River + Fir

Finding Home

The Gentleman was in charge of picking out the song for our first dance. For months we would email each other song titles and favorite Pandora stations — in the midst of my other plans, I fully pawned this off on him. There is only one pin on my wedding Pinterest board that relates to a first dance song.

The night before our wedding, The Gentleman took me to my hotel. It had been a busy, beautiful day with friends and family. We had finally figured out how to have music play for the second half of the reception, and by “we” I mean the about twenty people who contributed, like with just about every aspect of the wedding. While he and I are talking about this in the hotel elevator, I ask what is our first dance anyways, and there’s some heehawing and he lands on “Kiss Me” by Sixpence None The Richer. I’m pretty sure I laughed. He started making arguments about how it was a perfect song, and I was trying to agree it was the perfect song but my lame story about why it was the perfect song was pretty epically lame at that moment.

So here is my lame story …

When I was twenty-one — a very naive and relatively sheltered twenty-one, I went to Europe. I was going with a tour group lead by my former Latin teacher (and one of my dad’s old friends) to Italy for a week. For some ridiculously cheap amount of money (like $65), I was able to change my departure city and date to anywhere in Europe. (The plan even came with insurance that would ship my body back if I should die while there, and somehow I thought this was a great perk that would limit the burden on my family should something happen). Anyways. I worked sixty-plus hours a week at two jobs, was taking 22 credits so that I’d be ready to transfer to Portland State in the Fall, and I read and researched and got on a plane and landed in Milan with twenty other Americans, lead by a boisterous tour leader (who I would learn was terrified of pigeons the second we arrived in San Marco’s Piazzo in Venezia the next day), and Mr. McCraith.

I experienced my first jet lag. Most of our meals were provided for us. I did not speak Italian. We went so many places, so many regions. All of it was under the watchful eyes of our leaders, protected. Exchanging money, buying stamps, public transportation, reading signs. All acts were guided, protected, sheltered.

And then, in Roma, I packed up my pack (too heavy) and left the hotel before daybreak to walk to the bus stop, to get to the train station, to validate my euro-rail pass and begin my European adventure.

I was alone. I had moments of utter despair rebounding with the joy of the unknown. I watched the sunrise as I walked. I cursed my too heavy pack. I didn’t have food with me. And so it began.

I spent the next six weeks in five countries, surrounded by just as many languages that I did not speak and currencies I had to convert. I met so many people who graciously gave me directions, time, food, nursed me when I was ill. It was me and my pack. I became stronger, walked many, many miles. I entered churches, museums, gardens, a concentration camp. I stayed in small hotels and hostels. My communication was very limited. I was very alone, surrounded by many, many people. I found I did not “hang out” where other American tourists were and rarely met english speakers.

I learned a few things while on this adventure. Mainly, you have to have enough guts to get on the bus, but enough humility to get off the bus when you realize it’s the wrong bus. The same is true for getting off the bus and realizing you’re in the wrong place. Bravery and humility.

It wasn’t until the last three days of my trip, when I entered Denmark by way of Germany, that I sat on a train with two Danes and had an actual conversation — two wonderful young adults who reminded me what my voice sounded like when it used full sentences after five weeks of atrophy.

I, being of half Scandinavian decent, was surrounded by people that reminded me of people I knew. I looked like I belonged, so much so that people assumed that I did and that I knew what I was doing. I had three days of hilarious adventures. Had they happened earlier in my trip, I probably would have found a room and stayed there. They were heart wrenching experiences — long, long walks, bad directions, horrible train and bus rides, food that didn’t make sense.

My second to last day, I had walked miles to get to a castle and then I had to get back to the train station. This is the very short story. I was walking, tired, but I’d learned to have food and water with me instead of my unprepared self that first day alone in Rome. I walked under a blue sky, with a cool marine breeze, a bright sun, on the side of a two lane highway, flanked by fields of green grass, studded with oak trees, stubborn and stoic. Home, just like the home in my memory.

The next day, my last day, I went to a different castle.  Cobbled streets, copper patina roofs and statues. But I was done. I was tired of being along, of only hearing my own thoughts, seeing things that reminded me of where I wanted to be. I decided to go to McDonald’s to use the bathroom — before getting back on the train — and I walked in and on the radio was “Kiss Me” and I was filled with the most amazing joy because I knew I was going home, that my time of traveling was coming to an end.

I came back to the States, went to Portland State in a slightly different time frame that originally planned, traveled for a living all across our continent, living out of that same backpack. I met amazing people, shared amazing adventures and stories. Then I bought a house, chose to live in Astoria-land, adopted some greyhounds and built a chicken coop.

And then this man showed up — my Gentleman — and joined me. And we exchanged vows on a 100 year old trolley at sunset along the Columbia River in front of family and friends. Our reception was in a cannery built in 1875. We stopped for a drink and a kiss at the bar before joining the celebration. And we danced our first dance to a song I’d heard so many years before, a song that let me know I was about to be home, surrounded by understanding. jonena+roger-437-2916306235-Ojonena+roger-489-2916328705-O

— Photos by our amazingly talented and extremely gracious, Shelby Brakken

Last night, we were driving home through the forest, coming out upon the bay, looking at the hilly peninsula that is Astoria, when this song came on. Our first dance.

Oh kiss me out of the bearded barley,
Nightly , beside the green, green grass
Swing, swing, swing the spinning step
You’ll wear those shoes and I will wear that dress

Oh, kiss me beneath the milky twilight
Lead me out on the moonlit floor
Lift your open hand
Strike up the band, and make the fireflies dance
Silver moon’s sparkling,
So kiss me

Kiss me down by the broken tree house
Swing me, upon its hanging tire
Bring, bring, bring your flowered hat
We’ll take the trail marked on your father’s map

Oh, kiss me beneath the milky twilight
Lead me out on the moonlit floor
Lift you open hand
Strike up the band, and make the fireflies dance
Silvermoon’s sparkling,
So kiss me

Oh, kiss me beneath the milky twilight
Lead me out on the moonlit floor
Lift you open hand
Strike up the band, and make the fireflies dance
Silvermoon’s sparkling,
So kiss me

So kiss me
So kiss me

— “Kiss Me” by Sixpence None the Richer

This entry was published on April 14, 2014 at 10:34 pm. It’s filed under Family, Home, love and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

5 thoughts on “Finding Home

  1. Super sweet backstory, I like the song even more now.

  2. katgolightly on said:

    I love your picture posts, but you write beautifully as well! I was not cool enough for the Latin crowd, but you called up fond memories of high school 🙂

  3. Love it, just love it! Love you, too!

  4. Renee on said:

    This is beautiful, Jonena. Much love to you both!

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