News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Should I go or should I stay?

There’s something to be said for staying. And of course, there’s something to be said for leaving, too. My husband and I recently returned from a month-long bucket-list trip throughout Europe and Sweden. But home is the best place, and we just returned to Sisters, a place we’ve called home for over 40 years.

On our trip, we visited ancient Roman ruins in Split, Croatia. We went to a thousand-year-old monastery in Spain. We saw priceless art and cathedrals in Italy, reminders that America is a young country. And we saw Sweden.

I’ve always wanted to visit Sweden, a place my grandfather Gabriel left in 1902. He left for America to attend seminary in Minnesota, eventually becoming a Lutheran pastor in North Dakota. He married Henny, also from Sweden, and they had six small children when he unexpectedly died from a ruptured appendix at age 39. From that time on, their story became one of crushing loss and hardship through the Depression and then a migration to Montana, which is where my story began, as my father farmed there.

But I often wondered why my grandfather Gabriel — a handsome man I only knew from sepia-toned photographs — left Sweden. What happened to his parents, his other siblings back home? 

Through other relatives’ contacts (and!) I found many second cousins in Sweden.

“Let’s go there!” I said to my husband, Bill.

After much planning, our recent visit to Sweden (incorporated with our European trip) turned into a family reunion. 

We were greeted with open arms and hugs. Blue eyes that mirrored mine welcomed us with unparalleled hospitality. We had “fika” (coffee with something sweet) daily! I told them that we had a Fika in Sisters, too. Every meal was specially planned, and we looked at family charts and compared histories. I wanted to know what happened to Gabriel’s family left behind. They wanted to know what happened to Gabriel, and we each filled each other in the best we could, with their excellent English. I took flowers to my great-grandparents’ graves, who are buried near the church where Gabriel was baptized. 

Here’s what amazed me: They’re all still there. They didn’t leave! I expected to maybe see crumbling ruins of a house, but Gabriel’s house where he was born is still there (and they still call it “Gabriel’s house”). I went inside the red-and- white-painted house to meet Marcus, a descendant who now lives there and raises Herefords. Other families’ homes dot the countryside, wooden houses painted red and some yellow, nestled amid forests and fields. The 200- or 300-year-old houses have been well kept, maintained, and remodeled. Families still live there, (including many of my relativess) farming, or working in other ways. They still hunt moose and pick lingonberries and cloudberries. The 600-year-old church is still there, where they worshipped, and we joined them on Sunday. They invited me to play a piece on the piano at the end of the service, and I played “It Is Well with My Soul.” I played it for Gabriel, thanking God for letting his family ultimately thrive in a new country. 

And now we are back home in Sisters, our little town with growing pains. Many of us have left other places to come here. I guess you could say we’re a bunch of “leavers” fixing to stay in this unique and beautiful place and we’re all pioneers, making homes and settling the best we can. 

What makes a place Home? What makes a place where people want to stay, a place children want to come back to? Maybe we can learn something from the old country about what it means to stay. Building a place with staying power is not instantly done. It’s putting up with long winters, fire danger. It means going through difficult retail seasons, economic hardship. It’s showing up to vote. It’s welcoming a stranger. It means being a good neighbor, helping others. Picking up trash. Staying power takes work and commitment to our people—to our schools and our churches and friends. For better or for worse. My dad had an old-fashioned word for it: faithfulness. Stubbornly living out what matters.

Yes, there are times to leave. But a place with staying power is a good place to leave from.

Our grandson, who is about the age now as Gabriel was when he left Sweden — is about to graduate from high school and go to a university far away from the sight of our beautiful Three Sisters. Something inside him is saying, “Time to leave!” 

So it has been for generations, the leaving. But may the goodness and security of the Home we cultivate keep all our children as they leave — and bring them back…someday.


Reader Comments(0)