Going home is always different for people. Some have parents already gone, and there is no childhood home. Others have memories that are painful. I am lucky. My memories of childhood are good. Laughter and exploration wrapped in an warm blanket of sight and sound and tastes that are still on my tongue. Memories of the past are like that, often having that impossible quality of perfection we often give to materials things, a favorite book, a favorite gun, sometimes to a whole relationship we can never get back to.
If we could only get there again, have that again, shoot that again, hold them again, our life would be somehow better, as if some cold case crime was finally solved, and the events that dragged us into a dark alleyway in life, are behind bars, never to bother us again.
We've all talked about it. I have often written about it, some small trivial thing of the past that appear to contain the sublime and there's no explaining it to everyone as much as you try. Still in your minds eye it's there, and will always be. Clear and as sure as if it were yesterday. That perfect day. For me it was simply the holidays.
My family never had a Thanksgiving feast for twenty people with Martha Stewart decor. We'd gather and all help in the preparation. Turkey, perhaps from the forest, not the freezer, sweet potatoes and pie, homemade bread and green beans. Though my Mom would make this green Norwegian jello dish that can best be described as a mayonnaise-based science experiment gone bad, but it was tradition. It was HOME. At Christmas, we never partook of the great debauchery of glut that crowds a home with paper trash and moments of surprise that pass like some race car past a stand; a streak of color, a exclamation of sound. Then gone so fast, leaving only a smell of something in the air that is burnt and past saving. Our Christmas was never like that, mine still aren't. They are slow, old-fashioned and savored. Their memory always haunts the edges of a busy, busy life.
The meal at Thanksgiving was not a theatrical production, but elegant. Nothing that took one person all day, as it was a holiday for my Mom as well. Rather, a meal of shared laughter in the kitchen, everyone helping in some way. Even if it wasn't something elaborate, we rarely ate anything out of a can though. Growing up in the depression, Mom learned to make up a delicious meal out of almost nothing left in the fridge. To this day, I still prefer a meal made myself, even if it's an apple and sharp cheese and small glass of home brewed mead, to something fast food-like, believing that the only creatures that should eat something tossed at them out of a window are seagulls.
Christmas day was special. We'd start with a breakfast of Bear claws from the local Scandinavian bakery and coffee. Well the adults anyway, for them, as myself now, coffee was a food, not a drink. I always begged for some, because that wise looking man on the Christmas-y looking red Hills Brothers can, brightly colored and studded with little stars, always looked so happy and full of knowledge as he drank from the coffee bowl. The decided grown up act of the Christmas coffee consumption and the robed man with his deep drinking pleasure was likely the reason my parents lingered over the table, whispering the quiet whispers of long lovers, while we snorted and charged around them, playing soldier and spy with our new toys.
Lunch was Lefse in which was wrapped meats and cheeses with the ever present plate of cookies. Something to hold us through the afternoon of board games and music, perhaps carols I'd play on the piano. We'd have sung, but my family all bore the same family voice - all volume, no tone. So they would listen as I simply played and with the notes of that old piano resonating in us, we'd build the fire. Then, when the fire was blazing and the light outside began to fade, we would sit quietly and spend the rest of the late afternoon watching the Grinch or perhaps White Christmas and read books we'd all received, while Mom would put the dinner together. It's the dinner that I will still make, even if just for myself with some roast beast for Barkley.
Roast beef with gravy, green beans with lemon butter, mashed potatoes and a old fashioned "bun warmer" full of homemade cloverleaf rolls. The smell would lead us into the kitchen like horses from the range, my siblings and I would chomp at the bit while Mom put it all together, placated with a slice of dill pickle or an olive from the ever present relish tray.
When the meal began after a moment of Grace, words spoken for those serving far away, it was a silent flurry of roasted meat, the creamy blanket of potatoes, and perfuming us all, the deep seated comfort of garlic. The meal would last until every last morsel was taken. It seemed as if we could eat endlessly, as if we'd had some successful inoculation at lunch time and could consume not only two plates of food, but more cookies. My youngest brother and I would help my Mom clean up as they gathered around the table for one last cup of coffee
As we bustled about, washing up and blowing bubbles at each other with the dish soap, we could hear the older members of the family, the laughter, and the comfort of a family together for a holiday. As we finished, I went to pick up from the table the can of coffee with the little man and the stars. But instead, I sat down beside it, full to bursting and worn out from a day of enchantment, lay my head on the table and my eyes drifted shut. Whatever laughter there was, there was, whatever deep worries my parents may have had about life, about a family member fighting in Vietnam, were outside our door. Now it was Christmas and there was something deep and starry in the kitchen. Simply moving the can to one side, I lay my head down beside it, nestled into my folded arms, stomach full, warm, happy safe. Despite my very young age, I knew that whatever happened to my family in the coming days, I could live for the rest of my life on this measureless family security.
Today, a cup of coffee and of an acoustic guitar playing classical music brings that all back in small ways. As I sit and listen, I gather those I love near me in spirit and thought, the smell of good coffee awakening something in me .
I will not be "home for the holidays", but I will be home in spirit, with a day off to rest, with conversations with loved ones. Not family by blood, but family all the same, with that same tangible connection, silent invisible, like the draw of a bright flame that doesn't need immediate presence to warm you. Simple, loving human contact. Laughter with like minds and spirits. For the holidays are not simply about being "home" to a childhood memory, that for me and many others, does not exist any more. It's not about who or what have at your table, but what you have in your heart. It's more than the faith that you actively practice, or the faith that sits in quiet silence, waiting. It's sometime else, a connection to our friends and family, to the one who quietly but deeply loves us, to our Creator who gave us a wonderful gift. It's a visceral reminder that we are all connected, we are all worthy of love.
We can't all go home for the holidays but we can all let in a little bit of that old fashioned holiday spirit. Let in that feeling of succumbing to something that laps at the edge of your life all year long, something that will wear away the hard edges of stress, so for a moment, you can be a child again.
Today, as the light seeps into the sky, the house empty, my family changed in ways we didn't expect quite yet, a momentary longing of homesickness welled up in me and threatened to spill over. I just stopped, and for a moment my world was still. I looked at the photos around me, friends, family, Barkley. I look out onto the frost twinkling on the ground like tiny lights in the sun and breathe in deep the beautiful world around and my loneliness disappears like tears melting into snowflakes. I realize that, just as love is not a lover, being with those you love does not necessarily make it a Holiday. For the love that we expect to gather round us on these special days is there all of the time. It is a smile, a laugh, a certain special way of being alive. It is an intensification of life, a completeness, a fullness that seeps into the broken spaces in our spirit like fresh fallen snow, making us whole.