THE LONG VIEW: Visiting relatives is a flight worth taking

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Recently returned from another leg of the summer's ambitious tour, this time to the sun-kissed shores of Connecticut with some of my father’s family. This jaunt came on the heels of another long weekend with loved ones, my mother's people in Minnesota.

The settings could not have been much different. The edge of America's breadbasket is awash with corn, soybeans, and wheat sprawled across rolling fields. Seaside New England is bordered by waves roiling onto rocks and sand, and estuaries teeming with seabirds reaching back inland.

Recently returned from another leg of the summer's ambitious tour, this time to the sun-kissed shores of Connecticut with some of my father’s family. This jaunt came on the heels of another long weekend with loved ones, my mother's people in Minnesota.

The settings could not have been much different. The edge of America's breadbasket is awash with corn, soybeans, and wheat sprawled across rolling fields. Seaside New England is bordered by waves roiling onto rocks and sand, and estuaries teeming with seabirds reaching back inland.

The rural plains are pick-ups, tractors, hay wagons, with a near-unanimous parade of American name-plated vehicles; the coastal areas are foreign-made cars and SUV’s in ever-present procession, and stirring vistas of sky meeting gleaming seas scattered with skiffs, sailboats, yachts, and kayaks.

Where Mom grew up, the ear catches hints of the Norwegian, Swedish, and German spoken by those who settled the North Star State, accents preserved by generations who stayed close to where their forefathers homesteaded. The people are tied to the land, watching for rain to nurture the crops while dodging mosquitoes and deer flies. 

Where Grampa Grimes bought property so long ago, voices form an East Coast medley; a careful listener can infer inflections from Boston, New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York, both upstate and all its big city’s boroughs. Residents tune to the ocean’s rhythms, hungry for breezes to fill a sail or cool the beachgoer eyeing the horizon between cool dips in Long Island Sound.

Then again, these two pilgrimages to be with my relations were remarkably similar. In both places, extended family members spared no effort to welcome their distant nephew/ cousin. I was shuttled to and from the not-so-nearby airports where I arrived and departed. 

In every home of every relative whose door I darkened, the “food is love” tradition endured; I was repeatedly entreated to sit down and have something to eat. Family members made room in their homes for my lodging and were unconcerned by the room I made in their liquor cabinets, wine cellars, and garage beer fridges.

And everywhere I went, my loved ones wanted most to share the meaningful things of life. They listened intently to how I was doing and about the woman I had fallen for. They demanded the latest about my son’s lives and my business endeavors. They joyfully reminisced about when I had visited them as a little boy, as a young man, and as a father showing his own children where their grandparents had come from.

Mostly they enfolded me in their caring hearts, setting aside chores and inter-family frictions to connect with their kinsman, with whom they would share only a few days. I brought back no souvenirs, save those memories of the gentle, generous hearts that were opened to me.

They say getting away is good for maintaining a healthy perspective. The cost of airfare is brutal, but these two far-off places felt like just like home, and feeling at home seems an unbeatable value.

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Pat Grimes, a former South Bay resident, writes from Ypsilanti, Mich. He can be reached at pgwriter@inbox.com

THE LONG VIEW:  Visiting relatives is a flight worth taking