“Do you know where Papa and I are going” asks Grandma.
“To the place Jesus was born” comes the answer.
For some reason, the phrase ripples through my memory like a hand gliding over harp strings. Without effort I begin to remember other instances where it was important to physically see a birthplace.
I remember the excitement of my father – who was often distant and remote – as he drove our family’s ’61 DeSoto north from Calgary towards his birthplace in Bowden, Alberta. Most of the names of family and locations he rhymed off slipped through the net of my memory without a catch but the strength of his desire for us to see the place of his childhood, the streets he walked, the land they lost during the Great Depression remains. He always used to complain that the mountains of British Columbia got in the way of the view. Two weeks experiencing both prairie sunsets and thunderstorms put a different frame around his quip in a way no book or movie could.
I remember visiting the hospital in Lethbridge with my son when he was 7 years old. The day we visited a pianist was playing in the atrium and the facility sparkled in the summer sun. When we emerged he said, “I was born in a really nice place.” The visit did not quash all the challenges of adoption but at least one real image butted against a fear.
I remember the eagerness of my wife to show me the town of her birth Pine Falls, Manitoba.
“Here’s the house we lived in. I could sleep in until 20 minutes before school started and still run the three blocks before the bell stopped ringing.
And here is the church.”
Soaked into the dark wood were decades of hymns and prayers. People had stood and sang out their joy and collapsed upon the old pews in their grief. There she first heard the Bible stories and was shaped by CGIT.
I remember laying upon a table in the hospital waiting a procedure. The doctor, making small talk and checking the record, asked where I was from.
“Trail,” I responded.
“Me too,” he said. And then, “Have you ever noticed that people from Trail only say it as one word, seldom qualified by region or province?”
I do not know if that is true but I wouldn’t be surprised. For we were raised in the home of the World Champion Trail Smoke Eaters (1939, 1961). We don’t need Wikipedia to declare what we already know – “They are recognized as being one of the best senior hockey teams in Canadian history.” The statue outside the Credit Union declares Trail to be a City of Champions, just read the names. The youth of my generation had two paths, university or working on “the hill,” the site of the largest Lead and Zinc Smelter in the world.
Every day I walked by or over the mighty Columbia River. When I look at the Winnipeg River that runs through the hometown of my wife or at the muddy waters of the Jordan River in the home country of Jesus a small part of me adjusts my definition of “river.”
And that is part of the reason we go to see the countryside in which Jesus was born and raised. Something about feeling the particular texture of the earth underfoot or the evening light in the sky deepens understanding of and empathy for those we care about and what they conceived of as reality.