From time to time, in the course of my travels, people have asked me about “home.” By this they usually mean the USA in general or one of the specific places I’ve lived. When I talk about the good things, I almost always start and end with community. I tend to describe (my) New England as a place where community is valued highly, and then give specific examples of the types of activities that illustrate this value. The coffee social we organized when we lived Mountain View was one common example, but this New Year’s Eve will be my new favorite (if I can find a way to encapsulate it).
Our friends Tom and Mary throw this amazing party almost every year. They make fondue and give an open invitation to all of their friends and family. My memory of it begins with a fire warming the delightfully renovated farm house, as I sat on a stool by the stove, stirring the cheese, waiting for the first guests.
Within a few hours there was a buzz of conversation, laughter, and kids making new friends. I knew only one other family prior to the party, but everyone I talked to felt like an old friend. Conversations were often somewhat polarized, but like almost every other difference of opinion here, our disagreements were respectful and productive.
I made an effort at one point to wander into the other rooms (all full of people engaging in the delight of the season) but found myself drawn back to the heart of the house, to my stool by the stove. The kitchen is where all the best conversations happen. This may be a reflection of my bias, of my personal values (family, relationships, and nourishment) but I know that whenever things get hectic, there will always be a place for me in the chatter and bustle of the hearth.
I stayed by that stove until Mary prodded me into the icy cold night to witness what was promised to be a spectacle of dramatic proportions. I was skeptical of this spectacle. The bonfire warmed my front, while my backside felt colder than the dark side of the moon. I pined for the warmth of the kitchen and, as we waited for midnight, the kids ran dangerously close to the fire.
On the stroke of New Year, Tom rolled an enormous wooden ball into the bonfire and we all watched as it was— slowly at first then surprisingly quickly— engulfed by flames. At its peak, the ball was sending fire 10-20 feet into the air. I reckon the amount of effort that went into the construction of this object multiplied by the inverse of the speed of its consumption roughly equaled our enjoyment at watching it burn.
After the ball, most of us returned to the house to warm our extremities. Within an hour or so most of the guests had left, but Tom, Mary, & I managed to survive until 4am, when we all had to surrender to exhaustion and the irrefutable truth that the kids would not let us sleep in.
The next day we made a slow start over a hot breakfast and eased into the day with several cups of process oriented coffee. By midday we agreed that some fresh (chilled) air and a stretch of the legs would do us all good and maybe burn off some of that boundless energy that the kids were exhibiting (where do they get it from?).
We walked through hill and field to the mudflats of Muscongus Bay, and discovered some of the treasures of this part of the world’s ocean. The kids ran, climbed and discovered together while the adults talked and reminisced (Mary and I have been friends since I was 8, and we’ve all known each other for decades).
When we got home, the littles crowded around the computer to play a cooperative game of Minecraft, and watch movies, while we played Cards Against Humanity and roared, tittered, and covered our faces with embarrassment.
This is my picture of community. When I think about “coming home,” no matter where that home is I think of this type of vignette. Good friends, food, family, dynamic and sometimes challenging conversation, laughter, maybe a bit of tears, and connection.