More than anyone I ever knew my dad loved his hometown and looked forward to happy reunions every year! You could feel his excitement as he looked so forward to the trip. For me as a kid I usually didn’t look forward to the long car ride that got us there. I think the trip to Alabama was about 12 hours and I remember times that I would get carsick on the way there or back. The ride in the back was always more bumpy than the front and we didn’t have air conditioning. Once dad got behind that wheel he was on a mission to get home. We normally would bring food to eat on the way and only stopped for the restroom. I remember one year I was maybe 7 or 8 and I was determined not to go. When mom or dad would talk to me about it I would tell them I wasn’t going. At the last minute with the car all packed they picked me up and placed me in the car over my crying and screaming. They figured that after awhile I would settle down which eventually I did because I had no choice. I usually had a good time once we got there but when I got a little older my constant desire not to go caused my mom to stay home and only my sister to go along. Then there were times dad would just go by himself as sometimes nobody else wanted to go. It was his hometown not ours and though we loved seeing everyone it wasn’t the same for us.
Homeward bound for dad
When I was 17 I surprised dad and told him I would go with him that year. It would be the first time since I was 11 that I went down. Dad was excited as he always was to go to his beloved hometown. It was always about catching up with his family on what was going on in their lives. It was about staying at his mothers as she made the best meals money could not buy! I rode in the front seat that year as my sister and mom didn’t go. That was the one year I actually enjoyed the ride down. I actually was looking forward to seeing everyone again and knew they would be glad to see me. Grandma would always give us a big hug and she was always so happy. Grandpa had passed away 6 years earlier and grandma lived alone although 2 of her kids lived in the same neighborhood. There were the normal comments about how I had grown and I knew that this time it was especially true. The last time they had seen me I was 11 and now I was a young man at 17. I was happy to see them all again too, but the experience for me was never what it was for dad. There really wasn’t that much for me to do. I remember taking a football and going to the local school and practicing kicking field goals. It was something I could do by myself and yet it got boring as I enjoyed other people participating. I met up with my cousin and stayed at their house with him. That was better than sitting around listening to the talk about the olden days. Actually since my cousin Lyndon was close to my age we had fun together. His dad had bought some firecrackers that year as it was near the 4th of July. His dad had said that these may be powerful enough to blow a finger off. Well we were lighting them and throwing them and all was well. However there was one that would not light and the fuse burned almost to the base. Lighting it up for a quick throw was a mistake as it went off in my hand. It hurt and a siren went off in my ear, but luckily my uncle was mistaken and the firecracker wasn’t powerful enough to blow off my finger. It just burned and swelled it up a bit. When I saw my cousin years later I reminded him of the adventure. He had called grandma immediately and scared her to death as I was moaning in the background.
As much fun as I had that year (besides the firecracker incident) it still was not the same compared to dad. He grew up there and everyone knew him then and as he was. Their family was very close and when they didn’t see each other letters were always in the mail. Sometimes one or the other would pull a surprise and actually call long distance. Back then calling long distance was quite an expense so usually letters in the mail was the routine. Even though he couldn’t sing dad would start singing many times as the car took us toward our destination. One song that he sang quite often as we were entering Kentucky. “Eight more miles to Louisville, eight more miles to go.” It was part of the journey that he loved so much. You see it wasn’t all about getting there which was a reward to him in itself. It was the journey and the anticipation of loved ones greeting us and being home. Although dad hadn’t lived in Alabama since he was a young man he always considered it home. Though he lived in Michigan because that was where the jobs were at the time he never forgot his roots. He always felt that the yearly vacation or two that he looked so forward to was his chance to go to his real home.
My friend Austin came to visit me and another friend Al a few months ago. Coincidentally Austin is now a professor at the University of Alabama. Austin was one of my best friends until he was 17. Before his senior year in high school his parents moved to San Antonio Texas. It had been close to 40 years since we reconnected around 3 years ago through Facebook. Austin met me and our friend Tommy at a local restaurant! What a reunion we had as we talked about old times. It surprised me how easily we reconnected. Though life for both of us had gone in different directions we picked up almost exactly where we left off. After we met at the same restaurant this last time Austin had an idea. He wanted to go back to our old neighborhood and just walk around. We parked the car down the road in front of my sisters house as she still lives there. As we walked around the block we talked about all of the houses and the memories of who lived there. Naturally their inhabitants back in the day are long since moved or dead now. When we saw a house we would mention who lived there and one or the other would tell a story about them if we had one. We also pointed out fields where we played ball although all of them had houses on them now. Walking down to the old ball field we built beside the church at the dead end brought back many memories. We could picture in our minds who played there and all of the fun we had in our youth. We rode our bikes down to that field almost every day in the summers. It was a time that lingers in all of our minds even though it was over 40 years ago. Like my dads home in Alabama that neighborhood is my home. Everything has changed and yet many of the houses have stayed the same. That trip around the old neighborhood for both of us was like going home.
With Christmas coming soon I’m reminded of a song that’s lyrics are so true. The song was written by Al Stillman, music by Robert Allen, and first recorded by Perry Como and the chorus goes like this!
Oh, there’s no place like home for the holidays
Cause no matter how far away you roam
If you want to be a happy in a million ways
For the holidays, you cant beat home, sweet home
For the holidays, you cant beat home, sweet home
How often do we hear the same conclusions in songs not just for the holiday but how sweet going home is. I’m reminded of Simon and Garfunkel’s hit “Homeward Bound” where it states
I wish I was
Home, where my thought’s escaping
Home, where my music’s playing
Home, where my love lies waiting silently for me
As Christians we are homeward bound too. Jesus stated that he goes to prepare a place for us. The old hymn “This World Is Not My Home” should apply!
This world is not my home I’m just a passing through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore
Do you feel the same way on your life’s journey that my dad felt as he sang out “Eight more miles to Louisville, Eight more miles to go?” He knew that he was getting closer to his home and it made him happy! As Christians we are closer to our heavenly home than we ever have been before!
Eight More Miles To Louisville
by Grandpa Jones
I’ve traveled o’er this country wide seeking fortune fair
Up and down the two coast lines I’ve traveled everywhere
From Portland East to Portland West back along the line
I’m going now to the place that’s best that old hometown of mine
Eight more miles and Louisville will come into my view
Eight more miles on this old road and I’ll never more be blue
I knew some day that I’d come back I knew it from the start
Eight more miles to Louisville the hometown of my heart