It is Monday morning. A little before eight. I am at my backup diner (My favorite diner has moved to winter hours, which do not include Mondays.) with a ham and cheese omelet and some mediocre, but quite hot coffee. It is time to get back into my routine.
I am a week out from living within my routine. I traveled to Virginia the second half of the week last week last week, which meant I had to work like a madman the first couple of days to get everything done and in place to travel. Little time for the stuff I love and that keeps me sane – the writing, the artwork, the time to simply be alone and think. There were deadlines to meet, appointments to keep, things to do.
Wednesday was a driving day. It’s about eleven hours from my little village in Vermont, to Richmond, Virginia. That’s on an average day. On the day before Thanksgiving, it’s longer. For the most part, it was an easy drive, fast at times, slow at times, never quite a standstill. There were lots of accidents. I stopped counting at twenty. Most of them were small, of the “Driving too close too fast” variety. Rumpled bumpers and grills, rumpled hopes for the holiday. I was full of Thanksgiving by the time I reached my sister’s house just to have unrumpled fenders.
Thursday of course, was Thanksgiving. My sister had injured her knee hiking earlier in the week so she had wisely delegated food and work. My daughter and I were in charge of cooking the ham, and half a dozen other things. Family members brought food too – turkey, breads, dressing, cranberry-apple crisp – the whole gamut. My mother used to measure the success of a meal by how long everything went quiet while people ate. By that measure, this meal was a failure. We talked and talked and talked. But maybe that is a measure of success too.
I am blessed. I have a family where we all actually like each other. We’re not unaware of each other’s quirks, and things each of us do may make the other shake their heads from time to time in wonderment and frustration. But all in all, we like each other. It’s not just the love of family that is “required” because that’s the rule, but there is a genuine warmth in our gatherings as we talk, catch up, laugh (a lot) and reconnect with people we’ve celebrated with for two generations.
Not everyone makes it to every Thanksgiving of course. Kids grow up. We get married. There are long distances involved. (I am by no means the furthermost away from Richmond), but still, we come. We re-arrange life to make room for the trip. We save for the expense. All for a couple of days of togetherness and reconnection. The ham, turkey and pumpkin pie are secondary, though you might find that hard to believe considering how much we eat.
This year I made it and my daughter made it. My son, at school in Florida, did not. My wife stayed in New England, dealing with some issues that came up at the last minute. Most of my nieces were there, save one who lives in snowy and far off Madison, Wisconsin. My sisters made it and some of their extended family made it. Two tables worth. We talked and talked, before and during and after the meal. We talked until, semi-comatose with turkey and pie, we each toddled off to our beds.
Friday started early. There was a time in my life, most of it actually, when I was always the first one up in the morning. I was always the early bird as a kid, a teenager, a young man. I was the one who was up early and had spent an hour or two at the computer, working and writing, before anyone stumbled down for their first cup of coffee. That has changed, however. My wife is up long before me most days, early by a country mile. Staying at my sister’s house in Richmond, I am the one stumbling down in desperate need of caffeine while they are bright and sparkling in conversation. I think I am learning why people hated me early in the morning. That much brightness when you are half in this world and half in the somnolent world of dreams is hard to take.
And it messes with my routine. Particularly on a trip like this. There is always someone awake before I am. There is always conversation to be had. (Did I mention we talk?). And you want that conversation, because this is the only time there is as much of it, with so many of us at once. So even with the best intentions, I’ve never been able to write when I am with my family. There is no time to draw or paint. At best, I might get to go out and take a few pictures as I walk off the pounds of white meal fowl and tart red cranberries that round out my stomach.
This year, I did some serious walking on the day after Thanksgiving. My sisters and I own some woodland in Surry County, Virginia. It was my grandfathers, left to my father, and now we jointly own these few hundred acres of pine forests, deer paths, swamp and a 16-acre mill pond in the back end of it all. There has been some damage due to floods, with washed out bridges and culverts. On the day after Thanksgiving, I drove down to see my Aunt Jeanie, my dad’s sister.
Aunt Jeanie is my favorite aunt. And if you knew her, she’d likely be yours too. She’s into her eighties, bright, engaging and engaged in her life and community. She’s always interested in everyone, and curious about everything. She’s a delight to talk to and when I get down to Virginia, if there is any possible way, I like to go down and see her. She lives in the 1854 farmhouse that my grandparents once lived in, and so going there floods me with wonderful memories.
I hadn’t planned to walk through the woodland, but a text from my sisters halfway down the drive to Jeanie’s asking me to walk the land and take pictures of the damage set me on a different path. I visited with Jeanie then went out walking, taking pictures of the land and the washed out culverts and anything else that caught my eye. I was a little worried – I didn’t have any of my “don’t shoot me orange” jackets or hats and it was the tail end of hunting season. But I managed my walk without any bullet holes. Life is good.
Just before leaving Jeanie’s, she and her husband Eddie gave me a bushel of sweet potatoes.
Eddie’s sweet potatoes are legendary in my family. My own wonderful wife used to think we exaggerated how good they were because we talked about them all the time. But then we got a few during a visit to Jeanie soon after our wedding, and she was dumbfounded that sweet potatoes could be that good. It’s the soil, I am told. Everything else is the same with other potatoes. Sun. Water. But the soil makes the difference. In this case, the sweet potatoes are in a garden spot that used to be where the pigs were kept. For maybe 50 years, the pigs lived, ate and did what pigs do in that field. And now, we have the best sweet potatoes known to man that come out of it.
Roots matter. And I love the rare chances to get back to mine. As mixed a muck as my roots are, they are mine. They made me who I am, and it’s good to get back to the place and people who grew up in the same muck as I did.
Saturday I drove back. I left early. I got back home twelve hours later, back to the woman I love and the cat. My roots are important, and I was glad to get back to them, but it’s what the roots produce that matter, I love my life. I love the place I live, the people who share my world, and the routine I let loose for a few days. It was good to be there. It is good to be home. I am, wild life’s journey, unpredictable life and all, blessed. Not just on Thanksgiving, but every day.
I hope you are too.
Be well. Travel wisely,
PS: The photograph was taken at the edge of the woods down in Surry County.