Stanton, the girls and I spent Christmas at my parents’ house in my hometown near Scranton, Pa. On Christmas Eve, the two of us headed out for a rare, much-appreciated date at a local café, leaving Grace and Anna in the capable hands of my mom, dad and three siblings.
We were on Bennett Street when Stanton turned onto Wyoming Avenue. Out the window, on the right, was Abe’s Hot Dogs, a local institution. Stanton nodded to it. “Have you ever been there?”
“Of course,” I said. Then I frowned. “Haven’t I ever taken you there?”
Stanton shook his head.
“Nope,” Stanton said, continuing the drive along “the Ave,” as it’s known. “You don’t like hot dogs,” he added, frowning back at me.
I assured him that Abe’s Hot Dogs were amazing. Abe’s was closed for Christmas Eve, but I promised my standing date of 15+ years that we’d drop in next time. “You’ll love it,” I said.
Stanton isn’t a picky eater, so he agreed. We stopped at a red light. He gestured to the right again. “There’s your library,” he said.
There it was indeed—the Hoyt Library, where the bookworm in me spent many happy hours (pun intended!) as a kid. “Oh, man, it’s closed too,” I noted. I would have loved to have ducked in for a minute.
“Ah, too bad,” Stanton said. But he’s not a bookworm; I knew he didn’t care.
The light turned green, and we continued on.
“My old high school is…”
“Right over there,” Stanton finished for me. He smiled over at me. “I know.”
I had shown Stanton all these places many times before. All the places that, when I was young, meant a lot to me. Hole-in-the-wall hot-dog stand, reader’s paradise, school.
That was the place we got lunch at in the summer. That was the place where I won my first writing award. That was the place I grew up.
That was the place.
A few days after Christmas, my brothers, sister and I went out for dinner—our new-ish tradition, an annual siblings dinner.
Food has always played a big role in our family, since we were little. Partly because of our Italian-American heritage. Everyone knows Italians make the best food. Just kidding, friends! (For the most part… 🙂 ) More practically, we were a family of six, and the kids were always asking—and our parents always wondering—“What are we all going to eat?”
So my siblings and I went out to eat together. Sharing a meal—at first glance, the practice may seem ordinary. In my experience, though, it’s far from it.
To me, there’s something special about a dinner table. The physical space—the table—and the people gathered around it. This gathering place gives people the chance to see one another…to nourish the bonds of family and friendship…to acknowledge the gift of one another in our lives.
I read once that “your presence is your present,” as wording for a birthday party invitation. For me, that rings true not just for birthday parties and holidays, but for everyday life. What we want, for the most part, is for the ones we love to be there.
To be where?
To be…right there. The place where we gather as a family…even if just for a few minutes. All those places that seem so ordinary—the fast-food restaurant, the library, school—that, 34 years later, we’re telling the person who’s ended up beside us, “That place once meant something to me.” Probably it still does mean something.
I hugged Josh, Jared and Jenna goodbye on New Year’s Eve. “I loved seeing you all,” I said.
“I can’t wait to read about myself in your next blog post,” Jared replied. (I’m happy for him that he has a healthy sense of self-esteem.)
Well, here it is, bro. Thank you (and Josh, and Jenna) for showing up for dinner. Thank you for making the time, for sticking around, for telling stories that made us laugh.
What have we done with our time if we don’t have laugh-out-loud stories to show for it?
If we don’t have people to share our stories with?
Thanks for being my people.
What we want, for the most part, is for the ones we love to be there. To be where? To be…right there.
New Year’s Eve, earlier this week. Stanton and I were driving together again, back home to New York. From my parents’ house to our home in the Capital Region, we drive through the Hudson River Valley. The nature along this stretch of highway is breathtaking.
All the greenery, along with the car ride, reminded me of the drive we used to make from our first home together, in Richmond, Va., north to my parents’ house. Back then, we’d drive along 64 West and eventually 81 North (preferring an alternate route to the traffic along 95!).
Somewhere between Point A and Point B was a Cracker Barrel that I always wanted to stop at. Sometimes we did; sometimes we didn’t. Stanton likes to get places; I don’t mind scenic routes.
We knew it was there, though, that Cracker Barrel.
We are still somewhat new to this chapter in our life, to New York. We don’t yet have favorite pit stops along our Hudson River Valley drive.
The girls were napping in the backseat. Stanton and I were listening to the radio; yes, country. Outside was cold, but sunny.
“At some point, we’ll have places we’ve been before,” I said. “A favorite rest stop. A scenic overlook we always go to.”
He smiled at me. “You know how much I like scenic overlooks.”
Stanton laughed, squeezed my hand. “I’m not worried about it, Mel.”
Because of course, the places do come, and the memories too.
Photo credit: Pixabay
Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “What Happens Next.” A story that’s heartfelt, relevant and can’t-put-it-down good.