Monday, December 19, 2011

Our pilgrimage to the "Holy City"

For 21 years, my extended family has spent a weekend before Christmas in Charleston, S.C., "the Holy City," as it's been called. It began a year after my brother moved there and months after he was able to return to his home after the damage from Hurricane Hugo was repaired. We went to see his house and the city and to have a meal together.

Twenty-one years later, we're still returning, eager to experience again Charleston's exotic charm and to see the family members we see only rarely now. Our pilgrimages have survived all the changes in our lives since 1990. When our parents missed the trip because they were in a nursing home, we continued to gather. We made four trips without them before they died. This year, we were without my sister-in-law, who succumbed to cancer just two days before our scheduled trip. But the reunion went on, despite those hollow places and mournful moments whenever we expected to see her turning a corner or to hear her laughter.

In 21 years, our children have grown from teens to parents, and our entourage has expanded to include new dates and spouses trying out this family tradition. A new generation of babies has learned to walk with the aid of cousins they didn't know they had. Our children's children have grasped the excitement of these weekends and look forward to Charleston almost as much as their grandparents do.

In the evening, and sometimes during the day, we sit and reminisce about how we lived growing up. We share stories about our parents and other relatives we can no longer ask for answers to our questions, and we talk about our own lives, sharing details lost in our daily routine.

In the end, it is not the beauty of the city, the cuisine for which Charleston is known or the tangible Christmas spirit there that keeps us coming back. It is this sharing of time and stories that makes the drive and the expense worthwhile.

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