Muddy Waters

Marathon attempt #3 is underway and my Saturday morning training runs are becoming longer and longer. Alison Sweeney's 16 week schedule had me running 12 miles of northern WI trails this am, and despite Friday's all-you-can- eat Fish Fry, I was feeling confident as I laced up my sneaks and hit the asphalt. I rounded the first corner, Drake on full blast, only to discover a dead deer sprawled across the middle of the trail. This should have been my first indication that the run was doomed, but having grown up in the northwoods, I've seen more dead deer than live ones - so I continued on.  

Before we moved to our family's current lake home, we lived in a house just a town over- which happens to sit right on the trail that I was running this morning. It was almost exactly 6 miles down from the trailhead, so I planned on running to the house, taking a literal lap down memory lane, before turning around and pushing through the second half. 

I didn't really know what I was expecting to find. I've driven passed the place a few times and noticed that it was in need of a little TLC. Unlike our busy, happy family of five, the house is now owned by someone who has zero interest in keeping up with the house. Quite honestly, it should probably be condemned. It doesn't look like anyone has been there in years. The grass is all overgrown, the wrap around porch has started sinking in, it's lattice frame barely hanging together by rusted nails. I walked around the yard heartbroken, thinking about how much time and effort my parents had spent making this house a home for our family. I thought about the hours we spent playing in the backyard on those hot summer days.  I thought about the birthday parties, family reunions, and basketball games in the driveway. I thought a lot about my mom. It's been almost nine years now since she passed and sometimes I feel as though I'm forgetting her. But walking around the house today, it brought back so many memories of us together. So many small, seemingly insignificant moments (at the time), that now have this way of transporting me back in time, in a way that makes me feel like she's sitting right there with me, experiencing it all over again. 

Changing my original course, I picked a few wildflowers from the overgrown lawn and decided to run towards the cemetery just half a mile down the road.  I never thought I would find much comfort in visiting the cemetery where we buried my mom, and while I wouldn't necessarily say it's always comforting - it can be downright brutal at times - there's an undeniable sense of healing in it. As I walked the path to her gravestone, I could feel the knot in my throat start to grow. I'm not an especially emotional person; not that I don't have feelings but I tend to keep pretty tight control over them - an unfortunate side effect of having some serious control issues; I'm working on it. :) But as I walked through the cemetery, I could hear someone playing Tim McGraw's  "Humble and Kind" on the guitar nearby. My self-constructed emotional walls were no match and I just sat in front of my mom's gravestone and had myself an ugly cry. 

As I was trying to figure out how I was going to pull myself together and run the remaining six miles back to my car, my phone buzzed. My oldest friend was on her way to my dad's house with her two babies and her mom for an overdue visit. A little backstory, my parents met Dave and Mary shortly after they moved up north. They had twin boys and a little girl, Kathleen - who quickly became my partner in crime. And by partner in crime, I mostly mean she peer pressured me into mischief through most of our childhood. We've been through everything together, including the loss of my mom, which she felt just as deeply as I did. She texted me letting me know that they were running late and had to make a quick pit stop. To my surprise, they were in the parking lot literally right next to the cemetery. I made my way over, plopped myself in her front seat, with no need to explain why I looked like such a hot mess. They understood. And if I could wish something for everyone in the world, it would be that they have a friend or two like this. 

Later this evening, after everyone had left I decided to drive passed the old house once more. It started raining and by the time I got to the house, there wasn't much to do but sit across from the driveway and watch the rain run off the top of the roof.  As kids, any time it would rain, we would put on our swimsuits and run around the front lawn, splashing through the large puddle that would form at the end of our gravel driveway. It was usually muddy and rocky, but we didn't care. It was always warm and seemed like a better alternative to staying indoors. As I looked on from my car, I noticed that even after all of these years, the rain still found its way to our poor man's pool. Not wanting to disappoint my ten year old self, I made my way out into the pouring rain, barefoot, and splashed through the muddy water. I can only imagine the kind of crazy I looked to people driving by. But after all of the day's events, I couldn't have cared less. I had come to realize that such small, silly traditions should never be completely abandoned, because you never really know how much they'll mean to you, until they've become only just a memory. 



Stephanie Zillmer