Nora, the protagonist in Hope in New York City, hungers for more than bread. She yearns to return to her homeland, although it was a place of great tragedy and one she nearly didn’t escape from. Her friend, Sean, is practical and full of American dreams. He says to her, “What is it that possesses a girl to want to go back to the blackened potatoes and desperation of her country?” Nora replies,
“Do you remember the story about the swallow that returns from Africa to Ireland every year to the same place it was born? Every year, as long as it lives, it returns to its home. How can any journey be too long when you’re going home?”
“Nil aon tinnean mar do thinntean fein” (There is no hearth like the hearth at home).
Today, the day before Thanksgiving, is the busiest travel day in America. There is a returning to home, to family, to the hearth, to somewhere…to a sun washed cottage perched on a cliff of heath and heather, to a low-income apartment complex in Miami, to a luxury penthouse in New York City, to a ramshackle farmhouse in upstate New York, or maybe to a family emergency shelter because there is no where else to go. A returning, whether it is to the warm nests of nostalgic memories or to the blackened, scarred, stubbly fields of home. There is something that possesses us at this time of year to go home. There is a hunger to return to our people, whether they are family or friends. Of course, there is the matter of the muddied waters of colonial history concerning the Native Americans and pilgrims. But this holiday has turned into something else. We Americans are often cryptic, with a penchant to gripe and complain about much. But when the year comes ‘round to this season, we sigh with relief for the freedom to give thanks, to be grateful, even to howl at the full moon with glee. The hip cynics can take the seat in the back of the bus until Black Friday, at least. It’s time to say grace and eat.
The November 2010 National Geographic article, Great Migrations, discusses the magnificent navigation of migrating animals. Hugh Dingle, a biologist, writes, “Animal migrants do not respond to sensory inputs from resources that would readily elicit responses in other circumstances…These critters are hell-for-leather, flat-out just gonna get there.” Body scanners and all, we humans just don’t go south to be warm, but to grandmother’s house at Thanksgiving for nurturance and soul sustenance, no matter how dry the turkey is going down. We might have to rub the old scars that become sore and feel the pain of wounds not quite healed, but away we go. It is instinct, isn’t it? Going back to ole Ireland, Nora wanted to go, even if this mother couldn’t keep her from pain and tragedy.
This Thanksgiving I have my grandmother’s china to use, and as I unpacked each piece, there was an instant choir of memories that flocked through me like a gaggle of geese in the sky. Come and gone…treasured ones, as well as splinters of ouch. This year, I also have my in-laws from New York State with us for the first time. I have been given my husband’s grandmother’s linen table cloths and like “please pass the potatoes, I will say, “please pass the memories of this grandmother.” As I visit with my mother-in-law in our kitchen gathering in the smells of spicy pumpkin pies just out of the oven, I am gathering her in, too. Different we are, but let me glean from her wisdom of the years…and give her thanks for giving me her son. And my daughter, Hannah, is coming home with her friend, Carolyn…and then there will be even more aromas. The real spice girls will soon be here.
We all leave Kansas, but eventually we need to return home to Kansas one way or another. And when we do, I hope we can say to a place within us that might be so different from Kansas,
“There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home”