I was born in Yankton, South Dakota, at Sacred Heart Hospital. Outside of the doctor who delivered me, and my parents, the first people I saw with my new eyes were the Benedictine nuns who served as nurses and administrators for the hospital.
The other people I got to know right away were my grandparents. My mom’s parents lived about an hour west, but my dad’s parents lived in town. They lived on what I now see to be a very tiny home on Pearl Street. I say “now” because when I looked at it last week I was stunned by how small it was. I shouldn’t be surprised as it happens a lot when we get older. Things that seemed huge to us as children are quite small in our adult eyes. This was the house in which I sat on grandma’s lap on her couch while she read Goldilocks and the Three Bears to me, and helped me learn to read. Grandpa had a nice garden in the small backyard and even today I can still smell the fresh dill that he grew back there.
Today half of the backyard is a wooden deck, his garden long since gone and replaced by sod. My grandma always kept chocolate malted balls in the refrigerator, or a cold candy bar just for me. She also kept the small hard butterscotch candies in a dish. One time when the family was in the backyard I was in the living room sucking on one when all of the sudden it lodged in my throat and I began to choke. I panicked while gasping for air and was unable to scream, so I began to run across the living room and tripped on the threshold into the kitchen. As I landed flat on my stomach I recall looking up at the refrigerator across the kitchen and tracking the arc of the candy that had been thrust from my throat. I swore off butterscotch candies for awhile.
On February 22, 1975, I had my first encounter with death, as my grandpa passed away at the age of 69. I was seven, and the only real memory I have of the funeral is sitting on my grandma’s lap and trying not to cry because I had been told we needed to be strong for her. But she looked at me and my eyes welling with tears, hugged me and told me it was ok to cry. And so I did.
She moved not too long after that to a small town about thirty minutes away into a house where she would live until her death in 1994.
The other memory that drew me back to the tiny house on Pearl Street is across the street: Beadle Elementary. It’s where I attended kindergarten and a few months of first grade before we moved from Yankton. I do retain a lot of memories from that year and a half, but I won’t go into them here. I still remember the very first song we learned on the first or second day of kindergarten:
I caught a fish alive.
I let it go again.
Why did I let the fishy go?
Because he bit my finger so
I caught a fish alive.
I took a photo of the concrete playground that faced my grandparent’s house but it didn’t turn out. On the other side of the school were these doors that I can still remember walking into as a small, slightly scared kindergartner. The name of the school being carved into the stone above the doorways is something I recall staring at as I waited nervously in line with my mom that first day.
After driving around town for a few minutes I continued north on 81, ready to begin what I’d hoped would be a wonderful experience.
When I reflect upon my journey north with the benefit of also having completed my retreat I can see that what I was doing was revisiting some of the touchstones of my life. Webster’s third definition of touchstone is “a fundamental or quintessential part or feature.” I had been revisiting a few of the physical, or more temporal, places that formed me and made me who I am today. By going to them physically I was transported mentally back to those times in my life in which they were prominent. These were events that served as stepping stones to propel me forward and upward. Over the next four days I would establish more touchstones, but they would be of a spiritual nature.
My heart is ready, God.
My heart is ready.
~ Psalm 57
What follows are some of the first images I saw as I arrived at Broom Tree.
Two young calfs by the roadside. I took this photo for my daughter:
All you saints and angels, pray for us!
My first glimpse of St. Isadore’s in the late afternoon/early evening:
I had arrived. I was ready.
But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree; and he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life; for I am no better than my fathers.” And he lay down and slept under a broom tree; and behold, an angel touched him, and said to him, “Arise and eat.” And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank, and lay down again. And the angel of the LORD came again a second time, and touched him, and said, “Arise and eat, else the journey will be too great for you.” And he arose, and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. ~ 1 Kings 19:4-8