I drove to Hermann, Missouri today to celebrate the new home of Amy Barrale Broch and Harlan Broch. To my deep regret, I did not take one picture.
Amy knew that I would be attending, but I kept one surprise from her. My son Patrick journeyed from Evanston, Illinois to attend Amy and Harlan’s housewarming. We rendezvoused at the Hermann Area Chamber of Commerce on Market Street and caravaned the remaining two blocks to the historic home where my niece and her husband now live.
Amy stood on the front porch when I arrived, her face beaming as I got out of the car. Then she noticed the vehicle behind me, and she started hollering for Harlan. Harlan, she cried. Come out here! Look who’s here! It’s Aunt CC and Patrick! Patrick came! Harlan, come out here! She threw her arms around Patrick’s neck and I found myself sobbing.
Amy is the daughter of my brother Stephen Patrick. But her mother Sherri Barrale and my brother Stephen became estranged during Amy’s babyhood, and none of the Corleys knew her. I found her three years ago. My son and I have forged a relationship with her that livens my life as few other familial ties have done.
Amy drew us into their home, her arm around Patrick, one hand on my waist. I set her housewarming gift on the table while we took the tour. Amy and Harlan’s home appears on three historic registries, she told us, with pride, and glee, and joy lacing her words.
We saw the new floor which Harlan installed in the living room; the painting he’s done on the walls; the full kitchen that they outfitted including old metal stools acquired for five dollars each at a garage sale. We climbed the 175-year-old stairs, running our hands on the rich walnut of the old banister. We admired the 12 x 12 bathroom where she plans to install a claw-foot bathtub, and the high ceilings where a friend’s husband hung curtains to surprise Amy before they moved.
Since we had arrived at the start of the open house, only two other people had gotten there ahead of us. Amy introduced us to those folks, calling me her “Aunt CC” and identifying Patrick as her cousin. Moments later, someone else arrived and I found myself standing with those people. I’ve known Amy a long time, the woman said. I have met all of her aunts.
She stopped. The next question remained unspoken, but I answered it, gently, as kindly as I could, knowing that this woman truly cared about my niece.
I’m her birth-father’s sister, I told her. She raised her eyebrows. My brother died about eighteen years ago, I added. As though that explained anything.
One of the “real” aunts, her mother’s sister, entered the kitchen as I stood eating corn chips. You’re Steve’s sister, right? I acknowledged the fact. I’m Sue. Do you remember me? I used to bring Amy to your mother’s house.
I explained that she probably had met a different sister, as I moved to Kansas City a few months after Amy was born. Ah, I see, she replied. But you look like her. And we shook hands, solemnly. I told her my name; she repeated hers, with surname this time. I thanked her. I wasn’t sure why, but she answered. You’re welcome. Maybe she knew; maybe I really did, but I just did not want to say.
Patrick and I stayed for an hour and a half. The adorable old home filled with scores of people who came to see the house that Amy and Harlan bought; to wish them well, to hug them, to laugh with them. I watched the rooms fill with so much unbridled affection that it overwhelmed me, and I realized that I had to leave. I needed to think about this family, these Barrales, these Broches, the people from their church.
Patrick and I went to a coffee shop, then. We sat and talked as mother and son; as two adults; as two voyagers. He did not tell me much about his life in Evanston; nor did I babble about the events of my days in Kansas City. But he got a chai; and I got a fruit smoothie; and we had a good time taking a pen apart so he could tell me what he had learned watching a video about how ballpoint pens work. The hubbub of the coffee shop flowed around us. Oktober Fest brings a lot of folks to Hermann, and not all of them want wine in the middle of a Sunday afternoon. Some bring their children for cold drinks; some need water or soda. That set came in and out of the coffee shop as Patrick and I visited, with the pleasant noise of families — the children’s voices, the gentle tones of mothers, the deep rumble of the dads.
After a while, our visit ended. We stood between my Prius and his Kia, and I put my arms around his neck. Then we both got on the road: me to the west, to Kansas City by way of 19; he to the east by way of 100. I carried the feel of my family all the way home, to Brookside, to this little secretary in my dining room, in an airplane bungalow, where I live with my epileptic dog, the memory of my son’s cats (one of whom died and one of whom comes home most mornings for breakfast), and the flotsam and jetsam of my sixty years on earth.
I took no pictures while I was in Hermann, but it occurred to me about sixty miles east of here, that if one picture is worth a thousand words, then a thousand words must be worth at least one picture. So this is my thousand words for Amy and Harlan. They begin and end with one word: love.
Happy new house, my beautiful niece, my handsome and faithful nephew-in-law. Thank you so much for welcoming me into your home but more importantly, for taking my son and me into your lives without hesitation and without reproach. I cannot turn back the hands of time, and I would not have blamed you if you had looked at me with skepticism or disdain. But you did not. You turned only eyes of love in our direction, and for that, if for no other reason, you will always dwell deeply in my heart.
My niece Amy Barrale Broch and her husband, Harlan Henry Broch Jr.