My grandparents were Finnish immigrants who settled in Nashwauk, Minnesota which is in the northern part of the state. There they lived with their son, my father, Ray. I grew up visiting my grandparents in Nashwauk and by that time, it had become more of an economically depressed area as the mining industry was no longer operational. But for me it was such a magical place.
It was more than just my grandparent’s home. It was the sweet smell of the air there that seemed different than other places. It was a small town that allowed ample space to spread out, dream big dreams and explore. It was the family grocery store across the street that had endless candy behind the counter. It was 4th of July festivals and root beer stands. It was saunas with biscuit and coffee afterward. It was raspberry bushes that turned into sauces and pies and jams. It was being safe and loved by grandparents who played with us and kept a full cookie jar. It was home.
My grandfather passed away in 1977 and years later in 1991 my grandmother died as well. And suddenly Nashwauk seemed like it might be gone for me. Perhaps it was time to say goodbye. I took my father up one last time in the 1990s. By then he had become ill himself with cancer. I drove him up there and together we visited the friends who felt like an extension of us. Together we drank in the feelings of the town. Breathed deeply in the sweet-smelling air. And then said goodbye not realizing for him it would be his final trip. Perhaps it was my last trip as well.
But lately, my soul has been talking to me about Nashwauk. Urging me to visit. Scattering memories into the forefront of my mind. Beckoning me along. And finally, I listened. I have planned a trip back to a place that I know will not fully exist as I remember it, but just the same is still part of me.
I found a forgotten list I had made at the beginning of the year where I had written “visit Nashwauk”. It had been on my mind for quite some time and I had added it to the list of hopes for the new year. When I finally said “yes” to the longing of my soul, and began to plan my trip, I felt relief. I looked at places to stay and was surprised by the happy tears that came into my eyes. I better understood that all too often we put off doing the very things we long to do. Our life’s longings are put on hold for the endless rounds of tomorrows that we are certain will come. It is important to become mindful of what makes this life worth living for ourselves and just start doing them.
I messaged my grandparent’s church and asked if there were still services going on. I shared my story with the church staff and wondered if they had known my family. A woman wrote me back with a picture of my grandparents from over 40 years ago that had been in the church directory. She said her mother has been the organist for the past 50 years and still is today. She said she would try and see if her family could come when I am there and join me for the service. My heart felt the warmth of home that transcends time and death. A warmth that bridges the past into the home of the present.
I am really not sure what I will see or how I will feel once I get to Nashwauk. I know what I hope to see. I know there will be some disappointments of things no longer there. But I know there is something calling me there. I can’t shake the feeling of joy. I feel that saying yes to my soul, I am saying yes to the Creator. Whatever is pulling me there will be a gift I can carry forward.
Nashwauk is one of my many homes. I know things there will have changed. But there is enough of me still there and enough of Nashwauk that I carry in my heart. And I will sing in my grandparent’s church next to new friends who I have discovered share my story. Fredrich Schiller says “what the inner voice says will not disappoint the hoping soul”. And listening to my inner voice leads me to my home in Northern Minnesota.