I have never “reblogged” one of my own posts before, but here I am, on the eve of Mother’s Day, thinking I should write something about my mother, and I just ran across this post I wrote back in 2012. My mother is long dead; the women I write about here were still around at the time this piece was written. One of them, Mother’s best friend, Eleanor, died not too long ago, which makes this piece, especially the ending, all the more poignant for me. So Mother, this is for remembering you: your beauty, your fortitude, your laughter, your sadness. Your love for my dad and for me. Your sacrifices. Your truth.
Enter a room
with four elderly women–all in their nineties–in various stages of infirmity and alertness. They are sisters, and all of them grew up with my mother in a small town in north Mississippi. This means they were all born within a few years of 1920. They were girls during the Great Depression, young women around the time of World War II. I’m visiting with them just before Thanksgiving. They are having a grand reunion, and I’m grateful to be included for a little while.
I have driven to the family farm on a gorgeous late fall day, caught up in my own memories, a little apprehensive, not sure what to expect. One of the sisters, the one I see frequently and have stayed most connected with over the years, has Alzheimer’s and is declining. I’m relieved to see that the others–Julia, Eleanor, Genevieve (what beautiful names!)–are in fair…
It’s December 21, eighty degrees in Jackson, Mississippi. I’m finally getting into the Christmas spirit, even though the weather forecast is scary, almost nothing is wrapped, and I came very close to dropping the lovely chocolate pound cake I made this morning. It’s a bit lopsided but okay and will go into the freezer to wait for family to come the day after Christmas.
I’ve made old-fashioned cornbread dressing and stashed it in the freezer, too. For holidays I make my mother’s and grandmother’s recipes with few variations. The traditions are important to my sons, and I’m glad. It’s a way of remembering and honoring those we love who aren’t around any longer.
I’ve cut cedar, holly, and magnolia (even a stalk of a yucca plant) and plopped it into baskets to dress things up a bit, inside and out. My mother and dad did that–nothing artificial for them. In fact, many years ago, my dad used to cut magnolia and holly out of their yard, mist it with water, and pack it in big plastic bags and ship it–yes–ship it to me because I didn’t have any, and everybody should have live greenery for Christmas, right?
Remembering that makes me both happy and sad. Holidays are like that. Holidays can be the toughest or the best of times, and sometimes a little of both. Even in the best times, for me there’s always nostalgia, a little melancholy. So many Christmases gone. So many people gone, too.
But I have memories. And traditions.
A few days ago, I had a bad case of the bah humbugs. I faced last-minute shopping and cleaning and cooking and decorating I didn’t think I had the heart to do. But the traditions kept nagging at me like whispering voices. What about Christmas dinner? And a centerpiece for the table? Live greens, of course. And music. There must be music! I hummed Christmas songs while I ran errands and got the last-minute shopping done. I listened to Christmas music while I cooked.
I ran across that chocolate pound cake recipe last week when I was going through an old file. My grandmother had torn it out of a Progressive Farmer magazine dated August 1958. The folded page has deteriorated and her handwritten notes are barely legible. I remembered her making that cake and how good it was, but I can’t recall ever making it myself. So I decided to try it. A revived, revised tradition. I could almost hear my grandmother talking me through making the cake this morning. I imagined her shaking her head at my sloppy ways; I’m not the cook she was.
There’s still a lot to do, but it’s beginning to look and feel like Christmas, after all. And I’m grateful. Treasure it, the voices sing. Remember.Make new memories for the ones I love.
From our house to yours–Merry Christmas!
Tell me about one of your holiday traditions–one that’s been passed down through generations, or one that you and your family have created for yourselves.
When my husband and I went out this afternoon to run some errands, we realized we needed gas in the car. In the Kroger parking lot, cars were backed up and jockeying for spots at the pumps. My husband pulled around a line of cars to wait in another line, but when the truck at the nearest pump left, he backed into that spot. Yes. He did that. A woman in a black Mercedes came speeding over with a kind of I-was-here-first aggression. She stopped as close to our car as she could, front bumper to front bumper, as though she dared anybody else to get ahead of her. I busied myself with my phone and didn’t look up. I didn’t want to make eye contact, but I was ready, if she got out and came over, to plead that we are old, please, please let us get to the gas pumps. But she backed out and drove off in a huff. We got our gas and left.
through the woods and all that
My husband and I talked about it later: all those people in a hurry, getting ready to travel somewhere for Thanksgiving, over the river and through the woods and all that. To friends’ or relatives’ houses, or even home, wherever that might be. He used the term “home place,” and my mind went immediately to the weathered wood-frame house beside the highway north of my home town, the house my dad grew up in, the house long since gone. When I was growing up, my family called it the old home place. The place called home. I have no memory of going inside that house; those grandparents died when I was a toddler. But when I heard home place today, that image was the first that came to me.
I don’t have a home place anymore in the sense of a place I can go back to. This house where we are, my husband and the cat and me, is home. My adult children will never think of this house as home, though. They grew up mostly in another house, a big, two-story house on a hill across town. Our family moved around a good bit when the children were small, but I think that other house would be the one they’d all say they remember as home because it’s the place each of them left behind when they grew up. When it was time.
my growing-up home
From the time I was an infant until I went to college, my family lived in the same house. My parents moved after I was grown and married, but their new house never felt like home to me. It was nicer, but that didn’t matter. My home place was the little brick house on Columbia Street. I could draw you a floor plan. I could describe the damp basement and the added-on sun porch and the floor furnace in the hall, I could tell you where the pear tree was and the willows and the muscadine vines and the ramshackle garage and my grandmother’s rose beds. I could draw you two floor plans, actually: one of that house the way it was until I was ten or so, and one after that, when my mother gutted it of its pretty French doors and its arches and made it all beige and modern and cold.
Somebody else lives there now. I haven’t driven by it in a while, but when I do, it looks incredibly small. The town seems small, too, as though it and everything in it have shrunk over the years. Over time and distance.
and so: Thanksgiving
Tomorrow, we’ll go to my oldest son’s house for Thanksgiving. He and his family live nearby, so we don’t have far to travel. We’ll be there with his in-laws and my grandchildren, but we’ll be fragmented; my other sons and their families won’t be there. Nor will my husband’s children and grandchildren. But I’ll take my oldest son’s favorite cornbread dressing, the one he remembers my mother and my grandmother making. The one I’ve made just about every Thanksgiving and Christmas for, well, I won’t tell you how many years. The one he wants his daughter, my oldest granddaughter, to learn to make. A tradition.
After the meal, when everybody is sated almost to the point of sleep, my husband and I will head home. We’ll watch a little football. We’ll call the other children and grandchildren. But in my mind, in my heart, I’ll be remembering. I’ll be grateful for home places, here and there, now and then. For ghosts of places. I’ll be grateful for people, too, for all who were once part of my life and are now gone; for all who are here, now; and for all who are yet to come, who someday will look back towards home, wherever that may be, and remember.
What’s the first place that comes to mind when you hear the word “home”?