We are going home for Christmas. My home. On our way as I finish this, we have overnighted at our favorite stop in lovely little Manistique, on the north shore of Lake Michigan. We’ll continue on today, over the Mackinac Bridge, and down through the Big Mitten. Road trips are for thinking, and on this one, I’m thinking of home.
“Home” has layers. Home can be where we live right now or a few houses back, depending. Home may be the person you choose above all others, as I anticipate it will be when we commence our wandering in the New Year. For us, home will be, hopefully, a view of flowers and ocean instead of February cold and snow. But I daresay for most of us, home, above all else, is where we spent our formative years.
My mother used to say we were “going home” on car trips we took to my grandma’s in Northern Michigan. And it was, kind of. You could feel the past in the quiet spaces of my grandmother’s house, which had been her father’s. The house is gone now; Google Earth shows one big house where two once stood.
It’s always a funny thing – funny peculiar that is – when I cross the Michigan border on a road trip. Immediately my thought is, “I’m home.” No matter how many miles remain until we’re really there, this arbitrary line signals home. Their past, the same “they” who could be felt at the house that no longer stands, faintly whispers, indistinct, yet certain.
I say I’m going home when we visit my brother, who lives in another town about 20 miles from the house in the town we lived in growing up. Often during summer visits, we’ll spend a day or two lakeside on the land where my father was born between the then town and my brother’s now town. The past I feel is mine; the memories have me in them. Before the house Dad was born in was sold and changed, we stood inside and I heard the whispers there, too.
Now it’s Christmas and we’ll be home again with the people on my side. My cousin remarked once that she found this the more fascinating branch of the family, speaking of our parents’ generation. “They were well-read, and complex, so many more things to talk about and so interesting,” she said. I hadn’t thought about it until then, but her description was accepting of the secrets kept, too, as in any family. Home, the combination of familiar and mysterious. The oil and vinegar that, when shaken, dresses and enhances before it separates.
I am regularly amazed that I am not one of the children anymore. Instead, we who were the children are now the elders. My brother is himself now the patriarch of a large and loving family. His example of “home” is the basis point his children and their children will use. As will mine, differently.
We’re going home this Christmas for what will be the last time in a longer time. There’s a sense of finality and intensity. When we get there, I want to savor each of the many moments and not think too much about what has gone on before, nor what is coming. I’ll finish up my thinking today, before we arrive, so I can soak up the feeling of home in the now and carry it along to whatever lies next.