I don’t normally dress like a lumberjack. In fact, the last time I even wore plaid was back in the ’90s, during the grunge era, when I was in high school. Back then I wore it with Doc Martens. Today, I’m wearing it with beautiful Ecco boots. But, sometimes, life calls for flannel. Like when you’re in the middle of nowhere Panhandle Florida, aka Defuniak Springs, and it’s legit cold.
And sometimes the last place you want to be is exactly where you should be. You see, I haven’t been home for Christmas in two years. Calling it home is a stretch, because I never actually lived in Defuniak Springs. I grew up in Destin, but somewhere along my non-Panhandle timeline, my family moved to Defuniak Springs, so home is a house I never actually lived in. But my grandmother did, and being in her home without her is hard. She was my best friend. My hero. It’s hard to be in a place where someone who should be isn’t. But like I said, sometimes the last pace you want to be is exactly where you should be.
There are two ways to get to this middle of nowhere: 1) An hour and 15 minute plane ride, then a two hour car ride. And given my aversion to flying, this becomes an excuse for also not going home. 2) Or a 10+ hour car ride. No thank you. But the idea of being away from my family for Christmas this year was too much. It’s been a rough year to put it mildly. So my mom asked me to come home. And I did, even though I knew she’d make a fuss over me being too thin. And I’d have to answer questions I didn’t want to. And I’d have to put on a brave face. And you know what? Most of that didn’t happen (my stepdad did force feed me Southern cooking in the most deceptive of ways—leaving homemade cheese straws around every corner), and it was the best decision I ever made. Sometimes you just need to get back to your roots, because those are the people who know you better than you know yourself. And they love you no matter what. And this turned out to be one of the best trips home ever. Like I told my mom, “I’ll never not go home for Christmas again.”
And this is why:
Operation airport with kid. I got this, two rolling suitcases, two huge carry-ons and all. And doing it gave me a boost of confidence. Maybe I am braver than I think I am. Tapping into my inner Wonder Woman did a world of good.
Ready for takeoff. I’m not saying I didn’t freak out, because I did. I think everyone I know knows how much I hate flying. Sure, I clutched Milly’s hand during takeoff and landing, but I did it. I did it. And all it took was some crayons, Hello Kitty coloring pages and a fearless 5-year-old sitting by my side.
And when we arrived, this is what we found. My mom. I can’t believe I haven’t seen her in almost two years. Two years. Insane. We will never go that long without seeing each other again.
And she wasn’t the only one who was glad to see us. Kiddo got to catch up with her cousins. And they were as thrilled to see her as she was to see them.
So what is this place that I flew off to? It’s a tiny little middle-of-nowhere town where going to Wal-mart is a social activity and driving into the city takes a solid hour. There’s no Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s or even a Starbucks. My mom calls Miami Sodom and Gomorrah. I call her neck of the woods Mayberry. It’s a sleepy little town with a boiled peanut stand on the side of the road, where Duck Dynasty is a type of religion. It’s flannel shirt country, basically.
But it’s where my family calls home. And we made the most fun out of nothing while we were there, like spending the days antiquing and the nights going for horse-drawn wagon rides to look at the lights that surround what is the second-ever naturally occurring round lake in the world (the other is in Europe). It’s an historic little place, with one of the oldest libraries in the state, and signs that denote the age of large, old trees. Each year, the town of Defuniak Springs puts together a festival of lights around the lake. The money raised goes to raising funds for an elevator for one if its historic buildings. It’s cute, quaint and simple. And they sell pretty cute handmade camo hats, too. Hey, as they say: When in Rome …
Rather than roasting chestnuts on an open fire, we roasted marshmallows and made smores. It was a sticky, sweet situation. The following night, we celebrated Christmas early, opening presents, having a beautiful feast made by Chef Jeff and laughing at everything and nothing. I got to bond with my sister-in-law (who somehow managed to not be in any of my pics (What’s up with that, Nikki?), hang out with my little bro and watch the kids rip through wrapping paper. It was absolutely perfect.
And much to my and my mom’s dismay, the trip flew by faster than any of us expected. Before we knew it, it was time to board that plane back home, to my home. And yes, Mom, I did post this picture of you, because it’s hilarious and payback for the one you put on Facebook of me sleeping in the car. Love you.
The moral of this tale: It’s never to late to add a few key memories to 2013. I’m certainly glad I added these.