Two days after Christmas, my dad and I traveled up the hill and through the woods to spend the afternoon at his sister’s in Wrightwood. This was where my aunt and uncle raised their 11 children, in a home that perennially overflowed with excitement. Each time I step through the door I’m welcomed with an embrace of happy memories.
This visit had unexpected surprises. My aunt presented me with the gift of a gorgeous quilt, handmade by my second great aunt, Mary Miller Meyer. Since Aunt Mary was born in 1851, it’s no leap to guess that the quilt is at least 100 years old, but it’s in fabulous condition and I’m honored to now be the caretaker of this family heirloom.
My dad’s brother, his son and daughter-in-law joined us for this mini-reunion, and my uncle brought along a pot-full of their Grandpa Mike’s famous thick and meaty spaghetti sauce. My aunt made the bread and pasta, and had the serving platter that was used during all the Sunday family meals of their youth, and we all convened at the long table in the kitchen and enjoyed our meal.
My uncle also brought photo albums filled with pictures I had never seen before—my dad, aunt and uncle as children, and my grandparents as young adults. Laughter and stories unfolded—my grandmother running over her foot with her own car, a boyfriend sneaking in through my uncle’s window for a visit with my aunt.
Too soon, Dad and I left Wrightwood and made it home in time for a quick change before walking two doors down the street to my grandparents’ house for our next social engagement. My grandparents built the house in 1972 when my grandfather retired, and once they moved in we commenced wearing grooves in the street, parading back and forth for the next 41 years. After my grandmother died in 2013 the time came to sell the house, but stars aligned and an old family friend became the new owner. Some things were meant to be.
Comfortable in a chair in a corner of the beautifully remodeled kitchen, I talked with old and new friends, but couldn’t ignore the voices I heard, the ones I’ll forever hear each time I’m there. I sat where my family spent countless evenings at Gramma and Grampa’s table, passing heavy platters of food while Gramma paced from table to stove, making sure the potato dumplings didn’t boil over, cursing in Czech when she didn’t make it in time. This same spot, where Grampa taught me and my siblings to play cribbage, and Gramma routinely beat us all in Rummy. They are both still there.
After fortifying ourselves with food, a few beverages and a heaping dose of false bravado against the 30-degree temperature, my current company and I made our way to the lower part of the backyard to take up places around the new fire pit. To get there, we used the rock steps my grandfather made long ago—his first big project after moving in—and I had to confess, I couldn’t help feeling a measure of pride in how perfect those steps were. I have no doubt they will outlast us all.
It was while gathered around the fire pit that it struck me. Maybe it was from the stories shared, and the laughter ringing in the cold night air, but I realized the greatest warmth was not coming from the fire. I flashed on these last 16 months since my family suffered a devastating loss, and being in these two homes again reminded me what has kept us going. These wonderful, loving, kind and funny people, who envelope, buoy, cry and laugh with us. They, and all of you who have supported us in a thousand different ways, are what we need to know that this can be a Happy New Year.
We can go home again. Some things may have changed, but everything that made it home still exists—you just need to listen for it. Listen, and be eternally grateful.