I am sitting in my hotel room in Botetourt County. We drove down tonight from Richmond, Virginia this afternoon to let my son have dinner with his mom. When word leaked out that he was down here, a host of his friends texted, talked, facebooked and tweeted him and pretty much every minute of his time is taken until we leave early tomorrow morning.
We left Vermont Tuesday. There were several inches of snow on the ground, but Vermont being Vermont, the roads were clear and we had an easy, if long, drive down to Virginia.
The past three years we have had Thanksgiving at my sister’s house in Richmond. It could just as easily be at my other sister’s home in Northern, Virginia, I suppose, but Richmond is home. It’s where my parents lived since the early sixties and where ever since the three of us kids grew up and began our own lives, we all came for Thanksgiving. It was for me, and later for my kids growing up, something of a pilgrimage. It’s what we did. No matter where we all lived, Richmond was home. The center place.
Part of what made that so is that my parents were there. Richmond, and my parent’s home, was where we started. Coming back was a natural thing, something we did without thinking.
Two years ago, we had the first Thanksgiving without my mother. It was hard. She loved the holidays and loved having us around. She brimmed with energy, right up to her unexpected death. And suddenly, after an unexpected week in the hospital, she was gone.
It was hard. (I know. I already said that, but many of us have been through this. It bears repeating.). We had Thanksgiving at my sister’s house and it had most of the trimmings of our past Thanksgiving, but it just was not the same. We also had my father there, recently put into a memory care home, and for a brief while, he too was full of life. He had a great day.
A great day, but it would be his last Thanksgiving. He died just a couple of months afterwards and last year, we had our first Thanksgiving without him. It too was hard.
But this year? Not so much so. It was easier to remember past Thanksgivings, to recall Mom’s constant bustling in the kitchen, the things that each year, we did to help her, all the familiar patterns. It was easier to recall Dad, both the easy and the hard parts of him. It was simply, as it is supposed to be, less raw.
While James and I were down in Richmond, we went down to the family farm in Surry County Virginia. My dad’s sister, a still vibrant woman despite a lot of health issues in her family was glad to see us and we were glad to see her. For the first time, I saw just how deep the physical similarities between her and my dad ran. Somehow, when he was alive, I saw the differences, but Wednesday, I saw more that reminded me of him, and of his parents.
My aunt lives in the farm where my favorite Grandfather lived. That’s it in the picture at the top of this post. He started there as a sharecropper, and eventually was able to buy the farm.
For many years, before my grandparents died, it was at this farm that we had thanksgiving. Surry was home, the place my father began. We’d go and eat a turkey (often a wild one that he had shot.) and the last vegetables from the garden. I’d wander through the barns and torment the pigs, and I would walk down to the Mill Pond a mile or so into the woods.
The Mill Pond was my original place of peace. It’s where I went to escape the world I lived in, to escape my father’s anger, to escape everything that hurt. I often found myself praying there, even at a time in my life where I prayed little.
It is about 16 acres of water with tall cypress trees in the middle of it, some of them going back to just after the Revolutionary War, when the creek running through the blackwater swamp was dammed up for the mill.
There is no mill there any longer. The only remnant is a single huge millstone. The beavers own the pond now and have built a dam of their own and the water is higher than I remember it.
But it still has the same stillness I loved so much. I know of nowhere that is as still. The water is like a mirror. If you can’t find peace in a place like this, it’s not to be had.
Yesterday was Thanksgiving, then today, we drove across to Roanoke.
I spent just over thirty years in Roanoke, so in a way, it too is home. I have many, many good friends there and we stay in touch. I am blessed by them. I left in 2009 to move to Vermont, and for years and years, when I made my regular trips to visit my kids (who lived for a time with their mother.), I often told people I was going home.
It seems I have a plethora of homes.
Or maybe I should say I have had a plethora of homes. I used to think of Richmond and Surry and Roanoke all as home, all at the same time, today I don’t. They are places I am from, full of memories, yes, but not home.
Vermont has become home.
It is the place I healed from my divorce. It was the place that I discovered that many of the things I thought about myself were actually true. In Vermont, I found peace and regained strength. I moved, slowly yes, but moved towards becoming myself again and embracing myself, flaws, warts and all. It was in Vermont I discovered Grace as I had never discovered it before, and even learned to give it to myself.
It was in Vermont that my high school aged kids fled when they needed a safe place, and it was in Vermont that both of them healed and launched out again, renewed and mostly whole. It was in Vermont that I found my deepest love.
Vermont has become home. I have no other. And it is not because of the place, but the people, the experiences, the love and the healing done here.
Richmond is not home.
Surry is not home.
Roanoke is not home.
Vermont is home.
My son. My daughter. My silly cat with the stub of a tail. My congregation. My fellow artists and friends I spend my days with. The woman I love and who loves me. They are home.
I loved this trip. It was all good. I loved visiting with my sisters, with my nieces, with my own kids, with my great aunt. I loved the trip into the woods and being at the Mill Pond. I loved all the familiar and wonderful food. I loved the memories. All of it.
I loved traveling familiar roads and seeing the Blue Ridge Mountains on both sides of the highway. I love that my son is back with his life long friends today.
But tomorrow? I go home, and I will be thankful.
Be well. Travel wisely,