. The session was over, but her coaches and all her friends came to play with her and say goodbye. Elsa had her first lesson here when she was five.

After I pick them up, her best friend Charsie from school will come to see her. They’ll walk around the town together. Then, we’ll visit Aunt Anne and Heather if they are available. We’ll stop by the storage shed to get some needed items. We’ll visit the house and wave at it from the edge of the property. We’ll return the pool key and mail keys to the heads of the subdivision.

And we’ll leave for …

I wish I could say our new home. There is a randomness about the choosing of it. Reasonably close to the construction job Paul has. Close to my sister. Close to …???

People try to say that your work doesn’t define you.

I would agree.

But it defines so much else. It positions your home which is an extension of your family, and from that position, you decide the activities that will fill your life. Where to go to church, where to play sports, go to school, go to eat out, go for coffee, or happy hour, or classes of some sort.

Home is where the heart is, but …

work positions the home.

In ancient times, home was where the river or spring was. Civilizations sprang up along the banks of the Nile or the Yangste or the Amazon. Water was necessary for most routines in daily life.

But today, it’s the work that is like our water. It provides the money to pay for the water, the food, the utilities, the clothes.

We’ve been thirsty for a long time.  

I wish Elsa’s homecoming could be filled with familiarity. Applesauce pancakes and friends saying hello rather than goodby. I wish that every object didn’t have a tint of sadness attached to it: the irrigation pipes that sprawl over the fields, the large spirals and bales dotting the landscape, the crops of alfalfa instead of hay, the spires of volcanic rock, and the great expanse of blue sky.

Homecomings should be full of joy. Instead, it is interspersed with outbursts of tears and hugs that are clinging instead of welcoming. Instead of a homecoming,

it is a farewell.

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