History and Home

I spent this beautiful weekend catching up with family that I do not get to see often enough and a dear college friend who I hadn’t seen in 20 (has it been that long?) years. On the long drive home I couldn’t help but to think about my history and how it has shaped the person I am today.

Family Memories

I come from a large, loud, sometimes cranky, often laughing, always hungry family of people who would give a stranger their last dollar if he needed it worse than us. Though I wasn’t raised in the country like many of my cousins – I know nothing about guns, fish make me squirm, and don’t even mention snakes to me – we have two very important things in common, blood and history.

Ever since I was very small Thanksgivings were spent with my entire extended family at my grandparents’ house in rural Missouri. Just thinking about those days brings a smile to my face. Grandpa, the quintessential patriarch of the clan could be classified as the stingiest man on earth. I remember all of the adults (the three grown children of Grandma and Grandpa, my dad the middle child) tried in vain each morning to be the first person to the kitchen to make the coffee. Grandpa insisted upon reusing the coffee grounds no fewer than 3 times because, “They’re still fine.” This resulted in a percolator full of vile tasting tea-colored hot water, undrinkable to the suburbanites staying in the house. But even that swill could not ruin the massive amount of scrambled eggs with bacon mixed in and warm buttered toast. Breakfast time usually lasted about 3 hours as we all sat around the table chatting about nothing and everything while shift after shift of pajama clad kids and spouses, boyfriends, and friends wandered into the kitchen for the next round. Grandpa was always ready to fix a new batch with a smile and a strong bear hug that warmed even the crankiest soul. Grandma lost most of her hearing during the influenza epidemic when she was 3 years old, but that didn’t stop her from sitting at the table with us – nibbling on her perfectly burnt toast, and smiling. She had no clue what was being said at the table, and frankly didn’t really care until loud laughter erupted. She’d lean into Grandpa, “What did they say?” and he would shout two or three times in her ear whatever it was, the PG version – those conversations could get a little raunchy. She was happy as long as she was with her Fred. I think I  my shoe obsession comes from her. Grandma always sported high heels and a perfectly coiffed bun. She could stand for hours in the kitchen in those heels and never miss a beat. She’s personally responsible for the extra weight we each carried home at the end of our visit. We grazed on her chocolate chip cookies and oyster cracker snacks all day every day, it seemed like the supply was endless. Between that and Aunt Nancy’s toffee, the extra fluffiness was inevitable, but well worth it! Our traditional Thanksgiving was always celebrated on Friday instead of the actual holiday to accommodate folks who couldn’t make it in time. Black Friday to me has always meant a frenzy of cooking and cleaning. I can’t think of the Thanksgiving feast without my Aunt Ruth’s forest green “turkey sweatshirt” – always followed by the Christmas one on Saturday, Grandma’s pumpkin and apple pies (with cool whip of course), canned cranberries evenly sliced, separate platters of dark and white meat turkey, and mounds of mashed potatoes and dressing. The feast that could feed a small country. I’ll never forget the glee I felt when I was finally allowed a seat at the adult table upstairs. After dinner, of course, there was the inevitable sounds of snoring from the living room as my dad, Uncle Bob and Grandpa slept upright in their chairs, a skill I’ve yet to master, as the ladies cleaned up and prepared for the game of charades that would follow. At the end of the holiday nobody was allowed to leave the house without a group prayer. The circle of people I loved dearly held hands as Grandpa prayed for our safe journeys and quick return. His prayers were profound and meaningful and I cannot remember a single one of them. I wish I could. I can remember, however, the one time he chimed into a lively political discussion with a pretty tawdry remark, which I will not repeat, but still laugh about today. It remains the number one topic of discussion when we think of Grandpa – much to his chagrin, I imagine.

Eventually, Grandpa’s eyes began to fail and so did Grandma’s health until he had to make the heartbreaking decision to put her in a nursing home. Grandma’s sweet spirit brought sunshine into that place. When asked if she knew where she was one day shortly after moving into the home, she smiled, “I have no idea, but it sure is nice.” That was Grandma, happy where she was. When we lost Grandpa, we were devastated, but grateful in a way that Grandma didn’t really know, her Alzheimer’s had progressed pretty far by then. Those two were truly soul mates and I think Grandpa’s spirit lingered with her until she passed several years later. After we lost them, we tried to keep the Thanksgiving tradition for a few years at my dad’s house, but when we lost him, it fell apart.  There is such a sadness in losing a huge part of my life, but it’s also very much still a part of who I am today.

Where Is Home?

It’s interesting that the theme of roots and history wove itself into every aspect of my weekend. As I visited with my college friend we talked about his childhood home, where he currently resides. He took me on a journey of his happy memories and all that had changed. He shared how even though he lived all over the country at various times in his life, he’d always call Louisville, Kentucky his home. This made me wonder where my “home” is. I do not live in the town where I grew up, though I certainly enjoy visiting from time to time. So, I wondered, is my home where I live or where my history lies? I think it’s both. My home is my family, my boys and my husband. So no matter where that is geographically, it’s home. I think that comes from the Thanksgivings I shared with my big, loud, hungry family. It’s what I learned from my grandparents, that family is who you are. It’s an important part of your soul and shapes the person you will become. It’s your past, your present, and your future. Whether your past was a difficult one or filled with laughter like mine, it shapes each of us. It’s what we choose to do with that past that counts. So, I have chosen to take what I learned from my family and continue it with my own, making new traditions and memories for my kids and future grand kids.

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