The kids’ shared suitcase has been packed, checked, re-packed, second-guessed, items added, items removed. A bustle of tidying-up in preparation for the journey has swept our home: little boy’s hair has been trimmed despite protests and wiggles; little girl’s tiny nails have been trimmed with surprising cooperation to the accompaniment of chortles and chatter.
For my part, it’s a case of long-forgotten skirts hauled out of the farthest corner of the closet, expressing amazement that they fit once again, and a frantic procession of shirts and skirts to find outfits that coordinate and somewhat flatter. Photo texts sent to best friend, who, like me, grew up in a religious commune: Does this look okay? Can I wear this in the kitchen on the farm? Does it look dumb? Opinion begged of my husband: should I wear a camisole under this dress? Which is more important, modesty or confidence? Or comfort?
I’m going home. Home to the triad of Christian farming communes where I was raised. My parents still live there, as do other family members. I’m excited, but there’s still always an element of anxiety each time I go home. How will it be different? What will be changed? Each time I’ve visited over the last decade and a half, the community is a bit smaller, the property a bit more worn down. Flower beds have overgrown and sunk into the lawn; greenhouses have disappeared; paint has flaked off the porch of the tabernacle, the main gathering place. There just aren’t enough people to maintain those things to a level that matches the rosy glow of my nostalgic memories, though photos on my social network suggest there’ve been recent renovations.
Other things have changed, too. Electricity has crept in; nearly all homes now have lights that can be flicked on with a touch of a finger. Bathrooms have toilets that flush, instead of a wooden seat on a bucket or a port-a-potty. Kitchens have running water and sinks that drain to sewers (no more hauling water in buckets to wash dishes, then throwing the dishwater outside). And there are even a few TVs, those tools of the devil that were banned in my childhood. Television! Movies! Flushing toilets! Such changes. Not all the homes have caught up with the times, but more are modernized than when I lived there.
And with these changes comes another: work. The farms are no longer entirely self-sufficient; they haven’t been for a long time, really, but as time passes, and the community and its families shift toward modernization, and there are fewer families contributing both time and income, more money is required to maintain each family as well as the community. So, more and more, people go to work off the farm to earn money to support their families and the community. People who stay on the farm to maintain buildings and lawns, and care for animals, and plant and harvest, and bring in the hay — all the necessary jobs of living on a communal farm — are fewer and fewer. Communal meals are more sparsely populated than before. And the buildings and superfluous gardens suffer, as does my nostalgia.
This time, though, there will be a welcome change: an increase in population. Part of the increase takes the form of an old friend and her family: her husband plus a trio of daughters I haven’t met. They have just recently moved back from a community in northern Canada. There’s been a new baby born to a young family, bringing that family’s number to four, though this family now lives across the road from my home farm, not strictly part of the community. Another family, a friend I grew up with, has moved back recently to another of the three communes, bringing five little ones to inject new life into the farm that is home to my grandparents. Other families from the village have been frequent visitors, contributing to the vibrancy of the life there. These are good and positive changes, bringing an increase in vitality — but changes are changes nonetheless, and to a person like me, dependent on routine and a certain degree of predictability to maintain my equilibrium, even good differences are a bit scary.
The thoughts of these changes run through my mind as I peer at my reflection in the mirror, wondering just how far the changes have permeated. Should I try to wear skirts every day? I can’t remember — do the women wear pants (anathema in my teen years, but more accepted now) even in the main house these days? Will I be criticized if I wear my comfortable old jeans, or is it worse to wear a skirt that shows a bit of knee? My friend who grew up in a similar community echoes my thoughts in a text responding to my assurance-seeking selfie, her amusement at my anxiety evident: “That skirt should be at least three inches longer. And did you remember to bend over in front of a mirror to check for cleavage?” (I did, in fact, and added a camisole to the outfit. Just in case.)
I sigh. Things really have changed. I know my worry is baseless. It’s unlikely anyone will care what I wear, even less likely I’ll be confronted. And the farm isn’t all that’s changed. I’ve changed too, gaining confidence and self-assurance. While I have no intention of disrespecting the farm’s rules, I do know my own mind, and I can defend my clothing choices if need be. I need to stop worrying. Still, I stash an extra skirt in my luggage… just in case.
Meanwhile, I’m armed with both my favorite apple pie recipe for a Thanksgiving celebration, and my sweet children, who are related in some convoluted way to about half of the three-farm community and thus are garnering a bit of excitement with their arrival. And I’m depending on the love of my family — related by blood and not — to welcome me home. Because it is home, no matter how far I’ve gone and no matter how long it’s been. Philosophies change, choices lead in different directions, but the bond of love doesn’t break.
Things change. The buildings will look more aged (or perhaps brightly renovated — a change, either way), the gardens won’t be the same, and the new electric lights shine differently than the propane and kerosene lights of long-ago memories. The dress code shifts and even disappears. Children no longer build character through hauling buckets of water for bathing or dishes. Families occasionally rotate from one community to another, moving a few miles or across country, leaving an empty space or bringing new faces. But through the changes, I know I can be assured of love and family.
I’m going home.
Note: I wrote this post as we were leaving for our visit, but decided to wait to post it till we got home, so as to not advertise our absence from our home. So this story is nearly two weeks old now.