Randy and I have made five trips to Bristol, TN since my niece and her family moved there almost a year ago. The last one was this past holiday weekend.
There is a Bristol, VA and a Bristol, TN. They are divided by State Street. One side of the street is in Virginia and the other side is in Tennessee. Other than that, it’s hard to tell that it is two different towns. Like much of that part of the country, Bristol’s best days are behind her, but she’s hanging in there. It’s a little like stepping into the past. The pace is slow and easy, and the values are just a little more wholesome. People are friendly. The cashiers at the grocery store talk to you like they’ve always known you. We’ve been there over several holiday weekends now, and instead of everything being open with huge holiday sales going on, most things are closed. The shop owners are home celebrating the holidays with their families. It’s refreshing in that way.
The nostalgia goes even deeper for me. I was born there… in true Bristol fashion… born on the Virginia side, lived on the Tennessee side.
We moved away when I was three. Until my niece moved there last summer, I hadn’t been back to Bristol in over 50 years.
But this isn’t about Bristol. It’s about that tug a place like that has on you. It’s about the feelings it invokes.
Every time we visit there, I can’t help but think about that moment in time for our family. How fresh and exciting everything must have felt. How wide open the possibilities must have seemed. My mother gave birth to three of us there. My older two brothers were born in Alabama – as were my parents. Next came brother number three, then me, then my baby sister, Rebecca Lind.
I remember very little about being there, and most of those memories are little foggy vignettes. Still, that moment in time has a very strong pull on me. A snapshot in time that I’m sure my mother wished she could return to over and over again.
The next chapter in our family’s history was in Charlottesville, VA. And if Bristol was a place my mother would yearn to return to, Charlottesville was that place she wished she had never been.
We had been in Charlottesville less than a year when my baby sister died from a tragic crib accident. I have never written much about this. I rarely even talk about it. It’s hard for me and uncomfortable for everyone else. But today, we are going to walk down that road together.
It was the day before my forth birthday. It was naptime. Little Lind was put in her crib next to the window. I decided not to take a nap that day, so I was off somewhere playing. She apparently started playing with the window shade chord, and it got tangled around her neck and she choked to death.
I don’t have any real memories of my baby sister. But I vividly remember my mom running down the stairs clutching Little Lind’s lifeless body in her arms. She was crying; no, she was wailing. It was a sound I had never heard before and I never wanted to ever hear again.
I remember the spots of blood on the hardwood floor leading from the steps to the front door. I touched one of them with my finger.
The next memory I have was of a lot of people in our house. I wanted to go sit on my mother’s lap, but I was intercepted by one of these visitors. “Come sit with me. Your mommy needs to be alone.”
I remember sitting at breakfast one morning and seeing her highchair – the one we had all used – and thinking she had a nice, new one in heaven.
So very much changed for me that day. It’s really mind-boggling when I think about it all. In one day I went from being a big sister to being the only (living) sister with three big brothers. That alone fundamentally changed who I became. I would spend the rest of my childhood following my big brothers around, trying to be like them.
More subtly, yet more profoundly, that day changed me in ways I couldn’t comprehend, let alone voice for many years. Because, you see, I refused to take my nap that day. I wasn’t there the one time my baby sister needed me. It was my fault she did. It was MY fault. And I carried that four-year-old’s guilt around for years. There was no therapy. There was no help of any kind. It was unknown to everyone but me. I dug a hole in my mind and buried it the best I could. But I couldn’t bury it deep enough. I was a terrible person. I had killed her as sure as if I had wrapped the chord around her neck myself.
By the time I was nine years old, my pediatrician told my mother that I was the most depressed child he’d ever seen. But still, there was no help. No one knew anything to do about that.
Sometime in my 20s I was able to reason things out with myself, dig up that burden, and let it go. But it would take another 40 years before I could understand something even more profound.
If you have lost someone close to you, especially if that person was very young, you know that people say all kinds of well-intentioned things.
I heard most of them throughout my life.
“God needed her in heaven.”
“It was God’s plan.”
“God was protecting her from something we just don’t understand.”
You know the things I’m talking about. I’ve wrestled trying to make sense of it most of my life. I’ve had those one-sided conversations with God many times… the ones that start with “But why…?” God has his reasons, you know. We may never understand what they are, but there is a reason.
Let me tell you something that I know now, that I didn’t know before. No. God didn’t have his reasons for taking away my baby sister. She was a victim of a horrible tragic accident. He didn’t look down on Little Lind that afternoon, March 19, 1957, and cause that chord to wrap around her neck until she died. He didn’t do that.
We live in a world where death is the enemy of us all. One day, death will be no more. All things will be restored. ALL things.
God welcomed my baby sister into his arms and promised her that one day, all things will be restored… even the life that was stolen from her.
While my mother wailed and mourned, he was with her, comforted her, and promised her that one day, all things will be restored… even the daughter that was taken from her.
And through all those dark years, he was holding my hand, whispering beautiful thoughts in my ears, and promising me that one day…
One day ALL things will be restored.
That perfect little vignette of a young family in Bristol in 1956 – it will all be infinitely better that even that.
Photo is of the house my family lived in while in Bristol – taken earlier this year on one of our visits.