If you've followed me for long you likely know I grew up in the muggy summers of the Midwest where it's so thick your eyelashes sweat. That kind of heat assaults you the minute you exit any sort of air conditioning. When I was elementary age I played softball for our local rec league. A catcher, no less. All. That. Gear. The salty taste on my lips, drips down my temples, and cold showers were just a way of life.
We go back every year to visit family and I watch as my kids get to experience what I loved about growing up there. The way the lake smells, lightning bugs, dense green woods, and actual fireworks.
It's difficult to describe how I come alive, how my brain is triggered into a memory just by being there. I learned to ski on this water. I got sunburned on these boats and caught blue gills with my worm and bobber. It's why I wave to people I don't know on back roads and say "excuse me" in the grocery store. Midwest culture is woven into the veins of who I am.
We got to spend an evening with my aunt and cousins who are closer in my heart than either of those two titles allow. Every day off from school I wanted to be at the farm with them, picking dusty strawberries and swinging under the big oak trees. I fell out of one them once. Landed backside on a big toy block and thought, "This is it. Tell my mom I love her."
It's the place where carrots sticks were abundant and baking soda healed wasp stings. It's where I learned I hate lima beans on bread, cotton mittens help little in snow, and ticks are not to be taken lightly.
Giving my kids a taste of their heritage touches me deep in my bones.
But this year meant so much more since back in January I could have lost my dad. His blood pressure numbers showed him to be a walking stroke and I started thinking of all the things I wanted to make sure he knew before he left this earth. How he was the best daddy a girl might want. How he changed the game, turned the trajectory of our generational wounds, and gave me and my family all we've ever needed: himself.
I won't forget him choking out words to me or how my hand felt on his neck. We were a couple of blubbering blobs on the end of a pontoon boat.
"So know," I told him. "Know that you did it; you loved us so well."