“Don’t you just love New York in the fall? It makes me wanna buy school supplies.”
Oh, yes Joe Fox. I do love New York in the fall. I love everything about the fall; the weather, the smells, the atmosphere… it can’t really be explained. You just have to feel it. For as long as I remember my family has been making annual trips to Heritage in Charlotte, NC. (Yes, that Heritage. Jim and Tammy Fay Baker Heritage.) I have very random, very vivid memories of being a child and walking down main street, looking up at the hotel windows that seemed to magically hover over the shops. The colors were so bright and beautiful, looking like doll houses I only dreamed about. I wanted to stay in one of those hotels more than anything.
I would walk down main street, holding either my mother’s or my grandmother’s hand, looking into the shops as we passed by, hoping I would get to go in one and try on beautiful dresses. After trying on dresses came ice cream. Now, this was no ordinary ice cream. This was a shop set up like an ice cream parlor straight from the fifties. I’m sure it was nothing special, but when I was younger I was convinced it was the most magical place on earth. Then there was the water park and the Snow White (or what I remember being a Snow White) ride, and light houses and we stayed in a tree house… yes, a literal tree house. There were two or so bedrooms, a living room, bathrooms, a kitchen, everything you would need and it was built into a tree. Everything was just insanely magical.
Of course if you know anything at all about Jim and Tammy Faye you will know that this magical place did not have the best of luck. After the embezzlement charges Heritage was put up for sale and one bad deal after another left the place in shambles. The tree houses ended up being sold as actual homes. The tennis courts were soon covered with weeds. The water park shut down; the shops on Main Street closed one after the other. The light house where they used to put on plays for the kids became old, rotten, and worn down. Now as I think back, it reminds me of that Robert Frost poem, Nothing Gold Can Stay:
Nature’s first green is gold
Her hardest hue to hold
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
The years went by and we came back to Heritage here and there, but nothing really came of it. Until one Thanksgiving. I can’t really remember it to tell you the truth. We went to Heritage for Thanksgiving and my grandmother had a timeshare. We stayed in a log cabin and have done so every year since then. I can’t tell you how much I love this place. I really believe it is magical.
There is an amphitheater not five or so minutes from the cabins and a local church would put on Christmas productions. Every year we would bundle up in shirts layered with sweatshirts, winter jackets, scarves, gloves, hats, three pairs of socks, warm shoes, and blankets and we would STILL freeze our butts off. Hot apple cider provided a quick relief during intermission. The play was the same every year and even though we knew what was going to happen or what the characters were going to say (FLY DONKEY FLY!!!!) it was just something we looked forward to- a tradition that simply could not be broken. But nothing gold can stay, and a few years ago was the last performance the company put on.
Then would come the Thanksgiving feast and my grandmother and mum would wake up early and start cooking. We would dine like royalty with the most amazing dishes you could ever think of, after which we would watch the end of the parade and start Miracle on 34th street while silently asking ourselves WHY did we eat so much?
Then came black Friday, aka go to a GIANT shopping mall and get lost in the crowds and lines and many trips taking bags to the car so you don’t have to lug them around with you all the while looking at whoever would listen and shout “WHY DID WE COME ON THE BUSIEST DAY?” Again, a tradition that couldn’t be broken.
During these celebrations we would often pick my father up at the airport in time for him to celebrate Thanksgiving and do the annual coloring contest before he had to go back to work. And yes, I did say coloring contest. We have the same picture every year of two pilgrims which we have to color and the best one wins a prize. It gets VERY, VERY competitive. Sadly we would return home, exhausted from the travels but happy to see our cats, who we missed very much.
And then this thing called college happened. All the family were in separate states (except for my sister, she was in Florida with me) and we didn’t make it up to Heritage. I still got to bake the dishes with my grandmother at her house, the parade BOOMING on her television while my grandpa watched the football game in his office. My sister ended up having to work and didn’t get a chance to come over. I was really, really sad because I love my family so much and these special times we had during the holidays mean so much to me. And then last year I was in England for Thanksgiving and it really goes without saying that they don’t celebrate it over there, so the food was all wrong and I missed everyone.
It is finally fall here in Delaware. The weather has changed; there is a constant breeze reminding me the pumpkins will be out soon and the carnivals and fall festivals are just beginning. There is also a different smell to the air; the scents make me feel as though I am back in Heritage, reciting Romeo and Juliet out of the top of the moldy light house window. Reminding me of seeing a movie on Thanksgiving night, of baking pies and turkey and mashed potatoes. Of making biscuits from scratch and forgetting to take my rings off, accidentally filling each nook and cranny with dough and flour. I walk around listening to “Believe” by Josh Groban because during the parade one year he sang it and my grandma and I replayed it over and over at full volume. I’m homesick for a place that is much, much more than a home to me. It is when everyone in my family was happy; we laughed and talked and didn’t have the circumstances life has thrown at us. For one week I (really, really) tried not to fight with my sister but instead walk with her down the abandoned railroad tracks.
But this year is different, in a good way. We are all heading back to the same exact log cabins for one last Thanksgiving before my grandma’s timeshare ends, where we will eat the familiar dishes and watch the parade and sing and listen to Kenny G play christmas tunes while we fall asleep. Sure we wont be able to shout FLY DONKEY FLY! along with the cast, but Main Street has opened again! And you better believe I am going to look at all the old shops, hotels, and darn it all, I am going to have another scoop of ice cream.