Home for the Holidays

The woman I was dating at the time was flying to Israel the next day for an extended, likely relationship-ending trip, and it started me thinking about different meanings of “home,” and how they evolve over the course of our lives. I still like the heavy rhythm of the refrain, though I’m not sure I agree with my own argument here…sometimes home is about place as much as it’s about people, but I didn’t really want to think about it that way in the emotional state I was in when I wrote it.

 

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When I am an old man
I shall go
home for the holidays
home for the holidays.

At two, home meant Ocean Gate:
a little green house where I ran through a field of cacti once; their spines stuck to me fiercely.
I played on my little red fire engine, left behind in the move.
The world was an exciting and magical place.

At five, home meant Ventnor:
Sunday afternoons with lox and whitefish and kippered salmon.
My father sliced tomatoes paper thin, taking great pride in his craft
before leaving again, to spend the week in Philadelphia.

By the time I was six my father left for good.
Home stayed in Ventnor, the house near the beach:
long walks by the ocean, bike rides down to the amusement piers, sunrises over the water.

When I am an old man
I shall go
home for the holidays.

As a teenager, home was a lonely place.
Time spent with friends still felt like time alone, apart.
And home was a place inside, a place for keeping secrets.

In Philadelphia, I grew, alone,
and tried to grow together: married well but not wisely.
In Philadelphia I learned that two could live as lonely as one.

Later, I learned to teach:
learned to touch others, to reach out and help them come alive;
learned the world was a magical place when others saw it through my eyes.
Later, I learned to see what they saw.
The world was an exciting and magical place.

When I am an old man
I shall go
home for the holidays
home for the holidays.

Holidays:
looking back at the past year on Rosh Hashana;
spending Yom Kippur walking down a trail through the state forest, thinking and praying;
called up to the Bimah for the first time frightened and excited, in my grandfather’s Tallit;
saying Kaddish for my father, gone for good;
leading services for the first time, singing strong and clear and unfaltering;
singing at Passover, family together and strong and joyous, passing through troubled times;
next year in Jerusalem.

Next year in Jerusalem:
eyes turn toward home,
toward the Wall, toward freedom, toward peace, toward love, toward hope.
This year, may you find hope and peace in Jerusalem.

When I am an old man
I shall go
home for the holidays
home for the holidays.

By the time I was six my father left for good.
Fast-forward thirty years and home is about people, not places.
And holidays are about people, not places.
And places are about people, not places.

When I am an old man
I shall go
home for the holidays
home for the holidays.


 

Copyright © 2004 by Leigh Grossman