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.