August is a special month for Indonesia, a time when its citizenry celebrates the nation’s independence on August 17, 1945 and reaffirms belief in the nation’s five founding principles (“Pancasila”). August is also special for me because that is when I make my almost annual pilgrimage to Glynnspring, my family’s homestead in Cazenovia, Wisconsin. There, every year in the first week of August, the extended family gathers. Not a small family reunion is mine: along with my own nine siblings and their spouses, children, and grandchildren, the families of numerous first- and second-cousins usually join in as well, bringing the total number of “close” relatives in attendance to 80 or more. Much like the melting pot of Jakarta where I live today, the McGlynn reunion represents a melange of spiritual beliefs (Christian, Jewish, Muslim, but also agnostic and atheist); an array of ethnicities (White, Black, Asian, and Hispanic); and an assortment of political beliefs (Democrat, Republican, and Independent). I’ve often wondered what it is that holds this family together. It is principles, I believe.
Despite the large number of people who visit Glynnspring during the week of the reunion, because of the size of the family farm (153 acres) and the secluded nature of the valley in which the farm sits, an area that stretches a couple miles from the intersection of Highway 58 and County Trunk I to the stone quarry at the foot of Bunker Hill (whose name came not from that famous battle in the American War of Independence but from a drunken skirmish in the 19th century between the area’s early Irish and German settlers), I am usually able to find time to take a long walk by myself and indulge in the sanity-saving opportunity to be alone, completely alone—something that never happens in Jakarta where people live cheek to jowl and the thought of being alone is anathema to the general populace.
Some of my favorite footpaths begin behind the barn: one leads to Bone Hollow where the carcasses of cattle killed in a conflagration were disposed of many decades before; another follows the willow-lined creek dividing that section of the farm to Fallen Leaf where an especially beautiful oak tree provides a blanket of shade on which to rest; a third leads to the Ridge Road, which winds its way through a hillside of dense foliage to an open expanse of alfalfa-planted acreage at the top of the hill where the clear blue sky is as close to the earth as it will ever be. As a youth, these sites were three of my favorite places for daydreaming and meditation.
Yet another path, this one starting at the front of the house, is the one that leads down McGlynn Lane to County Trunk I and on up that road to Saint Brigit’s Cemetery on the crest of Bunker Hill, the final resting place for most Irish-descended families in the area.
This year, it was that path I chose to take, and while sitting on the Rego family’s memorial bench while basking in the quietude of that hallowed place and studying the tombstone of my parents, John and Anna Marie, as well as the long row of other tombstones nearby beneath which I imagined an entire convocation of McGlynn relatives to be conversing silently among themselves, I began to think of the set of principles by which my parents had raised their brood of ten. I then thought of Indonesia’s five founding principles and began to compare the two.
When retracing my steps back down Bunker Hill, past the stone quarry and the former site of the one-room Elm Grove School as well as the farms of the Mitchell, Neary, and Stittleburg families to my own little piece of heaven, I said a silent prayer of thanks both for having been raised by loving parents in a harmonious home and for having found as an adult another home that holds to similar principles.