Over the River & Through the Woods

Over the river and through the woods
To grandmother’s house we go
The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh
Through the white and drifting snow
Over the river and through the woods
Oh how the wind does blow
It stings the nose and bites the toes
As over the ground we go…

On those lucky days when we picked up my Grandma from Hoosick Falls for Thanksgiving week, this is one of the songs we would sing on the long ride there. Though we were riding in a big-ass station wagon instead of a horse-drawn sleigh, the sentiment and the goal were the same. Most times, though, we were in school when Mom made the trip to Hoosick Falls, so on the last day before Thanksgiving vacation, we’d get home and run into the kitchen to find Gram, where she was usually at work cleaning or cooking. We’d rush into her arms, give her a big hug, and suddenly everything was right with the world. As much as I cherished my solitude, it was always a thrill to have a larger family in the house over the holidays, and Gram occupied a special place in my heart.

Sometimes she was the only one who seemed to understand me – who “got” me more than my parents or brother ever could. It was a lifeline for a child who never quite fit in. My brother and I would listen to her stories before we had to go bed, hoping our parents would give us just a few extra minutes with the stories she told us – from the tales of Peter Rabbit to the glory days of Greta Garbo. In a lot of ways, and this is something I’ve only recently realized, Gram was my first connection to the gay world – to the touchstone cultural points of Hollywood glamour or the way she favored the most sparkling jewelry (even her rosary was made of crystals in a delicate shade of Tiffany blue). I felt an early affinity with those things that I didn’t feel with football or cars, but I didn’t know enough to explore them more. My fascination lived only in the few days that Gram was over during a year.

I think she sensed a kindred shyness in me too, one that she never mistook for arrogance or aloofness. When others would call me mean, she would defend me as being different. Through it all, her love for me never waned or wavered. There would come many points in my life when I felt unloved, and at the darkest  moments I would always think, “No matter what I’ve done, and no matter what has happened, my grandmother will still love me.” Even the most flawed among us should be so lucky to have such a grandmother. Everyone deserves that. It’s been a few years since she passed away, but every year around this time when the family gathers for Thanksgiving, I walk into my parents’ home, I remember that moment, and I still walk into the kitchen expecting – hoping, wishing – for her to be there.

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