Monday, April 05, 2021

Aunt Dorcas Vacations: Seeing Where People Are From

All ready to shop for fabric!
[I'm on the left, Simone on the right]

Aunt Dorcas went on vacation.

This not a Q&A advice column as the alternate-week schedule would call for, but a post on Aunt Dorcas's little trip to California. But, since she can't help but insert a bit of advice, here it is:

Get to know where your people are from.

The famous Portland carpet and a pair of practical shoes. With socks.

I hadn't flown anywhere for 17 months. The last trip was when I flew to Texas for a ladies' retreat in October of 2019. Covid dried up all the speaking invitations, and Paul's accident canceled any hopes of even slightly complicated travel for a long time.

Then my friend, neighbor, and cousin-in-law Simone, who grew up in Southern California, decided to visit there for a month's retreat and invited me to join her for as long as I liked.

In a stroke of wonderful timing, my sister Rebecca and her husband Rod moved to San Diego a few weeks ago.

So I flew to San Diego, spent a few days with Rebecca, met Simone, spent a few days with her, and drove home with Simone.

In winter, the light in Oregon is muted, like it's passing through filters, sheets clothespinned to the mountains on both sides, or the scroll in the song, that can't contain the whole though stretched from sky to sky.

In southern California, all the filters and barriers are gone. The sunshine is clear and intense, blazing and bright. I had no idea how hungry I was for that kind of light until I was in it, turning my face to it, soaking it in.

I did a lot in a week. 

Rebecca and I strolled along the harbor and admired the ships, sat on her deck with tea, and talked a lot. I saw where her husband teaches and met some of his co-workers.
Incognito at Balboa Park.

You could see Tijuana and the ocean from Rebecca's patio.

Simone and I went fabric shopping in the fashion district of LA, toured San Juan Capistrano, and attended an outdoor Easter service on Saturday evening at Mariners, a megachurch with a campus the size of your local community college.

San Juan Capistrano was lovely and historic, but it also made us sad.
The native people were persuaded to help build this large church. It took six years, then 
it was used for only nine years before being destroyed in an earthquake, killing 40 people.
Only the chancel and part of the transept remain.

The bells at San Juan Capistrano.
Sadly, the swallows no longer gather at the mission, but
they still return to the town.

The fabric shopping in particular had been a dream of ours for a long time. We backed into the tightest parking space I've ever seen and found our way through a dozen shops overflowing with rolls of fabric. It was like being overseas, without the jet lag. Clutter, variety, bargaining, open fronts, other languages, even the shopkeepers' grapevine messaging like I had noticed in Kenya. At one shop, we chatted with the Mexican owner and his son, who had been to college in Portland. Then we wandered across the street to another shop, where another older man greeted us with, "So, you're from Oregon?"

Many of the fabrics were brightly colored and shiny with lace and sequins, but we also found piles, stacks, and walls of pretty knits, natural fibers, and every variety of polyester you can imagine.

I'm down there by the ladder. The fabric I bought had
to be hauled for a long way in that green bag, which 
limited my purchases considerably.
Next time, I need to have Paul drive me down in a seed truck.

We loved it.

After the stresses of the past year, it was all healing medicine, spooned into my soul in hourly doses.

Simone and I had planned to start home on Sunday and take two days to get here. But, feeling anxious to get home, we impulsively decided to set out Saturday night and drive it all in one shot, if we could stay awake.

The 14-hour drive went amazingly well, we surprised our families, and I was able to be here for Easter dinner with the family and the guests they'd invited.

We have been through hard things, and it was unbelievably satisfying to know that even at this stage of our lives we could make a dream come true, turn ideas into reality, and make our way back home all on our own.

This morning, this is what strikes me most: it's good to find out where your people are from.

Paul, who grew up Mennonite and Wesleyan Methodist, knew almost nothing about the Amish of my past. It felt important to me that he not only hear my stories but see it for himself, so when my grandma died in Kansas in 1988, I made sure we went to the funeral. Rebecca did the same with her husband. We sat on those benches in that crowded house among hundreds of bearded men, white-kapped ladies, and wide-eyed silent children who stared curiously.

At the viewing, Paul nudged Rod, indicated the little girls in front of them in their white organdy coverings and black dresses, and marveled, "This is what our wives looked like."

I've always been grateful that we made the effort to attend that funeral. Now he knew, at least in a small part.

When we attended a Wesleyan Methodist camp meeting, I did the same for him. Despite the similarities to Mennonites, I sensed that they spoke a language I didn't quite understand. I was disturbed at the fiery sermon and the emotional prayers, both of which seemed contrived and overwrought to me, but I understood a part of my husband that I hadn't known before. He did his best to interpret it all for me. "They're not nearly as black-and-white about sanctification as they sound in their sermons." 

Whenever I visit Lancaster, Pennsylvania, I understand my mother-in-law better, and also my friends from that area. Speech patterns, foods, quirks, and preferences are all evident. There are right things to do, and right ways to do things. They may have been in Oregon for 50 years, but they'll still say the eggs are "all"--meaning "all gone."

I got to know Simone back when she and Paul's cousin Darrell were dating, well over 20 years ago. She was from some kind of "plain" background that seemed to be basically Mennonite. However, she had mannerisms that weren't typically Mennonite-woman, like a loud laugh. I heard parts of her story over the years, of course, but never understood the context.

In California, we stayed with her cousin and his wife. One day a fistful of relatives came for lunch.

Now I know much better where Simone is from.

This family line is Serbian, with some German and Slavic in-laws thrown in for good measure. Simone's generation were either immigrants from Europe or the children of immigrants. They all came from a strict religious background, and their dads did hard time in Communist prisons.

The conversation was constant, loud, and intense. People fearlessly injected their opinions, laughed loudly, and gestured with such vigor that they hit me in the arm if I was beside them. Any subject merited deep intensity and fervor, from getting a visa to the homeless in America to being enslaved by the Turks for 400 years.

Not only was it a fascinating experience, it provided context for who Simone is now.

My sister, who has been uprooted into new communities multiple times in the last ten years, says one of the hardest things is the struggle to make new friends who don't know your history. Where do you begin to explain? The Amish part, the overseas parts, the children, the medical work, the Midwest? 

We are so much more than what we show on the surface. We are history, cultures, events, and places, all swirled together. We are decisions, disappointments, conquests, and defeat. We are all the people who nurtured us, damaged us, or gave us their genes.

It is a gift to a spouse or friend or parent--anyone you care for--to see for yourself where they are from. If you can't go see their history for yourself, you can listen to their stories with interest and intent. We all want to be known, and to be loved for who we really are.


  1. I never understood my Late MIL until I had a DIL from the same low country heritage in SC. I am sad about that since I never really knew how to relate to her life story but I am not sure how I could have changed it since all of her family (her people in her words) was gone by the time my husband and I married. I also could not relate to have grown up with servants and a member of the "first" family in town. If someone in our DIL family has moved away from the hometown they are said to live "off" and it is somehow akin to sin.

  2. Lucky, lucky you! I'm from San Diego and loved to visit while my parents were still living. There are some beautiful spots there. I laughed out loud at the line about the seed truck! I know just how that feels. Sometimes I go to the big fabric store just to see and touch their loveliness. I don't need any fabric, but I still love to see the gorgeous textures and colors.
    You are so right about knowing people, where they came from, their family history, their experiences and such. I've long felt that getting to know someone helps me to love them all the more. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and wisdom.

  3. And then there are the subtle nuances. Someone who moved into this community concluded that being so far west in the Time Zone helps explain why locals sometimes find it hard to be prompt. I assume he was referring especially to informal gatherings during the summer, when we have such long light evenings. LRM

  4. Thank you once again for your insightful and interesting words. I really appreciated reading this.I will think and observe the connections of those around me in a new way.

  5. Crystal Kupper4/06/2021 9:03 AM

    I'm so glad you had a great time! And yes to all the rest of your words. For me, this has been one of the hardest parts about being a military wife.

  6. It's so interesting hearing about the Jevremov cousins from another perspective! In my mind, they just... kinda "are", and I don't think about it too much. But they're/we're definitely passionate and vocal people. 😁

  7. Thanks for this insightful post. Such good good thoughts!