Thanksgiving Tuesday

I’m going home, back to the place where I belong, and where your love has always been enough for me.” — Daughtry

There’s something about the Tuesday before Thanksgiving that still gets me a little giddy inside. I know, right, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving? What’s that about? The Friday after is fun, maybe the day before, but…  Tuesday? Are you that big of a college basketball fan, the Maui Invitational tournament is that important to you?

Well, actually, yes it is, but there’s a different reason that Tuesday sticks out to me, and why it especially did during my four years at college.

It’s the day I got to go home.

I spend a lot of time on my blog talking about my dream college, and how cool it was to go so far away. But the truth is, it was just as fun to come back, the first time in particular.

It had been 108 days  — not that I’d been counting or anything. In fact, I’d stopped my countdown in favor of trying to focus on enjoying my time at my dream school. But when that day got close….

My work-out that morning was a piece of cake, adrenaline almost propelling me off the front of the treadmill. My suitemate’s parents who were taking me to the airport weren’t coming until 10:30am, and since I was far too excited to sleep in, I decided to go to the campus gym instead. I still remember the songs I listened to that morning, including Amanda Marshall’s Fall from Grace:

“Gimme faith in dreams

And someone to hold

Gimme love ’cause I’m out here in the cold”

That was me. In a few short hours, I’d be back in the warm and comforting arms of my family. The idea evoked goose bumps.

About a half-mile from my college town’s airport, there is a Sheraton, with the big letter “S” looming on a sign over the interstate. It’s a signal you’re almost there (well, that, and the planes buzzing over your head). To this day, I still associate Sheratons with “happy,” remembering what it was like to see that big “S” from my passenger window then. One step closer.

Airports, at that time, had just implemented a policy to check all laptops. Previously, you could put your laptop through security without taking it out of the bag (can my fellow business travelers even imagine such convenience now?). The line of five people in front of me all scowled at the request. Me? I handed mine over with the widest grin ever. The security guard, clearly relieved to see a smile, asked me where I was headed. HOME, I told him, more goosebumps spreading over me just saying that word.

Thank God my flights were on time. I really can’t imagine having had to wait any longer in the airport. On my layover in Detroit I purchased a sandwich from “Rio Wraps,” what would become a staple of all my trips home over the next four years. The shop is closed now, which I can’t believe. It’s still my all-time favorite airport food, and on that day, provided yet another — delicious — mood boost.

Airports had also instituted the no-greeting-at-the-gate policy by this time, so I walked out of the jetway after landing without too much thought. I strolled down the carpeted aisle, out the door, and…

A familiar face.

I didn’t even know his name, just a person I’d seen around the gym the past few years. But here’s the thing: it had been 108 days since I’d been anywhere and seen a familiar face. Everyone at my dream school was a new face, people I’d known less than three months. Not here.

A quick pause was all I had time for. In fact, it seemed to take up too much time, so I ran to make some of it up, sprinting through the terminal, down the stairs, through the construction tunnel and…

Mom.

108 days since I’d given her a hug, and let me tell you, we made up for lost time. It was five minutes before I finally let go.

After a conversation-filled ride home, we pulled into my driveway and I recognized a vehicle parked on the curb. I asked Mom why my aunt, uncle, and three cousins were here. “Oh Meg, that’s not their car,” she said.

Right. Did I mention I memorize license plates?

My three littlest cousins, or “my kids” as I called them after nannying the past four years, jumped up from behind my couch the minute I walked inside and raced into my arms.

“Did we surprise you?” The oldest girl asked.

“Oh yeah.” I smiled, and reached over to grab their presents that had been occupying the top shelf in my closet for two months. Finally I got to see how cute they looked in my school’s gear.

My sister was performing with the dance team at our high-school basketball game that night, where I’d see dozens more familiar faces. Yet when I walked into the gymnasium, I hardly noticed the crowd full of my hometown’s residents. Instead, I focused on another aunt, and another set of four cousins who I was close to. “I didn’t know you guys would be here!”

My aunt ran up for a big embrace: “Welcome home, Megs!”

We caught up amidst the buzzing crowd, and cheered wildly for my sister and her classmates at halftime. By the time I got home, I was exhausted, but stayed up with our family golden retriever any ways, petting her as she laid across my lap on the couch I hadn’t sat on for three months. Five hours home and I’d already seen so many of my favorite people. Would Thanksgiving merely be an anecdote?

No, it wasn’t, of course. Actually, I asked my uncle that Thursday if I could follow up his saying of “Grace”  with a special thank you of my own, telling each of my fourteen aunts and uncles, twenty-five cousins, mom, sisters, and grandma how great it was to be back home, and how much I’d missed all of them.

My mom makes fun of me for remembering specific dates. If you went through my memoir, pulling out the most significant events, I could tell you the date for nearly all of them. It’s just how my brain works, and there’s an irony in one. November 26th — this Saturday — is the 10-year anniversary of the date I got my acceptance letter to my dream school. It’s also the 9-year anniversary of that first Tuesday I ever went home.

Honestly, I can’t tell you which event made me happier.

Back in my hometown for good now, around my family so much more, I sometimes lose sight of what it was like to be away. But on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving every year, I’m reminded of how lucky I am to have so many people who care about me.

It may be the biggest lesson going away to college taught me.

What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?

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