We are back. My body is still sore from two days of eight hour car travel and two nights on the air mattress. The morning sun is falling through the blinds and I am wearing the flannel PJs that my parents got me for my birthday.
I opened the present early, not wanting to pad around in someone else's house wearing Keith's ancient T shirt and mismatched, stained PJ pants that I normally wear to bed.
Yesterday morning, before we left Indiana, I didn't bother to brush my hair; I just left it in the braid that I'd slept in. I thought I looked pretty normal until we stopped somewhere in Tennessee and I saw myself in the streaky mirror.
The loose strands of my extremely long hair had been whipped up like an airy chiffon all around my face. What remained of the braid itself looked like road kill.
That's when I understood the strange looks I'd been getting at the gas station. I down right frightened some meek, middle aged woman with coiffed hair and soft leather handbag later on during the day, when my hair had had time to get worse.
Returning from the restroom, I made a bee line across the tarmac to the dusty Civic, weighed down with luggage and the speakers Keith had purchased from his brother.
Through the bug streaked windshield, I could see Keith and the dim outline of the dogs, their heads hanging over the front seats. I felt an upwelling of affection for the little group that awaited me, dog breath and all.
"Hello, family," I said cheerfully, opening my door.
"Hello, woman," Keith replied affectionately.
He picked up the stuff that I had been carrying on my lap, to make room for me to sit down in my spot.
Our car rejoined the stream of fellow Americans who were returning home from family get togethers and cramped sleeping arrangements one day early, hoping to avoid the traffic on Sunday. We flipped down the visors against the glare of the late November sun and settled in for the long haul.
Thanksgiving itself went well. We left the house at four thirty in the morning and did not see the sun until we'd reached the Chattanooga valley. By noon, we'd reached southern Indiana and our first turkey dinner of the day.
That dinner we ate on couches, casually, with the dogs underfoot amid decorative ivy plants, ruffled curtains and a welcoming apple motif in the kitchen.
I met the newest member of the family, a handsome little fellow with adorable red hair and the Indiana family chin. He got passed around a lot and was very tolerant of all the attention.
One of Keith's brothers couldn't eat anything but mashed potato because he'd smashed the left side of his face with a maul, trying to detach a tire from its rim by whaling on it.
The heavy hammer hit the rubber and sprung back into his cheek bones, fracturing two of them and causing his entire face to swell up to twice its size.
Eventually, we all alighted from there and regrouped at the second household for more turkey dinner, this time in a much more formal setting.
That house sits ensconced in a solid and quiet setting of rolling green fields, amid other prosperous Hoosiers who have build red brink houses with two or three car garages and multiple roof angles.
This house and its setting are as welcoming as a leather Lay-Z-Boy recliner. We left the dogs in the two and a half car garage and headed into a house scented by holiday cooking.
There was a walnut studded cheese ball on the bar in the game room, a display of ceramic pumpkins behind the glass cabinets in the kitchen and a football game on the huge TV above the fireplace.
Although I feel at home in this house, I retreated to my usual bolt hole- the love seat where the magazine basket is placed, heaped with holiday Crate and Barrel and Coldwater Creek catalogues. These, and a woman's devotional Bible, NIV and a book on heaven were my reading material.
I began in retail, made my way quickly through paradise and ended up in Exodus, fascinated as usual by the exchanges between the Lord God Almighty and Moses.
People swirled around me in little knots, gathering and regathering in the kitchen or the game room, or beside the bar, to make another whiskey cocktail.
We ate smoky and spicy chicken wings, a specialty of Keith's dad and then Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings, a specialty of Keith's step mother, both equally delicious. Then the family got down to the real business of the night- the Indiana family poker game.
It was a good Thanksgiving and now we are home and I am about to turn thirty four. At thirty four, the age of forty emerges from the shadows of the far distant future and becomes a distinct possibility. Maybe by then I'll have finished my darn story.