A Holiday Story: Visiting Home

In honor of the holiday week, here’s a story about the transition between ‘coming home for the holidays’ and ‘visiting home’.

Thanksgiving had been short. We’d celebrated a day late to accommodate schedules. An aunt and an uncle who both worked shift work, and me, with my job at the bookstore/coffee shop that graciously allowed me Black Friday off…after I’d worked past 1 am Thanksgiving Eve.

But now?

Now I had a shiny new job and paid holidays. Working a job that used that expensive degree I’d spent four years earning. A job that closed between Christmas Eve and New Year’s day.

Thus, on Christmas Eve’s Eve, there I was, sitting in an office as the sun sank beyond the horizon, counting down the minutes until 7:30 pm.

The rest of my coworkers were long gone, having the leave available to start their holidays a bit early. I was still on a loaner laptop, in the glory that was my own office: half-storage space, half fish-bowl, looking out upon the glory that was a parking lot–and the smoker’s alcove. The office was a bit drafty, but my grandfatherly manager, after noticing me huddled in my coat and gloves at my desk had finagled me a space heater the week before. I had it cranked all the way up.

Finally, 7:25 pm rolled around.

Close enough, I thought.

Traffic was still rough as I headed the thirty-one miles down Interstate 95, through holiday traffic.

In my shared apartment, I grabbed dinner and waited. By 9:30 pm, traffic was as died down as it was going to get, that eve before Christmas Eve.

I piled all the gifts I was bringing into my trusty red Ford Taurus, most of them books hastily bought on credit before my bookstore employee discount ended. And before I’d actually earned that first non-minimum wage paycheck.

Taking a back highway south, I managed to make reasonable time, arriving home before my parents went to bed for the night.

The electric candles gleamed in the windows, the Christmas tree was framed in the living room window, making sure to impose that holiday spirit to any who drove by.

It looked just as I remembered it.

I smiled as I gathered my bags and made my way towards the door that had been mine for eighteen years.

“Oh good,” my stepdad was standing in the doorway as I approached. Had he heard my car pull up? “Can you hold the door for me?”

My hands were full, so I used my hip to catch the screen door and stepped back to let him pass.

Blinking, I couldn’t believe my eyes.

“Is that my bed frame?!” I asked in disbelief as a familiar, twin-sized headboard, with space for books, passed by me and headed up the driveway to the road.

“I went in to change the sheets!” my mother explained as I stumbled into the house, bewildered. “You never told me that bed was ready to collapse! I thought I was getting you a good, solid bed. I spent my coach’s stipend on it, that year.”

As a high school librarian, even coaching Academic Bowl didn’t make her salary go very far. I knew how much she’d given up to get me that furniture.

“It wasn’t that bad, Mom. I loved that bed,” I hastily reassured her over the cheerful yapping of our puppies. The sideboard was a little crooked, but it couldn’t have been that bad.

“There was only one cross-wire supporting the thing. We’re lucky it didn’t fall with you sleeping on it,” Mom said.

“Wait. Really?” I stared agape.

Mom raised her eyebrows and nodded.

I slumped, then pushed past the puppies, bags still bundled over my shoulders, and made my way down to the end of the hall where my old childhood bedroom lay.

Opening the door, the scent of a stale, closed-off room welcomed me. And the sight of a mattress made up for me on the floor.

“Welcome home,” I sighed to myself.

It was still a good Christmas.

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