Scented Towels, Piles of Shoes Mean They're Home Again

I could tell that my children were home for college vacation when I discovered three weeks' worth of laundry beside the washing machine. The car keys were not where I usually leave them, and I was running the dishwasher twice a day. But there were also more subtle clues. Like the heady scent of gardenia and jasmine in the bath towels. Maybe these new smells came from oils purchased in Boston, or at a local campus shop, or from roommates from far away who traded fragrances. When I passed by the sweet-scented towels hanging over the stairwell, I knew my daughter was home. And later, I thought, what a lovely way for her to still linger in the hallway long after she's returned to school.

Of course, I knew my children were home for the holidays by the number of shoes in the doorways and in front of the fireplace. The moccasins, the running shoes, the Tevas, the boots, the Birkenstocks. They were hanging around, waiting for feet to slip into them and carry them back to dorms and dining halls and libraries. I'll bet there are a lot of stories in those shoes.

And then I found baseball caps of every color hanging from anything that looked like a nail, including doorknobs. My son owns at least a half-dozen of them, and he claims that every one fits him differently. OK.

But the surprise of the season was that my college kids all came out to defend the holiday feast this year. Why, there was moral outrage in my kitchen at the thought of substituting a bread pudding for a pumpkin pie. No way. Pumpkin pie is a tradition! And there had to be a turkey in our house, in our refrigerator, even though we were dining at the family farm on Thanksgiving. A daughter who used to scoff at the ceramic turkeys I always use as a centerpiece hunted high and low for them this year, "because they're supposed to be on the table for Thanksgiving." Maybe too much dining-hall fare brought out nostalgia for those sit-down dinners and the corny formality they couldn't wait to escape years ago.

And always, new people come into our lives when our children have lived away from home.

My son brought home a roommate from Paris this year. Of course, Thanksgiving is not a French holiday, so we had a little history to teach. (I was surprised at how much of our history he knew.)

"Don't forget, Madame, your country is so young, but so vital in its short history." Mais oui. "Your Pilgrims would be proud of their countrymen for the freedoms and opportunities they have defended and preserved years after that first holiday feast on American soil." Certainement. The long, drawn-out meals at the table and the family get-togethers are common French traditions, so Terrence felt close to home despite the imposing ocean between us and the Septieme arrondissement.

It's exciting when children return home and bring with them new ideas, new travels, and new friends. It's reassuring when they underscore the traditions and values we sometimes take for granted. I felt a renewed glory and pride in my country because of our French visitor. Let's give thanks for all those young adults coming home to tables and families and the games on the front lawns of America.

My mother-in-law still gets excited and teary when the table down at the farm fills to the brim. She loves a lot of family. "Is Aunt Louise really coming? Well then, let's get out another leaf!"

And what happens when the holiday passes and the kids have returned to school? Then I restock my freezer, find my car keys, and slip on the pair of shoes or the fragrant shirt that is left behind.

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