The property on which our family’s summer home sits in North Carolina was purchased over 40 years ago by my husband’s 101 year-old father and his second wife. Yes, he’s alive and living comfortably with Winn, his third wife! This amazing man is the son of a poor Italian immigrant who arrived at Ellis Island in the first decade of the 20th century. His bride-to-be, who was hand-picked for him by his brother back in Italy, arrived the next year.
Grandpa and Grandma Raffa’s four sons became well-respected citizens who led long and happy lives. After my father-in-law’s first wife Julia—my husband’s mother for whom our daughter was named—needlessly bled to death after birthing their second child, Tony eventually remarried and moved to Florida to establish a medical practice with his younger brother Nick. As far as my husband and I, our children, five grandchildren, and various in-laws who now also live in Florida are concerned, the tragedy of Julia’s death was transformed into countless miracles of new life and creative opportunity.
Tony and his second wife, Helen, found their way to the North Carolina property through friends and fell in love with it. Each summer for many years they pulled a silver Air Stream up from Florida and lived with their children in a nearby RV camp. From there they’d drive up the mountain, ford the bold creek, and explore this wild land.
In those days there was one small cleared site. It contained an old stone root cellar built into the mountain, a dilapidated barn, a source of fresh spring water, and an electrical hook-up for the the trailer the former residents had lived in. The clearing was surrounded by giant hemlocks, white pine, native rhododendrons, an outhouse, and wild blueberry bushes on either side of an old animal trail which wound through the woods. Helen’s discovery of an arrowhead suggested it had once been used by the Cherokee.
Beside the clearing was a huge hole 10 or 15 feet deep and dozens of yards across. The former residents had hopes of turning it into a trout pond for tourists, but despite the rains and fresh spring water that emptied into it, it never held more than a few stagnant puddles. Years later we plugged the leaks and stocked the new pond with trout. Helen was too ill to travel by then, so she never saw it. Despite Tony’s worries that it would become an “attractive nuisance” that would end in tragedy for unwary neighbor children, the pond has been a great source of pleasure, especially to our grandchildren who love to watch the trout fling themselves at food which, to them, must seem miraculously to fall like manna from heaven every summer.
We consider the trout pets and never catch or eat them, but there are those who think differently. When we return each summer there are always several missing. Last week we came across the headless body of a huge 3-year old lying in the nearby pasture. Neighbors speculate it may have been the victim of a great blue heron, or perhaps the magnificent bald eagle who’s taken up residence nearby. This is always upsetting, especially for the grandchildren, but in the end we re-stock and move on.
Carl Jung said of the violent changes that regularly occur both in the psyche and in the world, “The grand plan on which the unconscious life of the psyche is constructed is so inaccessible to our understanding that we can never know what evil may not be necessary in order to produce good by enantiodromia, [swings in opposite directions] and what good may very possibly lead to evil.”
I find it almost impossible to judge a thing either blessing or tragedy any more. I wonder if I’ll still feel that way after the next election!
The Wilbur Award is given by the Religion Communicators Council for excellence in communicating religious faith and values in the public arena and for encouraging understanding among faith groups on a national level.