At the ripe age of 57, I have realized, for the first time, just how lucky I have been over the years when it comes to holidays. This year, for the first time, I wasn’t home for Christmas and Thanksgiving.
I first started thinking about what it really means to have a home in the first month of our Airstream adventure. As we took off and headed down south through California, I realized that what we were about to do wouldn’t result in us returning home anytime soon. And as we moved from town to town I also realized that there were things that I had taken for granted.
Example: At our ranch in Grass Valley, it takes about twenty minutes to get anywhere, because we live pretty far out from town. Over our twelve years in that house, there were many times that I resented that drive. I’ve done it so many times. However, after about a month of traveling through towns you aren’t familiar with, one begins to realize that there is a certain comfort in familiarity. Even though a trip into Grass Valley or Auburn near our house generally had me meeting absolutely no one that I know, the people around me were still the people from my local towns. For some reason, finding one’s way through an unfamiliar city, and walking through a supermarket can leave one feeling somewhat disconnected. In the end, you are a stranger when you are in someone else’s town – even if you are the only one who knows it.
After about a month of traveling, our little trailer – which at first seemed so cramped – suddenly started to become home, wherever that was at the time. And our small queen bed, which seemed so cramped at first with walls on either side of it, somehow became a nest I wanted to crawl into at night.
I remember very clearly a night about five months ago when our family sat at the dinner table at home in Grass Valley and discussed the fact that we were going out on the road for a year. Our youngest daughter, Alina, had tears in her eyes. I remember her saying, “How can you not know where you are going to be on Thanksgiving and Christmas?”
Frankly, I felt really bad about that. Not only because we were going to be gone, but also because her sister, Milada, was heading off for her last year of grad school in Granada, Spain. I’m sure, for Ali, it must have seemed like her family was abandoning her. But, we had lots to do, and because we were heading off on this new adventure, I don’t think I was really thinking what it was going to be like to be away. We told her that our plans were to get the family together for Christmas, somewhere in the southern U.S. but she should probably make some plans to hang out with other family members for Thanksgiving. Milada couldn’t afford to come back for both holidays, so she planned on staying in Spain for Thanksgiving, so Ali was on her own.
It’s not like Ali didn’t have options. You see, though we haven’t been in our OWN home every year for our whole lives, I can truly say that we have been “home” for every holiday. For many years, “home” was where our parents where, and we ended up at one of their houses, which always felt like wonderful places to return to. (Both Sandy’s and my parents were divorced, so we had at least four homes to go back to on holidays.) And then, as the years went by, we had our extended families to visit as well. I grew up with the Lamkins, and many years ago, they bought a cabin on the road up to Kirkwood Ski Resort. Most of their huge family gathers there on holidays and we have spent many wonderful times at their cabin home. Holidays with forty people in a snow covered cabin is an esperience!
While we lived in Sunnyvale, we became close friends with the Iveson family, and we spent so many wonderful times with them. So, when they moved outside Philadelphia over a decade ago, we decided to spend every other Thanksgiving with them. So, one year, we would go back to Lansdale, PA – and the next year they would come back to Grass Valley. So every other year, for quite a while, home for us was 2700 miles away from home. Not our house, but, like the Lamkin cabin, a place where we were comfortable and could go to be with people we care for dearly.
So, Ali had both the Lamkin’s place or the Iveson’s as an option. But, as it turned out, she ended up at the Guerra’s house – just up the block from our home in Grass Valley and yet another sanctuary of ours. What is it about big Catholic families? I guess they always have room for more people (in their house – and in their hearts), and so Ali ended up having a wonderful time back near our house with her second Grass Valley family. All was well with her.
Meanwhile, Sandy and I had made our way to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Thanksgiving was coming up, and then it hit me. My friend, Ted McCumber, who manages the construction of really big yachts for rich people had posted something on Facebook:
“Heading home for Thanksgiving. First time in years.”
Eight years, to be exact! And we were NOT going home. Not to any of the wonderful homes we had been going to in our lifetimes. Suddenly, every holiday song I had ever listened to about being away for Christmas had a poignancy I had never felt before. Sure, I had always identified with the feelings, but not with the same dull ache I was feeling inside today. With that simple posting on Facebook, Ted had made me realize two very important things; First, that I hadn’t realized how long it had been since he had been home for Thanksgiving – and I hadn’t really thought about how lonely those days must have been for him. And second, I realized how blessed I had been over my lifetime to have people around me who love me and who I care for. I realized that I was a very lucky person to be spending Thanksgiving with my wife, even though we were far from home, and I realized, because of that, this Thanksgiving might be one of the most meaningful, as well. Suddenly all those times with Moms and Dads and Lamkins and Guerras and Ivesons were even more meaningful and more cherished and more valuable than ever. I talked about it with Sandy and it was obvious just how much we missed all these people who mean so much to us.
Two days later, we found ourselves in a restaurant on Thanksgiving Day for the first time in our lives. We could have stayed home in the trailer (in fact, we had purchased all the stuff for turkey dinner, which Sandy made later that weekend), but we decided to have a nice night out. Frankly, we were surprised at the number of people dining out in Santa Fe that night. Who knew that this went on? It seems that when you always have a place to go on Thanksgiving, there are still lots of people traveling, or going out, or who don’t really celebrate the holiday in the traditional way. Or people who don’t have a home at all who are trying their best to make it through the day. I think this last Thanksgiving, more than any other, I felt ashamed of myself for taking what I have for granted. I have always been thankful, and I’ve made it a point to tell those people near to me. But there is so much to be thankful for, and we should feel that as deeply as we can, not only when we are away from home, but especially when we are there.
Home is where family is… and sometimes isn’t.