about bliss

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

daily bliss: rooted

When I was 17, I left home for college, with most of my worldly possessions tucked into my parents' silver Surburban. From that moment, I never truly lived at home again, beside summers home from college and one six-week stint when I moved back to the Midwest after my first year out of graduate school.

Dorm rooms shifted into apartments and duplexes, and finally, half of a house I claim as my own home, and share with my love.

My heart still tends toward home, to that patch of 10 acres nestled near Lake Michigan and dotted with blueberry bushes and pine trees and the house that my Dad built and my Mom made home.

Several times a year I go home, driving around the Lake, through Chicago, across four states. I go back to the old country neighborhood with the elementary school across the street and long driveways obscuring homes in the summertime. I drive past the house where my great-grandma lived, now run down with too many vehicles in the yard. I wonder if the buttercups still dot the back yard in summer, and if the wild blueberry bushes still stand on the back corner of the lawn.

I round the corner from my parents' house and drive a half mile to my Grandparents' house, where tractors sit in the pole barn and a old blueberry picker awaits the harvest. I remember the greenhouses filled with potted plants, now replaced with Grandma's big garden.

Memories of summer wash over me--sunshine and berries and stories and ice cream and heat and frustration and longing to be somewhere else, in a story, to be someone else, an olympic gymnast or nineteenth-century maiden.

Lake. Berries. Family. School. Books.

My legacy, my home.

On July 1, 2011, two days shy of his 92nd birthday, my Grandpa died.

Across the lake, I heard the news and longed to be home, in the place where this news, this loss would be real.


Gregg and I sailed on the midnight crossing of the S.S. Badger, swaying to the rocky rhythms of the lake, curled onto benches in a fitful sleep.

The next day, my brother L and his girlfriend K, Gregg and I, headed to the local beach where L and I spent many hours as kids. We walked the shores, tested the water, talked, and laughed, as the familiar landscape and constant waves soothed our souls.


July marks the beginning of blueberry season, and from the 4th of July on, talk revolves around when to start picking. My family grows two varieties: bluecrop, an earlier, flavorful, and large berry enjoyed fresh; and jersey, a later, smaller, and less flavorful variety often used in processing. A few outlier bushes of earlier varieties stand in the corner of one field, and Grandpa would pick a handful on his birthday and enjoy the first berries of the summer. My uncle visited the bushes on the morning of Grandpa's funeral, and tossed the berries into his grave.


My parents hail from neighboring counties; I grew up in the same neighborhood that my Dad did, and my Mom's hometown, and where my maternal grandparents live, is a short 20 minute drive South. Aunts and Uncles on both sides live in the two county area. My generation has drifted beyond the borders of the counties, the state.

Coming home means being immersed in family, in tradition, in history, in old patterns, and familiar rituals.

Trips to the beach, Saturday mornings at the farmers' market, afternoons on the porch, dinner at Marro's, ice cream at Captain Sundae.

Family jokes and stories.

Rivalries and old wounds.

Making room for new family members.

Allowing the bonds to help us feel, grieve, mourn, and heal.


At the visitation, we stood in an airy, sun filled atrium of my grandparents' church, awaiting visitors.

I looked over and saw my two favorite elementary school teachers and started crying...

...I was a school girl par excellance. I love(d) school, books, learning. Knowledge was my birthright; books enlivened my imagination.

Mrs. Mulder, my first grade teacher, allowed me to create my own reading group (designated pink) and created a classroom where learning happened naturally, and students could escape to Australia (see Judith Viorst's Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day).

Mr. Kraii, my fifth grade teacher, read to us from The Great Brain and integrated softball games into our curriculum. He helped me manage some big adjustments (a new baby brother, a new last name), and prepared us for middle school.

As I hugged and chatted with these two teachers, I felt the connection of education, of the power of this work that they did and I now do to change lives and build on the strong family foundation to give young children, young adults, or returning students the confidence and tools to soar, to excel, to be everything they can be.


After the family bonding, after the visitation, after the funeral (complete with full military ceremony and ice cream bar), after the final graveside service, Gregg and I boarded the boat and left my Michigan home for our Wisconsin home.

The next morning, I turned to my bookshelves--the poetry section--and selected some verses to read, to give me that comfort I craved in adapting to this loss.

to live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

Mary Oliver, from "In Blackwater Woods"


To be rooted and grounded in a place and a past, and then to live and create and love and follow that bliss to new homes. To understand that home is many places--a rural Michigan neighborhood, a great lake, the shape of a poem, an embrace, a fresh blueberry pie, a classroom, a cloudy Tuesday morning. 


  1. heather schneider12:17 PM

    I love it :)

  2. Jessica, this is so lovely and so meaningful. I started to cry as I imagined the blueberries tossed into your grandfather's grave.

    When my (dear, dear) grandfather died last summer my mourning also involved ice cream, sitting by the water, and remembering his effort in a long-ago war.

    You layered all of this so beautifully.

  3. This is a gorgeous meditation. I'm sorry for the loss of your grandfather.

    Shantih, shantih, shantih.

  4. so sweet and poignant; thank you for inviting us into your homes.

  5. Dear Jessica,

    I'm so very sorry to hear of the loss of your dear grandfather. Your story brought me tears and tears, but also happy reflection on my own family and the losses we've endured--the sweet waxing & waning of life and death.

    The bit about your teachers made me so proud of you--of the path you've chosen, of the way you let books fill you up to the tip top, and still do--writing, reading, sharing & encouraging the same for students, friends, and connoisseur's like me.

    Your words are such a tribute to your roots--all of them.

    Much love & a hug from across the lake!

  6. I'm sorry for your loss. Very spiritual writing here. Grief. The meaning of life. What has value. What helps heal. Very moving. Beautifully illustrated with your photos.

    As someone who spent time picking wild blueberries in the UP, I've never heard of nor seen a blueberry picker. I'll look it up.

    Thanks for sharing this.