As I type, I am airborne. For the first time in two decades, I am traveling for Christmas, back to my birthplace to visit extended family.
When my niece was born, I didn’t want to miss a single Christmas with her. Now that she is an adult, I decided I needed a change of scenery.
More than that, I have an intense longing for connection. I need to see cousins, aunts and uncles. I need the sense of belonging to a tribe and to walk on the soil of my ancestors.
I grew up in a military family, and with the exception of the years we lived in Hawaii, each year we’d travel back home to Virginia for Thanksgiving or Christmas, and once in the summer. The drive from our duty station to “home” seemed never-ending; I could hardly contain my building excitement. I knew my time with family, especially my maternal cousins who were close to my age, was going to bring a lot of fun, laughter and adventure.
Long before technology, we had to entertain ourselves. Family gatherings at our great Uncle Sam’s farm sparked our imagination. His old one room shed, with a cast iron pot-bellied stove and brick floor, became the perfect pioneer homestead. At the time, our point of reference for living in the wild was black-and-white episodes of Daniel Boone. Cousins would tromp across the barren fields, armed with BB guns to search for imaginary game to “bring home for dinner.” Of course, no hunt would be complete without a battle against the enemy or wrestling a wild bear. I was content to stay back at the cabin and keep the home fires burning. The reality was the pot-belly stove had not been fired up for decades and, in the winter, it was doggone cold in that shed. Yet fun always prevailed over comfort. And then there was that one winter day when the weathered wooden handle on the outside of the door fell and locked us inside For hours. With no water. And no bathroom. When an uncle stepped outside to smoke, we frantically waved through the cobwebbed window; he waved back, finished his cigarette and went back inside. Someone finally came out in search of us when dinner was ready.
At mealtime, we were banished from the company of adults. If the temps were above freezing, we dined on the front porch; if cold, we were sent to a back room. Regardless of where we were put, there were shenanigans.
We played board games, set-up camps with Barbie dolls and G.I. Joes, and made-up skits. Even today, the memory of one impromtu commercial skit makes me giggle, especially since none of us had any idea at the time what the old blue bottle on our grandmother’s dresser actually was. My witty cousin snatched the bottle up and touted a great new product, “Cow-magnesia.” The label had “Milk of Magnesia” on it, so surely it was a by-product of a cow. Her theatrics sent us into a rages of hysterical laughter, which brought an adult into the room to give us that “quiet down” glare.
Growing up, I missed out on a lot of family gatherings. When I made the decision to settle in Florida with my immediate family, I missed out on even more. I’ve missed weddings, births of first cousins once-removed, and funerals. And that has always made my heart sad. There’s just something about kinfolk-connection.
The countdown to this visit has seemed never-ending; I can barely contain my building excitement. I look forward to staying with my aunt (and uncle), where there will be conversations late into the night, baking sessions, putting together puzzles, and I am sure at some point, the box of my grandmother's scrapbooks will get pulled out. Two family gatherings are already planned, with plans to meet up with other cousins in the works. I anticipate catching up on family news and remising about childhood shenanigans. And if no one else brings up the story about the dusty old blue bottle, I will.
The pilot just announced we are on final approach. My window seat offers a view of sprawling farmland and the dense Dismal Swamp. As we descend, I look for once-familiar landmarks.
The landing gear just lowered. Unexpected tears fill my eyes.
Somehow, I already feel connected. I sense I belong. My tribe awaits.
...and more tears... my aunt told me she made up my bed with linens that belonged to my grandparents… <3
God makes a home for the lonely. ~ Psalm 68:6