A pilgrimage most sacred

DemWit readers have followed Father Tim Farrell, pastor of Sacred Heart Cathoic Church in Farmington, New Mexico, on many travels. We have climbed with him to the top of Mount Sinai, walked the paths of his Irish ancestors and sat with him as he pondered genocide in Rwanda.

This spring Father Tim made that journey most sacred in the hearts of all of us: a trip “home,” in every sense of the word.

As I read the following account of Tim’s journey through the South, many quotes about “home” came to mind while trying to decide if his visits with family would be of interest to readers.

Of course they will, for so many of us, separated by distance and time from those we hold dearest, will understand. In quiet moments, we have all traveled the streets and backroads of our youth, sat with loved ones on porch swings, listened to the stories of our elders  and stood by sacred gravesides.

Here, then, is Father Tim’s latest pilgrimage:

It is quite cathartic to simply drive across miles and miles of America and have no real timeline. I started out on a very windy morning in late May heading first to Apache, Oklahoma. It was a bright, Spring day, and it felt good to be on the road without any plans to make for the day other than to reach my brother Mike's home by evening.

Hours on the open road open the mind, ease the stress and anxiety, allow a person to let worries dislodge and float away. I crossed into Texas heading for Amarillo, and the wind grew more severe. I looked at the rather ominous clouds forming. The radio was beginning to alert me to possible tornadoes in the area. By late afternoon across the southern Oklahoma border, the winds had died down but the clouds were now a sickish yellow and angry looking. Tornadoes had struck near Anadarko, Oklahoma, the radio reported, not far from where I was at that time, and a tornado was now heading for Oklahoma City. I kept looking up at the skies, a bit worried that I was in the middle of a real Oklahoma whopper of a storm. I prayed.

I made it to my brother's home without incident, but very happy to be settled in the midst of the storms. My brother Mike and his wife Kelly and their family live on my mother's childhood home in a tiny community called Boone, 30 miles from Lawton. My mother and father are buried nearby in a beautiful little cemetery. I spent two wonderful days visiting, drinking in the beauty of the farm. The old farmhouse where my mother and her siblings were raised still stands but is now in shambles. My brother's home is built down the lane from it. So many memories . . . On the morning I left, I stopped by my parents' graves at sunrise, and a golden glow fell upon their headstones, and I thanked God for giving me such wonderful parents. I asked them to help me in life. I always do. They always did, and they still do.

I drove on full throttle to Memphis, Tennessee, and stopped by to see Jeffrey Chiapetti. Jeff was a young man from my days as head of the youth group at Cathedral in Gallup. Our original plans were that we would have lunch. But I ran late, and his schedule for a later lunch fell through. Then we were going to have an early dinner, but I got in later still, so that fell through. I called Jeff and simply said, "Jeff, we'll do this another time." "No, Father, I want to visit with you, so just get off the Interstate, and we can visit in my store." Now, Jeff is quite a success story. He is manager of several I.O. Metro stores in the Southeast. I.O. Metro is an upscale interior design store. When I arrived Jeff and I had a wonderful visit, if a short one. He was hosting designer Vern Yip, and the television celebrity would arrive any minute. So I gave Jeff a blessing, we hugged, and I got out of the way. Jeff and the staff were dressed to the hilt. I, on the other hand, was scruffy from a full day of travel. Guess who didn't fit into this scenario?

I got into Tupelo, Mississippi., by late afternoon to my sister Mary's house. Mary and her husband Glenn have a son and two daughters. Van, my nephew, was in Florida with his buddies for a graduation outing. Could he really be a graduated senior in high school? Really? Along with the three children, there are four or five dogs, big and small. Glenn is a veterinarian and brings home the forgotten little ones no one else wants. There's a three-legged dog who is actually the leader of the pack, and then I really fell in love with the tiny one who had real attitude. Mary's home is situated on a large property where the dogs can run freely, and I'd sit outside with my sister, and we would visit and laugh. Daddy and Mama each have a tree in their memory. I remember Mama, who lived here in her last months, asking me if I thought we would plant a tree in her memory like Daddy's. I let Mary know, and there her tree is, standing proudly near Daddy's.

While in Tupelo, we visited Elvis Presley's birthplace, which is quite a nice memorial. His little home where he was born and raised is there. His first cousin who grew up with him gives the tour of the house, a sweet older lady with those Elvis Presley eyes. There is a little Church of Christ church there where Elvis used to worship and where he first performed publicly.

I travelled on in a couple of days to Louin, Missisippi, to visit my sister Ruth and my brother Joe, who live not too far from each other. It was two days filled with barbecue and long visits. Ruth has an enclosed porch where we would sit and watch the fireflies lighting up in the deep Mississippi darkness of the pine forests surrounding us.

I celebrated Mass that Saturday afternoon for Joe and Ruth and Jay, Ruth's husband. I anointed both Joe and Ruth who have been experiencing health problems. My priesthood is never put on a shelf, of course, and I love that aspect of my life. On Sunday morning I drove on through the fog-laden roads through some of the backroads of southern Mississippi, crossing over into Louisiana, my birth state, and headed down toward Baton Rouge. Around lunchtime, I stopped by a Cajun store where they served po-boys. Now, there is nothing like a po-boy from southern Louisiana. I got the shrimp po-boy, and it was such a huge, delicious sandwich that I ate part of it and then saved the rest for a snack. The Cajuns are simple folk who love life and show that love not only in their music, but in the way they make a simple sandwich.

I made it to Houston by evening and went over to my Uncle Eugene's home. He is in his early 90s now, the last surviving sibling of my mother's side. He is a gentle, thoughtful man, and he and I visited that evening for several hours, eating fried chicken he had picked up earlier. Doug, his son with whom he lives, sat and visited with us. Family is so therapeutic. Just visiting and eating is a healing enterprise.

I stayed the night, and the next morning I headed toward Dallas to visit my Uncle Marty, also in his 90s, my father's only surviving sibling. He and my Aunt Shirley live in Athens, Texas, and we had lunch together. We had a wonderful couple of hours and then off I headed for home. I stayed that evening in Wichita Falls, Texas, and then the next morning through Texas back to the Land of Enchantment.

Those quiet days of driving and visiting were a wonderful way to pray, to let go, to ponder, to come to peace, all wrapped into one. We all need a drive down the long road from time to time. We all need reconnecting with family. We all need the simple visits with loved ones along the way, no special itinerary. Just driving, looking in the rearview mirror, living in the now, looking to the future with hope, and letting go.



Lynn said...

This is beautifully written and thought provoking. I felt I was right there with him! Very nice of him to take the time to share his journey.

Leslie Parsley said...

I've made hundreds of trips across OK (or Kansas) and can't remember a time that there weren't tornado warnings! I always enjoy reading about travels on the road. Before becoming so poor, I used to do a lot of it for just these reasons:

"Hours on the open road open the mind, ease the stress and anxiety, allow a person to let worries dislodge and float away."

Clearing the cobwebs is only one part of it, though. We as a people have become very isolated from one another, thanks in large measure to TV and the Internet. Being on the road is a good way to reconnect with family, friends and strangers alike. And it's the only way to really appreciate the beauty and diversity that is our land.

I think of Willie Nelson's "On the Road Again." Playing this song became a ritual every time I used to head out from Denver.

"On the road again
Just can't wait to get on the road again
The life I love is making music with my friends
And I can't wait to get on the road again

On the road again
Goin' places that I've never been
Seein' things that I may never see again
And I can't wait to get on the road again"

Maybe, Woody Guthrie said it best in "This Land Is Your Land."

"This land is your land This land is my land
From California to the New York island;
From the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and Me.

As I was walking that ribbon of highway,
I saw above me that endless skyway:
I saw below me that golden valley:
This land was made for you and me.

I've roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts;
And all around me a voice was sounding:
This land was made for you and me.
[ Lyrics from: http://www.lyricsmode.com/lyrics/w/woody_guthrie/this_land_is_your_land.html ]
When the sun came shining, and I was strolling,
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling,
As the fog was lifting a voice was chanting:
This land was made for you and me.

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said "No Trespassing."
But on the other side it didn't say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me."

Ruth and Jay Parker said...

Call me biased, but Fr. Tim (my brother) has always been able to paint a vivid picture with his words. Whether it be in writing or in speaking. I remember one time he said mass at the old Mercy Hospital Chapel during one of his visits home in Vicksburg. The homily only lasted about 5 minutes, but there wasn't a dry eye in the chapel.You don't experience too many priests or ministers who can give a moving sermon related to the Gospel in 5-10 minutes. The Gospel was regarding faith, so Fr. Tim was giving a homily on faith and prayer, and how it doesn't have to be formal or flashy. One of the ending statements he made in the sermon was, "God does not have a Phd. He is not concerned with one's level of education or the amount in one's bank account. His love for us is the strongest and purest in form. He wants our faith in Him to be the same. Go to God with a sincere, open heart and talk to Him. For He is our Father, and we are His children." Needless to say, the nuns and everyone else surrounded Tim after mass expressing gratitude and wanted to know when he'd be back home to visit! Having mass said in my home is such a blessing and gift. We felt our Mom and Dad's presence. We enjoyed Tim's visit so much. We look forward to his future pilgrimages when he drives down the long roads to visit family and friends. -Ruth Parker-

Debra said...

I so enjoyed Father Tim's journey across the South. I was just remembering how blessed we are that Mom has moved back to Mississippi and we get to visit with her on a weekly basis now. Sometimes more. We went to Joyce Britt's house for lunch (a delicious lunch of homemade Chicken salad and an assortment of fresh fruits, homemade blueberry muffins, raspberry tea, and homemade banana pudding for dessert) last Tuesday and enjoyed reminiscing about the Sunnyvale Gang. It was a wonderful place to grow up. So many wonderful memories of family and neighbors who became life long friends. God has blessed us with "Life- So Good". Everyone should be so lucky to get the priviledge of visiting family and friends and remembering the past, enjoying the present and making new memories. Visiting and Eating, sharing fellowship- is there anything better? Love, Debra

B.J. said...

Aside from a college stint in Illiois and a brief respite in Wisconsin, I spent my life in Mississippi up until 1985. When my ex-husband and I moved to South Carolina we made many 500-mile trips “home” to Mississippi. And, yes, at the outset we sang along to Willie’s “On the Road Again.” As we crossed the border into Mississippi we actually felt like getting out and kissing the ground. Eventually, the sense of home overtook us, and we wer thrilled to get back to South Carolina.

There are so many young ones in my family, and I have told them that no matter how long you’ve had your own family and your own home, when you lose your parents, you lose your sense of “home.”

A special thanks to you, Ruth, for sharing your thoughts about your brother. I have known Tim since our college days at the University of Southern Mississippi, and he has been a touchstone in my life.

I will never forget going to the mailbox one day and receiving a T-shirt Tim had picked up in Santa Fe. It read, “Is the hokey pokey really what it’s all about?” That’s Tim!


Towanda said...

There is something about the route that Father Tim took that is so awe-inspiring while in NM, and then that part of Texas and Oklahoma are so thought provoking in that they seem sorrowful to me. As he said, there is nothing like this sort of trip to keep us in the now. I love driving the back roads of Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona.

tiny said...

Thank you Father Tim for taking us on another wonderful, picturesque journey. And thanks to your sister Ruth for inviting us into the chapel for your moving message.

"Hours on the open road open the mind, ease the stress and anxiety, allow a person to let worries dislodge and float away."

Father Tim, I have to agree with you on your above quote. When things got too overwhelming for me at home, I would get in the car and drive the Interstate to do what I called "mental house cleaning." Today, I think it's called "life inventory." At any rate, it works for me. I love to travel also, but my plans for extended travels, both at home and abroad, got cut short so I do armchair traveling, like I do armchair archeology.

When the children and I use to travel from Georgia to Arkansas to visit with my ex's family we always went through Tupelo. On one of those trips, I bought a pair of penny loafers for $4.00 in Memphis, TN. Good sale price!

Although I didn't get to see Elvis' homestead, I did get to see Graceland Mansion in the late 70s. I finally gave in and drove a friend's new Ford pickup truck, pulling a 1938 Ford Coupe, to the Memphis, TN to my first and last (Sometimes I'm a fast learner.) Streetrod Nationals. He had been in a wreck, was DOA (dead on arrival), resuscitated, but lost his vision in one eye. Vickie and Darla who worked for him, had started out in their old refurbished car but had to leave it behind due to engine trouble and no trailer to haul it with them.

Vicki was determined to see Graceland Mansion so we drove over there, was stopped at the gate and told we couldn't go in there, that the place was closed.

Vicki said, "Well I have to go in there to get turned around," and she drove right in and we got a good look at the outside of the mansion. To bad none of us had a camera with us!

Again, thank you Father Tim for sharing your travels with us. And thank you BJ for another great post.

Frodo's Angels said...

Hmmm? Apache, Anadarko, Boone, and Louin you say? Well Frodo sees your wager and raises Wartrace, Bland, Intercourse, and War. Pass through these communities Father, and you've been somewhere worthy of a challenge to that State Trooper hiding behind that sign around the bend ahead.

Father Tim Farrell said...

Thanks for all your comments. I thank B.J. for her kindness in asking me to write on my little journeys. The journey's the thing. We always rush to the destination, but the journey is where we discover ourselves.

Leslie Parsley said...

Father Tim: Your entire article resonates with me, but this line in your comment stands out:

"We always rush to the destination, but the journey is where we discover ourselves."


Tiny said...

Tiny whole heartedly agrees that it is "the journey is where we discover ourselves." I tell people to "dig down into the basement of your soul and find the treasure buried there. You will be surprised how much garbage you get rid of." Mere words cannot describe the peace, joy and the spiritual abundant life that comes with discovery of that treasure.