The Day Before

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Today was one of those days that feels like it is full of festive promise and excitement. School let out early. We are all looking forward to a nice, long, four-day weekend. My husband and I spent most of the morning running last-minute errands, which should have been annoying but wasn’t. We laughed together and enjoyed the time we had. My daughter’s evening activities were cancelled. She and I took advantage of the early school release time to eat lunch together and catch a movie. This was my little surprise to her; I purchased the tickets earlier today while we were out running the rest of our errands. I think it was a nice surprise, and it was a lovely way to spend a casual, easy afternoon.

Mostly, I’ve been thinking about my childhood today. I don’t feel like I usually wax nostalgic about holidays. But there have been a lot of changes in my family this year. Perhaps that’s why I feel a bit more sentimental than I have in years past. I have been remembering the feeling of freedom that came with knowing there was time off from school. And there was always giddy excitement over waiting for our family gathering. My family was big on gathering for all of the holidays. Our get-togethers were full of funny stories and loud laughter, wild domino matches, and an endless array of mouth-watering desserts.

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I grew up in a teeny-tiny house. We lived out in the country, and our house had four room. Not four bedrooms — four rooms, total, including the single bathroom. It was a cozy way to grow up; to this day, I prefer small spaces and tiny houses. My husband doesn’t share this preference, so I’ve had to get used to the feeling of a larger space around me. But that warm coziness stays with me, planted firmly in my childhood memories.

My favorite part of a holiday was going to bed the night before, full of the anticipation of what was to come, and then waking up the next morning. There would be a few moments, just after waking, when the world still felt fuzzy and new and my brain struggled to wake up and figure out just what was different about this day. I would lie in my bed and listen to the sounds of the house around me. I would hear my mom in the kitchen, the squeak of the floor marking her passage as she moved from sink to stove to table and back again. Sometimes, I would hear her talking with my dad. I would feel the mumble of their voices wash over me, the words indistinct, but the sound of it giving me a warm feeling deep in my heart. Sometimes, I would hear my mother singing as she cooked. Usually hymns. She only sings if she thinks no one can hear her, and the sound of her voice, perfectly imperfect, was beautiful to my ears. The memory of it is still sweet. As I came more awake, I would become more aware of the smells. My mom is the most amazing cook. She would be making a feast in our little kitchen: turkey, stuffing, cranberry, sweet potato casserole, mashed potatoes, buttermilk pie, pumpkin icebox pie, chocolate pie … and, I’m sure, several things I don’t remember at the moment. And the smells of those things cooking was like magic. It’s what love smells like: the scent and feeling of all the love my mother put into every moment of every dish. There is no better way to wake up than hearing your mama moving around in the kitchen and smelling the deliciousness of the meal that would come later in the day.

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In those moments, cuddled under my blankets against the chill in the house, listening to my mama work her magic in the kitchen, I felt happy. And safe. I knew who I was, and I knew, without a doubt, that I belonged somewhere. I BELONGED somewhere. As a kid,  you don’t realize what an amazing and wonderful thing this is: to know who you are and where you belong. This is the memory that stays with me the strongest. It is the memory that has come to me, again and again, today as I ran errands and sat down to figure out what I was going to take to our gathering tomorrow.

Tomorrow, my daughter will wake up in the morning. She will be huddled under her blankets. And she will hear me moving around in our kitchen, just down the stairs from her room. She will hear me walking the floor from stove to sink to table and back again. She will hear me talking to her father or to the dogs, because the dogs are always quick to help with kitchen tasks. Sometimes, I wish I was still a child. I wish that I could go back to those days when I was so sure of everything in my life, and when I felt safe, secure, and like I belonged somewhere. But I’m not a child. I’m the mama now. And tomorrow, I hope my own child hears the familiar sounds of home and holiday around her, and I hope they make her feel warm and safe. I hope she will know, in those moments, how very loved she is. I hope she will know that she belongs somewhere.

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