Tolkien’s subtitle for The Hobbit, “there and back again,” is a not-so-subtle reminder that his protagonist — supposedly much like Tolkien himself — is not much of a traveler. While he makes the journey with the dwarves that restores their gold to them — and nets him the ring that sets The Lord of the Rings in motion — he would really, really, rather be at home than on the road.
I feel his pain — or I did, this past holiday weekend. We alternate Thanksgivings at home in Richmond and at my parents’ house in Connecticut, and this was a Connecticut year. I do love Thanksgiving in Connecticut — the weather always seems more appropriate for Thanksgiving, my family all gathers in one place, and the board really does groan under the weight of all the food we make — but I do not love the trip. It’s a good 500 miles, depending on the route, and there’s just no way to do that in less than nine hours and still stay within the law. So that’s two days of the break, just in travel.
My sister does the same, flying in from San Francisco with her husband and two kids, so I can hardly claim that my situation is unique. But still, I whine a bit every other year when I contemplate the drive. Sometimes I even compare notes with my students — whose drive was longer? Who hit worse traffic? Sometimes I even “win,” not that I really want to.
This year seemed even worse than usual, as we had to travel on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. I am, or I have been, one of those parents — the ones who pull their kids out of school for their own convenience. And this year I planned to leave on Tuesday, even though I knew Nick would miss a day of school. But then I realized it would be a day and a half (he had school Wednesday morning), and he’d just missed an entire week with bronchitis. When your own son lobbies you not to remove him from school, you listen. So we drove up on Wednesday, and back on Saturday. We spent one long Sunday after Thanksgiving on the New Jersey Turnpike, several years ago — as I remember it, the same sign announcing the Delaware Memorial Bridge was visible out my window for a good hour — and I pledged then never again to subject us to that madness.
As it happened, this year our travels were easy. We took a longer route, trading miles for traffic, and found the trade-off worthwhile. And the two days we had in Connecticut with my family were lovely. We cooked all Wednesday evening, and most of the day Thursday, and all thirteen of us sat down to the meal Thursday evening. We fed five vegetarians and a vegan and still roasted a 16-pound turkey, and put the leftovers in my mother’s freezer. My daughter drove over from Boston — a much easier trip for her than coming all the way home would have been. My brothers were there, and my sister-in-law, as well as my sister and her family, who flew in a day earlier and out a day later. It was great to catch up with my folks, whom I’d last seen in early August, and my siblings, even if briefly.
But now we’re back and the last week of the semester is upon us, and the break is already a distant memory. Now the flurry of end-of-semester activities begins, with graduate school recommendations and final grades and next semester’s syllabus and, oh, yes, Christmas preparations, all competing for our attention. If I’d stayed home, I kid myself, I might have been better prepared. But probably not—like Bilbo, I would just have eaten another meal, taken another nap. A little adventure recharges the batteries, and now I’m ready for the sprint to the finish.