It was the evening after Thanksgiving a few years ago. I went for a walk with my mother and brother in our family’s neighborhood. I listened vaguely to the conversation as we went, but didn’t participate much. I was captivated in the sounds and smells of the post-holiday darkness, and lost in the memories it conjured.
Virginia has always had a particular smell to me, and so has fall, and that night, it was both combined. There was the stink of marsh mud, mingled with wood smoke and the occasional perfume of pine. A few evening insects still sang to us as we went, and I heard the far off exchange between neighborhood dogs and hunting hounds. I spent a great deal of my childhood here, playing “ship” on the hammock with my brothers, searching for easter eggs in the yard, and hunting down the monsters that hid beneath the piled pine-needles under the old trees that witnessed it all.
But it’s not only that little neighborhood where my mother grew up that I spent happy days. There were bright summer afternoons where I sat, wind-swept and sparkling with river spray at the front of my Grandad’s boat, or behind a fishing pole on the dock, waiting expectantly for that telltale tug on the line. I loved the historical field trips we made, to Jamestown, Colonial Williamsburg, Mount Vernon, and several other landmarks. There were also those weekends at theme parks, Busch Gardens or Water Country, filled with music and laughter, and the smells of sunscreen, chlorine, summer-baked pavement, and waffle cones. There were a thousand bright colors, in flowers and painted rides, and a thousand families exploring and enjoying the parks along with us.
Those have always been special memories to me with my family. Waiting in lines for rides was essentially forced quality time with my brothers, the sort of open conversation time that we didn’t necessarily share otherwise, and certain traditions developed, too. I always went to the Irish-themed section of the park with my Grandmother to see the step-dancing show. My mom and grandmother always got vanilla soft-serve with strawberries when we visited the ice-cream parlors. My Dad always laughed at our ridiculous pictures from the rollercoasters and had a special talent for finding live music (although that’s a talent he has everywhere he goes). My Grandad liked the music too, but was generally a silent observer of it all.
There’s more I could write about Virginia. In more recent times, she was the home of my first job, the place I lived for a couple of summers with a dear sister and mentor, and the place I met another one of my closest sisters in Christ. In every case it has been a place of growth and blessing.
It’s Thanksgiving again, and my fourth Thanksgiving abroad. In thinking of my friends and family far away, I can’t help but think of Virginia, and thank God for all she represents in my life. God is good to give us places, to be, and remember, and treasure.