Through the Woods and All That

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 dad, my home place

My dad, my home place

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”?