Every October, my hometown hosts an event celebrating fall and the beauty of our West Virginia hills. It's the largest festival in the state, and it's sort of a big deal because it completely takes over the entire town for an entire week. There's arts and craft shows, woodchopping competitions, three parades, a carnival, street food vendors, petting zoos, concerts, talent contests, sporting events and all kinds of other stuff -- including a pageant (coronationa, actually) that involves a queen and 40 princesses descending a giant hill wearing velvet dresses.
Yes, I was one of those princesses. Shut up.
If you live there, you are one of two types of people: You either love the festival or you hate it with the heat of 7,000 suns.
I belong to the former. I LOVE the Forest Festival and I always have, and while I enjoy all the events it brings, it's the family time I like best. For as long as I can remember, my parents have hosted family from out of town over the weekend - from both sides of the family. Their house is small, so this usually means the beds are crowded and someone ends up sleeping on the floor (or in a tent or a camper parked in the driveway), but it's always so much fun. We all pile in cars and attend the coronation and parades, and I'm usually lucky to squeeze in a dinner and some quality time with my best friends while I'm there.
But the true highlight is our annual Saturday night bonfire. My dad gathers firewood for weeks in advance, and we all meet on the hill behind the house for hot dogs, s'mores and just good time together. We sit on hay bales and sip beer and sometimes even tell ghost stories and I'm not at all ashamed to tell you that I look forward to this almost as much as I do Christmas.
This year the crowd was a little smaller, but we still had a great time. The night was beautiful -- still and perfect, and as I stood on that hill beneath the trees silhouetted in the glow of the moonlight, I experienced this overwhelming sense of connectedness. It was as if my feet were part of the earth beneath them, twisted and rooted and strong.
It's the same patch of land my dad has lived on his entire life. The tiny little white house, the fields and woods and pond that were the best playground we could have imagined. I haven't lived there in about six years but it's so comforting to know that there's a place where I will always feel at home. And that I have "people."
Last weekend I drove back there to see my Granny, and I stayed at the nursing home until just past midnight. When I got back to my parents's house I crawled into bed in my old room and promptly fell asleep. Despite all the heavy, emotional events of the day I proceeded to have the best night of sleep I've had in a long time.
I was home. And sometimes that's just what you need.