Traffic delays us and we don’t pull up to the big yellow house until dusk. Dad jogs down the porch steps to hug me, hug his new son-in-law. We follow him into the back yard, where he fiddles with wood to get the fire pit crackling. He has promised cigars and nice ale, heavy and smooth. After my choice of hard cider or pumpkin ale, of course. A half hour later, my littlest sisters wave sticks of flaming marshmallows and Mom grimaces at their wild hair, trying to restrain herself from grabbing the hose.
The pumpkin ale goes down almost as smooth as the ginger beer Dad brought a few months ago from a visit to Pittsburg. I sip and try to talk over the chattering girls. After kisses, Dad corrals them to bed. When he reemerges, he gives me a tasting glass of ale so thick it glides.
I’m not sure how I feel about the first sip. I don’t like licorice, but I’m not sure that’s the flavor. It tastes strange, almost as strange as trying to remember to say My Parents’ House. Those words fill my mouth in a way Home doesn’t. I have to laugh for my throat to go back to normal.
Dad hands me a cigar. I bite the end and bits of paper and tobacco stick to my tongue. I love the ticking of the rapid puff needed to light the cigar. I light it so quickly Dad wants to check the blaze on the end. The fire pit looks like a compass, a circle with four longer stones sticking out like points. The fire plays, licking the sky and curling orange into the embers. It smells like fall.
I rest my legs on my husband’s lap. In the comfort of my favorite season, around my parents and three of the seven siblings who share the DNA of my heart, the concept of home drifts around me and clings like smoke. Four months married, I still have trouble identifying the place I come from. Mom and Dad’s House has always been the home of my parents’ parents. It rests invitingly on the grandparental tier of my mind.
But Dad wears cool shoes and does comedy improv, and when I come home to My Parents’ House, the fridge is stocked with new beer to taste-test. We have plans to use our infantile longboarding skills to visit a local brewery. Mom could be in her late twenties and looks great in purple jeans and boots. She writes and dances and laughs so her eyes shine. She sings “My Humps” by The Black Eyed Peas, and flirts with Dad until the peanut gallery howls and evacuates the dining room. Jaws drop when strangers discover the four kids at home most often are the last half of eight.
The second sip of ale is better – the cigar helps. They marry beautifully to create a completely new taste. I only choke once when I try to mimic Dad’s smoke rings and suck blistering clouds into my throat. Stars prick their way through as we roll lazily around the details of life. When cigar smoke burns in my mouth I chuck the butt onto the fire. I drink the last of the ale and find I’ve enjoyed it. The aftertaste hovers. Different, but not bad. I try the corners of my mouth, discovering between my teeth and under my tongue that the flavor grew on me. Different, but good.
The fire dies. A new week begins. The phone rings with a question from Dad. We discuss grown-up things, then chat. I tell him it was fun to come home for the weekend, enjoy the fire, hang out with the kids.
“Your home is with Jonathan now.”
“Home is where the heart is,” his voice rises in the cliché. How true it is.
I hug the phone into my shoulder.
“My heart is with Jonathan; I am home. But I still have little pieces of my heart running around my old home with marshmallow torches.”
Ask me what I did this weekend. I’ll tell you I went to My Parents’ House. But I’ll smile, and work my mouth around, and realize the taste isn’t as strange as it once was.
Katie Roy graduated from VCU in May, 2014, with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology. Two weeks later, she married her best friend and sparring buddy, Jonathan. They’ve settled in RVA (for now) with a crazy kitten and big yet flexible plans for the future. Katie got a big chunk of writing genes from her mom, Julie McClay – who just may pop up if you search her name on Red Tent Living.