The Heart of the Matter
The wonderful aroma of roasting turkey assaults me as I step into the hallway of the old family farmhouse. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, bar none. I close my eyes and take a deep breath of sage and thyme and turkey, and my mouth begins to water. As I kick snow off my boots I call, “I’m here,” and I hear a shriek from the kitchen and the sound of a chair being knocked over and set right again.
Josi bounds through the kitchen doorway and leaps into my open arms, and as I twirl her around and around, she places a big, smacking kiss dead on my lips.
“Now that’s what I call a welcome home!” I laugh. “Let me go out and come in again.” She playfully bats at my shoulder as I lower her feet to the floor.
“Aww, Johnny, it’s so good to see you! It’s been way too long.” She grabs my gloved hand and starts pulling me toward the kitchen, just as my mother comes around the corner, smiling, eyes glistening. Mom gets teary-eyed each time I come home, and it never ceases to choke me up to see her unconditional love sparkling in her eyes. Waves of love and joy seem to emanate from her and wrap me in her warmth.
How can she make me feel like the most important person in the world with just one look, I think as I hug her tightly to me? I close my eyes once more and absorb the very fragrance of home, and the special scent that is mother. As I set her away from me, I notice a few more gray hairs since my last trip home, a bit more added to her double-chin, a few more wrinkles, several new laugh-lines around the eyes, and then it hits me…she is beautiful!
“Ma, you look great! Anyone trying to take you away from Dad yet?” I laugh and feign great pain as she slaps me on the arm.
“Only you,” she replies with a sparkle in her eye. “Only you.”
From the living room I hear a roar of male approval as a touchdown is scored, and my Dad and brothers explode around the corner into the crowded hallway.
“’Bout time you got here,” Nathan remarks, poking me in the arm with his fist and then giving me a quick hug. He’s now taller than me, I notice, and filling out through the chest and shoulders. Did I look that good at 17, I wonder?
Josi and Mom head back into the kitchen at the sound of something sizzling on the stove, and Ben grabs my hand and pulls me to him. He kisses me on both cheeks, steps back and slaps me on the back, then grasps my hand and shakes it.
“Good to see you,” he says quietly. “It’s been too long, brother.”
“Well, whose fault is that? If you’d quit running off to Italy all the time, you’d see more of me. Georgia’s much closer than that, you know?”
He laughs and gives me a shove, even as he keeps hold of my hand, squeezing it with affection. “Always my fault, isn’t it? Always my fault,” he says, with a wide grin.
Looking over Ben’s shoulder, I see my Dad, waiting his turn. “Hi, Dad!” We look at each other for a minute or two, remembering that we parted with harsh words the last time we were together.
“Hello, son,” he replies. “Glad you could make it.”
“Me too, Dad.” We look at each other, wondering how to get back where we used to be. Back to where I was the little boy who accepted what he said as gospel and had no opinion of my own. Back to the time when his way was always right. “Me too.”
Ben, ever the diplomat, cuts into the awkwardness, “So let’s watch the game, eh? Take your coat off and stay awhile, Johnny.”
As I take off my overcoat and boots and slip back into the comfortable routine of holidays with my family, I’m aware of the blessing of knowing you can always go home and your parents are always glad to see you, even when you don’t agree on everything.
A warm, strong arm reaches around my shoulders as I close the door to the coat closet. “It’s really good to see you, son. Welcome home.”
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