WALLOWA, WHERE I BELONG
by Kat Stickroth
Before leaving on a weeklong trip to visit my boys last December, friends Manford and Vera Isley asked if I wanted to put up a Christmas tree before I left. I decided not to bother with it, though it would be my first Wallowa County Christmas.
That week, my grandmother-heart enjoyed a wonderful dose of 5 grandchildren under six years old. I taught Colston and Silas, the two older ones, how to bake Christmas cookies. The next two, Annabella and Tate, gave me sideway glances, trying to determine who I was.
And baby Stanton crawled around in the melee, often getting stepped on.
Soon, however, all children clamored for my lap when I announced it was time for their book reading. I couldn’t have been happier.
By phone the Isley’s kept me apprised of pets Brownie and Mosie who were left at my house. These were constant reminders of my life in Oregon.
I was exhausted as I debarked my return flight. I knew sleep would be beneficial, but was so stimulated I decided to head home. I drove along the Columbia River near midnight and fatigue fueled debating thoughts of whether to move back to be close to the children, or follow through on my new life.
Pendleton. Tollgate. Inching over the Minam, the quibbling continued in my head.
“Should I go back?”
“No. This is your life now.”
“But I miss my grandkids.”
“Think of your beloved mountains, your friends, and your writing.”
“It’s too dark to see the mountains right now.”
“Believe me, they are still there.”
“But where do I belong?”
In early morning blackness, I passed through Wallowa, Lostine and Enterprise sleeping in their illuminated holiday decorations.
Joseph looked like a Christmas card.
“No one even knows I’m back,” gasped my last tired thought.
I made a few turns and approached my neighbor’s side of the tall board fence between us. My house appeared, with the front curtains pulled open.
Through my picture window stood a Christmas tree shimmering with bright colorful lights. It seemed to shout with glee, “THIS is where you belong.”
On that silent night, I rested my head on the steering wheel and cried, so grateful for Manford and Vera.
Within minutes my Brownie dog was wiggling in my arms, and Mosie was at her dish, insisting on food. Yes, this was my home, not because of the unseen mountains looming in the darkness, and not because of my writing, but because of the meaningful friendships I’ve gained here, people I claim as my “family by heart.”
Merry Christmas, everyone, and enjoy your family, whomever they may be.
Originally published December 23, 2016 in the La Grande Observer newspaper. Reprinted with permission.