“Over the river and through the wood, to grandfather’s house we go,” so says the 120-year-old song. (Although I always thought that it was Grandmother’s house, but I seem to have got that wrong—more about that later.) Given the song’s New England roots, its age, and the mental pictures of folks in horse drawn sleighs, it’s amazing that it continues to work here in fly-over land in the 21st century. Turns out that here in the Midwest, there still are rivers and woods and grandfathers too, for that matter. And, trucking off to visit folks for the holidays happens as well. Although, if Grandpa is far enough away, it might be 30,000 feet over the river, but the trek continues.
Of the 324 million of us here in the U.S., it was estimated that 93.6 million of us would be on the move during the just-passed holidays. That’s slightly over 28% of us. Look up and down your block and think about how many of those homes were empty due to holiday gatherings elsewhere. Analysis of why this is brings up speculation by those travel-mavens, the AAA. They attribute it to such things as lower gasoline prices and optimism about the economy, but for my money, the bottom line is an innate urge to go home.
Home is such an interesting idea. Even though we might live in a place for a huge portion of our lives, most of us think of “home” as the place where we spent our formative years. Live somewhere for twenty-five years but hop into the car or onto some other mode of transportation and scurry back to where you had a life full of youthful indiscretion, naughtiness and carefree fun: that’s the place you think of as home.
Somewhere in my life, I read that in the Middle Ages most people never travelled more than 10 miles from where they lived, yet we think nothing of going several hundred miles to our illusion of home. It seems that things have changed quite a lot over the past 500 years.
Excuse me for a bit here, but I want to wander off into a digression. While I thinking about this Michiana Chronicle, I came upon a website, (If you see it on the internet, it’s sure to be the truth, isn’t it?) that says that no matter how we Americans think of ourselves as mobile and far-flung, the average American lives only 18 miles from her or his female parental unit. A U.S. map accompanied this factoid. It was color-coded to show areas of the country and the distance of those average separations in different sections of the country. In the part of the Midwest that contains Indiana and Michigan the average distance between mother and adult child is 14 miles, in some of the deep South it’s only 6 miles, and out West in those squarish states it’s 44 miles. As a person who likes looking at maps, I found this to be fascinating stuff. But, enough of my digression; my point is that no matter what we fantasize about our giant advancements from our distant ancestry, we really haven’t progressed all that far. Travel we may, but go far from home, not so much for the bulk of us.
So, back to “over the river and through the wood, to Grandfather’s.” Maybe I heard the lyric as “grandmother’s” because by the time I came along in my parents’ life one grandmother was all that I had. Since we relate things in life to our personal experience, “grandmother’s house” was the lyric that I heard. And what a corker my Grandmother was—buried three husbands, bore five children, could cook and garden with the best of ‘em, sewed like a dream, and wrote letters to me that never talked down, but rather conversed with me as though I was sentient and would/could contribute in return. She told a mighty fine tale too. Going over the river, the Ohio, and through the wood, the Hoosier National Forest, to Grandmother’s house indeed was a treat to sing about.
So, for Michiana Chronicles, this is Jeanette Saddler Taylor wishing you opportunities for happy travels to wherever home might be for you.