Coming Home

“Thanksgiving and a Welcome Melancholy” in the Philadelphia Inquirer (November 25, 2010).

On a recent autumn night, I found myself sitting by the fire in the backyard. The moon and stars shone above while the fire danced and crackled below.

In the quiet, there was a distant sound. It was a solitary goose, its honks echoing through the night as its silhouette moved across the sky.

It was a melancholy sound, or so it seemed to me: a lone bird, separated from its flock, flying through the night in a frantic attempt to reunite with its brethren.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving today, I will think of that goose and feel a kinship to it. Perhaps we all should. Whether the holiday finds us traveling a few hundred miles, just a few blocks, or not at all, the destination we hope for remains the same: home.

For me, returning home evokes an almost tangible sense of nostalgia – a feeling of yearning for the past that can sometimes border on melancholy. But I think the word melancholy gets a bad rap. Yes, it may imply lasting sadness, but the same Thanksgiving nostalgia that begets melancholy can also beget gratitude and happiness.

Today, as I return to the home where my parents raised my six brothers and me, nostalgia will set in. I’ll long for the childhood games of football in the front yard, for chasing a hail-Mary pass down the street. I’ll miss sitting by the fireplace watching Charlie Brown try to kick that football. I’ll yearn for the old collection of Christmas LPs and my mom’s coleslaw. And I’ll miss the man who for so many years sat at the head of the table, our father.

Along with that nostalgia will inevitably come melancholy. The sadness will be short-lived, however, as it reminds me of just how wonderful the memories have been and how thankful I should be. A smile is sure to follow as I watch the present unfold.

My children and their cousins will take to the front yard carrying a football. They’ll sit by the fireplace laughing at Snoopy and Woodstock. They’ll discover the old Christmas LPs – not having a clue that music could emanate from such devices! They’ll feast on their grandmother’s coleslaw. And they’ll accompany their fathers to the cemetery down the street to say a prayer for their Pops.

This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for the homesickness and the sadness. They are gifts reminding me that it has been a wonderful life. And as I look around my childhood home today, dodging children as they romp, I’ll be reminded that it continues to be a wonderful life, and the memories being made today are the nostalgia and melancholy of my future.

As we mourn the loved ones of our memories, let’s allow ourselves that sadness. It makes the ensuing gratitude and happiness more palatable. That way, tonight’s Thanksgiving feast will not only fill our bodies; it will also stuff our souls and lift our spirits.

A toast, then, to all those journeying home in body or spirit, and all those returning to their flocks: Godspeed, and safe home.


  1. Michael,
    Perhaps I’m the first to say WELL DONE for your piece on the melancholy of homecoming in today’s Inquirer! I grew up in Broomall, and honestly share every single one of the memories, and experiences of sharing the holidays with a new generation, which you described eloquently. My kids never knew their “Pops”, but they did know their grandmom, whom we lost just 2 years ago. As sure as that melancholy was before her passing, you well know that it becomes ever more profound the more happy years we are able to look back upon, and the more blessings we find ourselves reflecting upon. Every time I drive through Broomall and Newtown Square, I can almost see my friends and family 40 years younger, and remember long bike adventures and playground games, first girl-crushes, even Mom and Dad living their daily lives much like my wife and I do today.
    I often find myself feeling guilty for feeling the way I do around the holidays, with my emotions running very close to the surface. Your reflection reminded and reassured me that we all feel these things, and why. Thank you for saying what so many of us feel.

    Best wishes for Happy Holidays for you and yours.

    Larry Blankemeyer
    Richboro PA

  2. Michael, echoing “Kit.”
    On “that” Thanksgiving Day I recall joy, laughter, choosing to retrieve “whatever” from our new refrigerator (up from an icebox).That, until I sensed I became THE retriever. The novelty wore off when I caught the smiles and winks of my two brothers and my parents. One especially remembered Thanksgiving eve was the excitment my older brother sparked while we were having dinner. He had won a live turkey for having acquired an X number of subscriptions to the Long Island Press. The excitment skyrocketed when he brought the bird home and let it loose in our kitchen. The poor “butterball??” gobbled forth tossing feathers hither and thither, landing on the yet unlit gas stove. The rest is history.
    Have a blessed season looking into a mirror and thanking our Creator for keeping us aware that love makes all things new again.

  3. I echo Larry Blankemeyer’s comments and thank you for sharing. This time of the year brings out so many sad feelings for me and I too feel guilty. I regret how much I took for granted while my loved ones were alive. I think its part of that “Irish melancholy” surfacing.

    The best to you and your family.

    Maureen Shields
    West Chester

  4. Michael, Thanks for the column. Your Thanksgiving was very much like mine — the gathering of family, the meal, the memories of the past and the memory of my father, who also sat at the head of the table and was not with us this year.
    Traditions have changed — It was just our immediate family — cousins have their own families and places to be, the playing of football has been replaced by watching the game — This year New England played — and there was the trip to the cemetery. Yes the melancholy is there and so is the gratitude. Thanks for your reflection. Take care and hope all is well with your family.
    Peace John

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