"Family ties are treasured things,
And far though we may roam,
The tender bonds with those we love
Still pull our hearts toward home."
- Virginia B. Moore
It was a long drive to North Carolina just for a few slices of leftover turkey and an overnight on the couch, especially with three children and an insomniac kitten sharing the same room. But except for the kitten, I hardly noticed.
It wasn't the Ritz; it was better than the Ritz. It was family, where the sleep-where-you-can, eat-what-we-have accommodations are some of the best in the world. Better than the alternative: having no family to drive to, sleep near, or eat with at all.
Georgia has been my home for nearly 30 years, but other than my now-adult children my family is scattered across the country. Two brothers in New England, another in Missouri and uncles, cousins, and assorted other relatives in Michigan, Ohio, Nevada, and the Northeast make it virtually impossible for us to gather around a table for Thanksgiving or anytime.
So when a niece in North Carolina called to invite "Auntie Barbara" to her house during the Thanksgiving weekend a few years ago, I jumped at the chance to go. Who needs a bed and a private bath? I'd have slept in the car.
We may grow apart in miles, but the distance melts as soon as we're under one roof. We laugh, eat, compare ages and antics of our children and grandchildren, and most of all we reminisce.
"Remember sitting on the flour barrel and the piano stool because we never had enough chairs listening to Jim's jokes skating on the muck bog sleeping on the floor or three to a bed?"
We also reminisced about family members who weren't there, some living, some we won't see again around anyone's table, like Cousin "Melly" with the toothless laugh that was funnier than anything he ever said. Seems he had sneezed on a fishing trip and his dentures fell into Maine's Moosehead Lake.
Then there was Uncle Gene with his pet raccoons, Aunt "Chou-Chou" and her harp, and our sainted grandmother who raised seven sons with few beds and no baths and always had room and time for us. Good stock, we agreed. We may have our favorites, but we couldn't think of any family member with whom any of us was estranged.
It all comes back. Every time. Even the kitten triggered memories: the good "mousers," the one that gave birth one cold night at the foot of my bed, and the litter born with crooked heads. Instead of walking, they hopped - sideways, in the direction their heads were facing. Sad for the kittens, but funny as all get-out to watch. Family memories. Things to laugh about and, sometimes, cry about. Things to make us say, "Sure, I'll be there," when invitations come.
I thought about those memories all the way home, and about the one I didn't mention as we sat around that happy, crowded table. Long before my own marriage and eons before the grandchildren, I remember how much I wanted to leave that family and our sparse, less-than-dignified home. I was 17. I wanted to accomplish things, have things, including enough beds and chairs - stuffed chairs, matching chairs - and coordinated colors in all my ample rooms for everyone who came to visit.
I had the "Better Homes and Gardens" formula for a while, but I didn't always have the laughter or overflow crowds flocking to my coordinated house for overnights and leftovers. They never said, but I think they were more comfortable when I went to their house than when they came to mine.
Today, with my still-coordinated furniture weathered to a down-home, put-your-feet-up shine, I'm more comfortable in my house, too - now that I know the people who sit, eat, sleep and laugh together there are a whole lot more important than where we gather, sleep or eat.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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