Dateline: Minnetonka, Minnesota. Home of the eponymous moccasin, Tonka trucks, and the purifying lake waters touted by Prince in Purple Rain.
I’m frequently asked where I’m from and I hem and haw on the answer, citing the half-dozen places I passed through in my first two decades, but this, really, is it. The ancestral homeland. I was born fewer than thirty miles from where I now sit. And where I now sit is the couch in my parents’ house, the house where I lived from my single-digits through high school graduation. My parents were raised 100 miles away. Their parents and siblings and mind-boggling numbers of cousins are interspersed in the prairies to the near west. If any one place is where I’m from, it is here.
And yet, this is the first Thanksgiving I’ve spent up north since the turn of the century. The unpredictable November weather combined with inexcusable airfares had made it pointless to even consider the trip. I made the best of it over the years, spending the day with my Southern family-by-choice when I could, taking my kids for dim sum when I couldn’t. I was actually planning on another Memphis Thanksgiving this year, most likely catered by Wang’s Mandarin House, but thanks to a last-minute influx of frequent flyer miles and the unbearable burden of a gluten-free holiday, the urge to travel became overwhelming.
So here we are. I just dragged two children and three overstuffed carry-on bags through the gates of Helta to spend four days in unfamiliar (to them) places with people they hardly see. Was it worth the trouble? Oh, Maude, yes.
The minute we pulled into the driveway and I heard the garage door open — the sound that meant, throughout my childhood, that somebody was coming home — I could feel a tension release somewhere deep inside my chest. It happens every time I’m here. It’s like when you suddenly realize you’ve been holding your breath. I don’t notice the generalized loss I feel from living so far from my family until that distance is gone.
Being closer to my nuclear unit means getting reacquainted with parts of myself that I then get to introduce to my offspring. My parents occasionally get it in their heads that they’re going to sell this suburban home and move to a hobby farm with their horses and absolutely none of their daughters’ Rubbermaid bins of college notebooks, but so far, it’s been an empty threat. I’m grateful for that, because if they moved, surely the drawers and closets would get cleaned out and I wouldn’t have the pleasure of watching my kids discover a music box that plays “Born Free” or a lost stash of Snork figures. Every time we visit, my children and their cousins unwittingly fish out pieces of my own childhood, one Weeble at a time.
But these trips are also about them making their own memories. On this Thanksgiving day, my kids will share a meal with their great-grandparents. It’s been so long since these pairs last saw each other, it will be as much an introduction as a reunion, and although I expect there to be as much awkwardness as I sometimes felt as a child around my rarely-seen relatives, I’m thrilled that they’ll have that opportunity. It’s a chance I never had, and I hope it’s something they’ll treasure. Or at least not act a total fool for the duration.
Really, Thanksgiving has never been my thing. I’m not big on the food (except for a nice gluten-y gravy and some soft rolls … dammit!) and loud televised sports make me a little twitchy. And for the last thirteen years, I’ve always had the awareness that my family was off celebrating without me, which sort of put a damper on the whole deal. Now that we’re together, though, I can finally see the appeal.
I know there are people all over the country dreading the time they’re contractually obligated to spend with their “loved” ones, but I can’t speak for them. My kids ran full-tilt toward my dad when they saw him in baggage claim. My dad hugged me so hard my feet left the ground. In those first thirty seconds, the entire trip was made worthwhile.
I’ve made a home in Memphis, and it’s a home I love. But this year and always, I’m thankful for the home that taught me what love is.