The urge to return home

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We’re having baseball games, weddings and graduations. It must be June.

Add to that another feature of the times — church homecoming services — and we’ll know for sure we’re in the sixth month.

“Homecoming” can mean many things. In autumn, it’s that event around a football game, usually against a team the home folks think is a “patsy” so the ol’ alums can enjoy a good pasting by the local boys. At other schools, depending on the school, “the boys” may be “the girls,” and it may be a volleyball match at another time of the year.

But whatever, the idea is the same: get the old folks back, have a game, or maybe a meal, and throw in a dance if the school administration isn’t afraid of a rumble of some sort.

Of course, most of the time, the alums are worn out after the game, and dancing is the last thing on their minds.

That gala event, however, is not the “homecoming” of which I speak and which I have considerable experience as an attendee and a participant — especially with that part still known in many places known as “dinner on the grounds.”

Many a good chicken has given his all in the name of fried drumsticks through the years at such events; I’m proud to say I was there for many of them.

It’s not, however, the meal that’s the only drawing card. It’s important and enjoyable, sure. But it is, I believe, that yearning and drawing back to something basic that pulls us to church homecomings.

As a youngster, I knew the fourth Sunday of May — which is almost June — was the annual homecoming at my boyhood church, and as that youngster, I liked part of the day but didn’t especially care for other parts. I would tolerate the Sunday morning service, partly because my father “encouraged” me to do so. Later, as I began to think less like a child, I came to listen to what was being said and to glean something meaningful from it.

For a number of years, there would be an afternoon music service, to which my mother always went and to which, until I could drive, she also played the encouraging card. After I got my driving license, I’d slip away, with permission, and my folks would catch a ride home, or I’d come back for them. Then, in time, that afternoon service went the way of all flesh, becoming a precious memory.

I won’t lie to you: Lunch was a big deal and always good. There was enough fried chicken, ham biscuits, deviled eggs and potato salad to feed the National Football League. And tomato sandwiches — I always preferred those made the night before with lots of Duke’s mayonnaise, wrapped in wax paper and allowed to absorb some of the morning heat. Soggy, but man, were they good.

Ditto for the desserts. Some I didn’t recognize and couldn’t name, but it didn’t matter. My favorite was chocolate something-or-another on top of chocolate stuff with chocolate drizzled on the whole thing. Today, as far as I’m concerned, chocolate remains one of the basic food groups.

And then there was the tea. I will go against all things Southern here and call it “sweet” tea, although anybody worth their salt reared south of Durham knows that’s the only kind. What made it so good was it came out of a metal drum with a faucet on it. Folks just came by and poured in what they had made, so the final product might not be something you could duplicate later, but it was more than drinkable. Usually there was homemade lemonade in a metal washtub, as well.

By now as I write this, I’m several things — hungry, thirsty and nostalgic. Which is what homecomings are all about: seeing old friends, making new ones and acknowledging that all of us, if we’ll admit, have within us the same thing that makes swallows fly back to Capistrano yearly and compels salmon to leave the ocean, swimming upstream to where they were hatched so they, too, can lay their eggs.

The good news is we can have more than one home as we move through life. I consider myself fortunate to have a couple or so places where I’m accepted and welcomed. I’ve long ago given up trying to figure it all out, where that all comes from. I’m pretty sure it’s part of the Divine that’s in us all.

Now I just go and enjoy. May it be so for you, as well.

Bob Wachs is a native of Chatham County and retired long-time managing editor of the Chatham News/Chatham Record, having written a weekly column for more than 30 years. During most of his time with the newspapers, he was also a bi-vocational pastor and today serves Bear Creek Baptist Church for the second time as pastor.

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