Every year, I pack up my children for an adventure across three states on Thanksgiving Day. It should take 6 hours, but usually rings in at 8 if traffic isn’t terrible. It can be a beautiful drive – literally over the mountain and through the woods. And for me, it used to also be “to grandmother’s house we go.”
We visit my Aunt and Uncle, my brother and his family and my cousins for a Thanksgiving feast that always falls on Saturday. We spend our time in a tiny, quiet town just past the Tennessee border in Kentucky. This is where my mother grew up and where I spent almost every holiday I can think of as a child.
I complained all the time about coming to this place growing up. It is a sleepy town with not much going on of interest to a 12 year old or a 16 year old….and in true pre-teen fashion, I felt cut off from my friends during a time of long distance phone calls and no internet. I can’t tell you how many pages of thick books I must have read during those holidays at my grandma’s house.
As an adult, I still complain about the drive as it is much, much farther since I have relocated to the Carolinas. And these days, we spend our holiday weekend at my Aunt and Uncles who have lived in the house next door to my grandma’s since before I was born. My grandpa passed away when I was in highschool and my grandma passed when I was in grad school. We kept the house as a place to gather for holidays for several years after…but it wasn’t the same without her there. We decided to create a new tradition at my Aunt’s house and that is the only thing my kids have ever known.
This past Thanksgiving was bittersweet. I entered my grandmother’s house, my mother’s childhood home for the first time in a really long time. Renters have been there for many years and my family made the really tough decision to fix it up to sell it recently. This trip was my opportunity to see it one last time before another family creates their own traditions beneath its roof.
It was also the first time my children have entered the house. As my kids ran down and back up the hill filled with fall leaves that connects my Aunt’s house to my Grandma’s property – I soaked in their shrill laughter as their feet moved faster than they were ready for as they took off down the sloping hill. How many times had I done the same thing as a child? As they climbed up the other side of the hill – my son reached for his sister’s hand and they ran toward my grandma’s house. I overheard him explaining that this was the house where their grandmommy grew up.
He immediately went to the green front porch and I thought it was sad he didn’t know we always went in the back door. The front porch was reserved for rocking in old rocking chairs or swinging much too high on the porch swing, singing, guitar playing, reading, or imagining a great adventure with your little sister. Of course, now there are no swings or rocking chairs on the front porch – but those memories felt so present in that moment for me. How easy it was to imagine a younger version of myself and my younger sister jumping off the side of the porch and chasing each other around the house pretending we were secret agents on a very important mission to save the world.
When we entered the house, it was the same and it was different. Time changes everything – but I went to each room and easily recalled what used to be where. But the first room – the den, was really what mattered to me the most. The wall which is of course, freshly painted and bare, used to be bursting at the seams with pictures of our family. It was my grandmother’s pride and joy – to have all her children and grandchildren on that wall. She never had the opportunity to meet my husband and my children – their pictures never had the chance to be framed and squeezed onto that wall.
For a few seconds, I felt my grandmother there – her presence guiding me to capture this moment. A full generation beyond her – standing there in this house my grandfather built alongside his father. I snapped several photos of my children leaning against that old picture wall. A symbolic gesture for me – a perfect end cap of this tradition in my heart as I know I won’t likely be back. A new family will hang their photos on this wall, will make memories of cooking and eating together in that kitchen. They will hang their own porch swing and dream their dreams.
And we will move forward, my heart full knowing my grandparents are looking over my children no matter where our new traditions will lead us.