Monday, January 13, 2020

The Great Holiday Migration

They’re coming. You’re going.

Doors locked. House plants watered. Schemes in place for avoiding the worst of it.

America on wheels, in the air.

A week of normal life grinding down. And labor increasing.

Travelling with little kids, stuffing them into snowsuits, packing shorts and sandals.

Or you, the oldsters, dragging creaking bones and rolling suitcases down airport corridors, dodging counterparts.

They’re all coming to your house. Old and young. Red and Blue. Strangers in some sense, now, because they’re living so far away. New York. Thailand. Dallas.

What will you talk about?

Or maybe it’s not your house. Maybe it’s your apartment. Or your condo in a retirement facility.

Maybe it’s their house, say your son’s. We have learned by now that sons are different from daughters.

If it’s your house, you will control the food. That is, your expectations will control it. No?

Maybe it’s your vision of their expectations—the pumpkin pie, the cornbread dressing, the green bean casserole and candied “yams.” The inevitable turkey, gravy and canned cranberry sauce.

They rely on this, the scent of home, the memories.

Well, they must be relying on something, wanting something, hoping, or they wouldn’t make this Herculean effort. Enduring this stressful, maddening travel week, or part of it. Hazarded by weather and crowds.

This is the price we pay for breaking the bonds of family by living half a continent apart. Half a world.

And so much time unspooling between us.

Even if we’re just driving from Houston or Austin to LaGrange, or from Katy to Round Top, the holidays are the closest we have to time travel. With each mile we slip on the skin of an earlier self, with all the insecurities we thought we were finished with.

You present to your parents their grandchildren, eight inches or a foot taller than the last time they saw them, talking of characters from Pokemon Go. Chatting in newly acquired Spanish vocabulary, ages 4 and 7. Wow. That’s some school they go to!

We used to drive less than five minutes to Grand’mere’s house. We used to see each other for Sunday dinner. We used to know each other, didn’t we—even though we might argue, or think one cousin was a bit stuck on himself?

Now we go back home from wherever we live, and it’s no wonder that people fall into their old roles. Their present selves don’t have any other way to communicate. No one can see their present selves, anyway, for the sluffed off skins they’ve reattached.

It’s tragic that Granny and Opa aren’t a larger part of their lives. Continuity is lost, connection is lost. Identity is blurred. They may not understand this, yet. They’re not old enough.

Sure, divorce caused some of this division, but the urgency of contemporary life bears a lot of blame. Corporations move families without a second thought. Jobs in reliable industries disappear abroad, leaving the formerly secure family scrambling. Both parents work. Some want to. Most have to.

Technology keeps them connected to one boss or another 24/7. No time for leisure. No time for reflection, thought, creativity.

Even so, they’re scurrying down holiday highways, across time zones, so everyone can gather around what still pretends to be the family table for a meal no one really loves—except for the bits that were their favorites. And—whatever kind of pie is on your plate—dessert carries the flavor of our bittersweet mortality.

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