It’s the week before Thanksgiving, and the mind is already dwelling on holidays past, and the joyous family gatherings we’ve had through the years. The brown days of November are unfolding now, with cooler weather and shorter days. Dark comes earlier, and crispier mornings make the warm oven feel good as the breakfast biscuits bake. Fluffy blankets are dragged out of the cedar chest to replace the light coverings of warmer weather.
Plans are being made for Thanksgiving dinner. Fat orange pumpkins are sacrificed for pumpkin pies, cranberry relish made and refrigerated and the turkey left in the refrigerator to defrost slowly. Dinner preparations are a far cry now from the Thanksgivings of the past. We can open a can of pumpkin purchased at the supermarket, along with ready prepared cranberry relish. Mom would cut the heads off a couple of fat hens a day early, and prepare the homemade stuffing then. Now we can buy a package of stuffing mix to put in our turkey. Why was it so much better then?
Home for Thanksgiving—that is the answer. That is the longing in the heart of nearly everyone this season of the year. Many of us are already home, thousands will be traveling home, while others can go home only in their memories.
Home is a magic word, and the thoughts of coming back home touch a chord deep in all of our hearts. No matter how humble the dwelling house, or how scrubby the hillside farm, memories of home burn bright. When a person is away from home for the first time, there is an aching in the heart for all that is dear and familiar.
We have always been a close-knit family, and never ranged far from home for any length of time. When I was a young child, I remember visiting Uncle Myles and Aunt Lucille when they lived on Kanawha Turnpike. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, but the lonesome whistle of the freight trains passing their house in the middle of the night gripped me with a sick feeling that I had never had before.
Our children were worse. When Kevin was just a little boy, he went to spend the night with his grandparents. Before dark, Mom had to bring him home—he was homesick. We lived in sight of their house.
My Aunt Addie once told me about my cousin Dessie Marie, who came to visit her when she was a little girl. She was drooping around, and Aunt Addie asked her if she was homesick. With scorn, Dessie Marie replied, “Homes don’t get sick—people get sick!” I will agree that homesickness is one of the most desperate sicknesses in the world.
Longing for home is one of the most deeply ingrained instincts we possess. The old farm may be sold, the home place torn down or burned, yet there is still that desire to go back home again. I was visiting the local nursing home one time, and one of the residents near me began asking me to take her home. “It’s not far from here,” she begged. The resident I was visiting remarked, “If everyone here who wanted to go home could go home, this place would be empty.” The mind may be cloudy, and reasoning powers gone, still the heart longs for home.
When Mom was suffering with Alzheimer’s, I broke my leg and had to send her to a personal care home. All through her illness, she wanted to go home to Big Laurel Creek. After she was settled in at Dovie’s Retirement Home, she thought she was back home on Big Laurel. She was content.
There is a fierce pull to these hills. No matter how far a person may roam, these hills will call you home. True mountain folk never seem to quite “fit in” when they move away from the hills. Economic necessity and critical job shortages force many of our people into urban areas and highly populated cities, but in the back of their minds, most of them have plans to come home when they retire.
Have you notices that our memories of Thanksgiving are almost always centered on home? We all have special memories and home, family and togetherness are the central theme. Memories of one special Thanksgiving always surface when our family gets together this time of year. We were living in the old two-story farmhouse in Jackson County when the whole family gathered that day.
It was an Indian Summer day, warm and sunny, with smoky shadows tucked in the hollows of the hills. A balmy breeze lifted the dry leaves from the ground and skittered them skyward as we walked the red clay road to the old barn. It was a day to make the heart rejoice.
I roasted a turkey in the big wood cook stove, stoking it with sticks of hardwood to maintain the right temperature. We carried plates of food to the long front porch, and sprawled on the huge stone step and the giant woodbox which held a weeks supply of firewood. It was an unforgettable golden day with Mom, Daddy and all the family.
Daddy and Mom are gone now, and so are Mark, Ronnie and brother-in-law Howard. The farm house has fallen down, and is covered by briars and underbrush; yet the golden Thanksgiving Day lingers on in memory, as bright and beautiful as it was long ago.
Every day I thank the Lord for His bountiful blessings, for every day “He loadeth us with benefits.” I am glad that our nation has set aside a specific day of giving thanks, so that our families can gather together and strengthen the bonds of love and cherishing. We need to take advantage of every opportunity we have to gather together as a family. All too soon, these days fade into the past, and are gone.
We can go home again; if not in reality,
then in memory.
‘Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,
Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home;
A charm from the sky seems to hallow us there,
Which, seek through the world, is ne’er met
Home, home, sweet, sweet home!
There’s no place like home, oh, there’s no
place like home!
To thee I’ll return, overburdened with care;
The heart’s dearest solace will smile on me there;
No more from that cottage again will I roam;
Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.
Home, home, sweet, sweet home!
There’s no place like home, oh, there’s no place
From “Home, Sweet Home”
by John Howard Payne