Homeplace

Going home is the perfect way to celebrate the sacred days that close out the calendar year.

November-December 2018

All of us have a homeplace: it may be the place of our birth, where our forebears dwelled, where we were raised, or where the gravitational pull of landscape or culture has drawn us firmly into its orbit.

Richard G. Johnstone Jr., Executive Editor

More than anything, a homeplace is where we feel wanted and welcome, connected and content.

My homeplace is a rambling Dutch Colonial on the outskirts of a small mill town in west-central Georgia, where my late grandparents, two great-aunts and great-grandmother lived for decades. It’s where my mother grew up.

And it’s where my mother returned to give birth to me, her first-born, in the mid-1950s, after the U.S. Army assigned my father to an overseas post in Japan.

Thanks to the Army, my mother’s homeplace also became mine. It’s where I spent the first year of my life, and most of my summers growing up, in the warm embrace of a large, loving family, surrounded by the simple pleasures of small-town life in the 1960s and ’70s.

It’s also where my parents, my brother and I would visit during many wonderful Christmases, in an era where a small, tacky silver tree, a simple wreath on the door, and a few multi-colored bulbs glowing in the Japanese hollies constituted a festive holiday house. The holiday, after all, was not about the flashy wrapping paper; it was about the love and caring inside the box. (And, sure, also about the generous spread of food to be shared!)

After the passing of my grandparents long ago, the Dutch Colonial passed to others, who now make their own memories in those very same spaces I remember so fondly, so well. I’m grateful for the time I spent there.

And we’re grateful for the time our readers spend with us, in the shared space of a special little magazine. To close out our final issue of the year, we herewith offer some favorite passages from treasured works of the season.

Imagine a morning in late November. A coming of winter morning more than twenty years ago. Consider the kitchen of a spreading old house in a country town … A woman with shorn white hair is standing at the kitchen window. She is wearing tennis shoes and a shapeless gray sweater over a summery calico dress. She is small and sprightly, like a bantam hen; but, due to a long youthful illness, her shoulders are pitifully hunched. Her face is remarkable — not unlike Lincoln’s, craggy like that, and tinted by sun and wind; but it is delicate, too, finely boned, and her eyes are sherry-colored and timid.

“Oh my,” she exclaims, her breath smoking the windowpane, “it’s fruitcake weather!”

— Truman Capote, “A Christmas Memory,”
from Selected Writings of Truman Capote, 1956.

We sleep, and at length awake to the still reality of a winter morning. The snow lies warm as cotton or down upon the window sill; the broadened sash and frosted panes admit a dim and private light, which enhances the snug cheer within.

— Henry David Thoreau,
“A Winter Walk,” 1843.

“It’s all so beautiful and at the same time so baffling,” said Mrs. Baxter … “What is Christmas? You can’t tell me and neither can anyone else. Is it a religious day — or a pagan festival — or is it just a bit of folklore that won’t die?”

“Or a shot in the arm for the department stores,” suggested Mr. Baxter.

“All right. A shot in the arm, if you will. It can be all these things and at the same time it’s none of them. On the surface it’s dozens of things that are constantly changing. Yet the heart of it never changes. It just goes right on beating through the centuries, strong and ageless.”

— Edward Streeter, Merry Christmas,
Mr. Baxter, 1956.

The miracle of Christmas is that, like the distant and very musical voice of the hound, it penetrates finally and becomes heard in the heart — over so many years, through so many cheap curtain-raisers. It is not destroyed even by all the arts and craftiness of the destroyers, having an essential simplicity that is everlasting and triumphant, at the end of confusion.

— E. B. White, “The Distant Music of the Hounds,”
from The Second Tree from the Corner, 1949.